By Harry H. Harrison Jr.
Spring is the time of year when high school juniors are learning about different colleges and high school seniors are receiving their acceptance letters. Yes, and a great many high school seniors will receive those other kinds of letters as well: "You've been waitlisted," or even worse, the rejection letter. But sometimes a rejection letter means a college is just saving a student from him or herself.
We are all so wrapped up in the process - in filling out the applications, visiting campuses, talking about roommates, and getting professional help on the college essays - that we forget to ask ourselves one critical question: Is my child ready for college?
Fifty percent of parents get this question wrong! They send their brood off to college holding a high school diploma, a computer, and a FACA loan without ever really considering if college is the right choice right now. I've spoken to thousands of high school students, I've written a number of books on college preparation, and I know that this year almost half of the incoming freshman class will fail to graduate. This statistic cuts across race, ethnic, religious, and demographic lines. So, is your student really ready for college, or are they ready to crash mid-semester? Sit down with your student and ask these questions:
- Is your student doing college-level work now? Many kids buckle down their junior and senior year to do college-level work in high school. Their ability to succeed here is a strong predicator of success. If they're not doing college-level work now, it will be difficult their freshman year.
- Is your student taking the last semester off or taking a full load? The college landscape is littered with freshman who took it easy their senior year only to be crushed by the college workload. If they're taking the semester off, they're not ready.
- Is your student organized? This seems straightforward enough, but given the amount of homework and reading due, unorganized students study the wrong chapters for tests, turn in the wrong homework, and wait until 2 a.m. the night before to start on a semester paper due at 8 a.m. The ability to organize is critical to college success.
- Is your student disciplined? Do they have the discipline to study six hours a day before they go out that night? Do they have the discipline to start a term paper the first week of school, make early use of the writing center, and show up on time for class? Students who lack the discipline to even just show up fail out.
- Does your student have a major in mind? The simple fact is kids who show up on campus knowing what they want to major in tend to graduate faster. They know the preparatory classes they must take, they know where they should intern in the summer, and they know the skills required for success. Not having a major or even changing your major isn't degree threatening, but kids who know what they want out of college tend to get it.
- Can you afford it? A loan for a college education is one of the best financial decisions you can make, if you graduate that is. Although working through college is admirable, if you HAVE to work just to PAY for school, you need to find a cheaper college or save up a year. Otherwise, you could wind up with college debt but no college degree.
- Can your student make friends easily? This sounds trivial, but the fact is kids who can make friends easily tend to stay at college because they know people. This is not to say shy kids can't make it, but maybe they need to go to a school closer to home or attend a college where their friends are going.
- Is your student prepared to think like an adult? College exposes our parenting mistakes. Can your kid take the responsibility for planning their day, studying instead of partying, and walking away from dangerous situations and people? Can they handle the incredible world of possibilities, problems, and setbacks that college will throw at them, or would they be better off taking a year to mature, study at a junior college, and grow up?
- Are they choosing a college because that's where their high school flame is going? That is the single stupidest reason for picking a college. Broken hearts bring more kids home than you can believe.
- Is college the right choice? As a society, we have bought into the belief that every child deserves a college education, when in reality every child deserves to learn skills that will help them succeed in the adult world. There are a lot of plumbers out there doing better than MBAs. My electrician has five rent homes.
These are serious questions that parents and their kids need to really think about and talk over. College is the right choice for many kids. But it's not the only way a young adult can make it in this world. Just ask my electrician.
Harry H. Harrison Jr. is a New York Times best-selling parenting author with over 3.5 million books in print. He has been interviewed on over 25 television programs, and featured in over 75 local and national radio stations, including NPR. His books are available in over 35 countries throughout Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Norway, South America, China, Saudi Arabia, and in the Far East. For more information visit FearlessParenting.com. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com