The skills needed to do well in college are most often not taught in high school. More than half-way through her first year of college my daughter has been learning a valuable lesson: success in college isn’t guaranteed by the credits and course descriptions on a high school transcript. In fact, professors on her campus openly and repeatedly tell students that there are certain characteristics and types of students who are the most successful:
- Homeschooled students
- Post-secondary enrollment option students
- Students who play musical instruments
No matter which type of classroom she enters, my daughter has been met with this same sentiment from instructors. Part of me cringes when I hear her report this back because I don’t want her to think that she will have an easy ride (she fits the bill on all three). However, I know that what these professors tell their students is true – in order to succeed in college it takes a unique skill set that public and many private high schools simply do not provide for students. College is no longer the absolute key to a successful future. In fact, far too many students feel they simply need to go to college because that has been the long-standing expectation. College does not guarantee anything, other than debt for most, and it does require skills that aren’t on any high school class syllabi. This article is not about the merit of a college education – the arguments both ways are long and just. However, for students like my daughter who have passions and end goals that do require a college degree (as in the medical field – we don’t need undertrained yuppies with scalpels), achieving those goals in higher education can be challenging. There are several key sets of skills that college students need to develop before they enter their first campus classroom if this educational journey is to be of any value.
- Self-monitoring skills
- Financial literacy
- Real study habits
- Questioning minds
- Real world work skills
- Academic adeptness
It is so sad to hear students talk about the fact that they truly don’t know why they are in college (other than Mom and Dad said to go) and they aren’t really pursuing a passion. I wouldn’t even spend $45 on a pair of jeans if I didn’t love them, why would you consider thousands on classes you don’t know will help support your dreams? College can be a great decision for those who have a directed passion that requires the degree, but can also be a complete drain of time and finances for students who are “maybe thinking about being in business” as I recently heard one kid say. College isn’t the time to think about passions – it is the place to pursue them, especially at today’s costs. Before checking out the dorms or buying books, students should:
- Know how the degree will or won’t help support their careers
- Know how versatile their degree might be
- Know if this is their own passion or if college is on someone else’s list of goals
College is less structured than typical high schools, leading to some of the biggest problems for college freshmen. Students must be able to get to class on time, attend class (novel idea for some), and prepare for class as if it is really helping them reach their goals. All too often public high schools don’t require students to truly be responsible for their own behaviors. Schools send virtual notes to parents about everything from late papers to who is running low on glue-sticks, and students are rarely actually in charge of their own high school courses. They are tracked, placed in classes, and handed a 4 year-plan without consultation. College is suddenly a freedom they can’t handle.
On my daughter’s campus there is a huge discrepancy between the students who have financial literacy and those who don’t. It is a private college and either the students are there with financial support from parents, or they understand the value of their dollar and want to make sure it is used to the very last fraction of a cent. However, financial literacy goes beyond understanding the cost/benefit ratio of college expenses. It is directly related to students truly knowing about the nuts and bolts of paying bills, investing, and what to really do with a paycheck. High schools often fail to teach these skills because the classes are taught on textbooks, not real life. It is left the parents to teach these skills, and they are often relying on home economics classes to get the job done. If you want to teach your child about financial literacy, be open about real financial decisions within the family and introduce them to people in their potential fields of interest who can let them know what to expect. Better yet – make sure your kids are in charge of their money – it is too easy to spend Dad’s and not think much about it.
Real Study Habits
This one seems to really exemplify why professors would call on homeschoolers and musicians. They have developed skills largely independent of constant direction and are capable of self-directed learning because they really have no other choices. In our homeschool the goal is to learn how to learn – and that doesn’t come from following state standards on boxed curriculum sets. That is called regurgitation.
By the time a typical student graduates from high school, he has probably been told thousands of times precisely how to complete the homework and accumulate the necessary information. College strips that away and presents students with broad concepts, but doesn’t tell them everything they need to know each step of the way. In order to really gleam knowledge in college students need to know how to ask questions and become partners in learning instead of passive bodies in the desks.
Real-World Work Skills
Communicating with people of all ages, abilities, and from all walks of life isn’t a skill that is imprinted in high school where students are segregated by age and social classes. Teachers are amazing people, but they just can’t be everything to every student. If a high school student is interested in broadcast journalism (like my son), sitting in a classroom with a teacher who has never done this trade can’t provide those real-world skills. Instead, parents need to help their kids find mentors and opportunities to grow these skills outside of the high school classroom.
Let’s be real – it is really hard to get into a good college with failing or substandard high school grades. However, the classes on the transcript aren’t the only things admission offices look at for acceptance. In fact, one of the prevailing guidelines my daughter faced when applying was minimum test scores on college entrance exams. High school grades were never really a factor. For this one instance, studying how to take a test well can pay off (although it is my absolute least favorite criteria).
Getting into college can be like a game, and staying in it can be like a race. If our kids don’t know where the finish line is for the race there really seems no point in running them ragged to get there. Parents need to proactively find ways for their kids to acquire these 7 skills outside of typical high school walls (and quit assuming everything is addressed by graduation). For more ideas on how to prepare your children well, check out some of these ideas.