Many high schools host college and career fairs where seniors, juniors, and their parents wander from station to station looking for information that will help them make decisions. But while they are looking for specific academic requirements, and scholarship and financial aid information, those parents hopefully have long been preparing their teenagers for success in college. In fact, college success depends on much more than academic success. The skills that teenagers need to successfully maneuver new freedoms, new responsibilities, and new situations that they will face in college need to be honed at home long before mom and dad wave goodbye from a dorm parking lot.
Whether you have a high school senior, a freshman, or even a middle schooler, parents who expect their child to go on to higher education need to prepare those students to be successful in college while they are still living at home. If parents really want their students to successfully maneuver all the temptations of parties, late nights, and skipping classes while culling a college education, a degree, and the beginning of a promising career, they need to start preparing their teenagers long before the end of high school.
Academics, of course, are crucial. Being able to properly research a topic, use correct citation, and organize a well-written paper takes academic skills; but parents need to realize that if a student can't get herself up-or even get motivated to try- in time to make it to a class where she is one of 300, to listen to a lecture on a subject she doesn't like but is required to take, where roll is not taken and nobody checks to see why she isn't there-that takes more than academic skills. It takes some training, some dedication, and a student who sincerely wants and understands the value and cost of that college education to be successful.
Likewise, if the student cannot handle conflict, cannot manage her time and priorities, cannot self-advocate, cannot manage his money, does not know when she needs help or how to get it, then despite a stellar grade point average, that teenager will be leaving home with a deficit in what it takes to be successful in college.
Parents need to realize that developing the skills for a successful college experience needs to begin long before they pick up information at a college fair. Most of the skills are covered in basic parenting, but many parents need a refresher and new course of action once their kids hit the teen years when teenage logic, impulses, and choices leave parents screaming for help.
Teenagers need graduated responsibilities with real consequences. Many will stumble, but when they do make progress, they should be rewarded with more responsibility. For example: extend curfew hours, allow more driving privileges, let them take on a part-time job, even let older teens attend events without adult supervision. Praise them when they show responsible behavior and be ready to go back a step when they don't.
Insist on, but let your teenager make his own appointments to talk with a teacher over that missed assignment. Let her make the orthodontist appointment. Guide him to figure out his time and calendar and commitments-you will not be there to do it for him in college.
College is a time of much change, more freedom, and new and challenging situations. Students who come already capable of figuring out how to solve a conflict with a roommate, how to safely handle themselves at a party, how to determine just how much time they need to study for that mid-term, are the students more likely to succeed in their academics. Look for the opportunities to give your middle and high school students a chance to mature, to be responsible, to learn from failures and consequences, and to accept challenges. By doing so, you are guiding them toward college success.