Is Your Child Ready for College? Where to Look and What to Monitor?
By Sophia K. Havasy, Ph.D.

If only 50% of college students get a Bachelor's degree in this country, then it becomes important to know the characteristics of those who finish. An article published in Scientific American Mind, Why We Quit by Yvonne Raley, (August/September 2007), describes three contributing factors. 1) There is a good fit between the student and the school. 2) The student has academic self-confidence. 3) The student is able to manage their schedule and complete the work.

What I want to focus on is #3: whether a student can manage their time, keep track of deadlines, and complete the work in an ongoing fashion. High school does not provide as much information regarding the student's capabilities as we would think. High school is actually highly structured. It is the last time in anyone's life that the day goes from 7:40 am to 3:20 pm. The student gets up the same time each day. Most activities happen after school. Friends are in most of the same classes. Peers are in a common boat: PSAT, ACT, World History, junior year research paper, prom, etc. Depending on the level of coursework, e.g., academic, advanced, or AP, and the student's basic abilities, it is not uncommon for a student to get A's and B's and do very little actual work.

So, how do parents know whether their student is ready to go away to college and be successful? They have to know where to look and what to monitor. The data is found in the daily exercise of self-management skills. If 60% of Texas college freshmen must complete at least one remedial, non-credit class in Reading, Writing, or Math, then it behooves a parent to know at what level their student is able to function before they get to college.

Many of my ADHD and LD adolescents will tell me that they do not read the materials for class, or read much of anything. Reading can be tedious, difficult, boring, etc., for these young people. The question then becomes how do they compensate? Or has high school even placed demands for compensation? Does the student figure that she can get by in college without reading because she has in high school?

Are essays written at the last minute? Does the student know how to organize an essay? Can the student work with a first or second draft and revise it? Parents do not need to hover and over-function like a helicopter parent making sure that every essay is perfect. They do, however, need to read an occasional essay so that they have real data on the level that the student is able to write. Parents need to read the longer research paper to see what happens when more is demanded of the student.

The only way that I know to learn higher level math in college is to work the problems. I know students adept at math, who nonetheless have failed math in college. The reason: No one was grading the homework problems, so the student saw no reason to do it! In high school, does the student do the homework? Does the student consistently workenough problems to comprehend the subject matter?

Fortunately, many schools are using online portals where parents and students can review the student's academic standing on a daily or weekly basis. Some teachers keep the portal information more current than others, but it can be a good place to start. Are zeros on homework grades a common feature? Is the student ready for quizzes? If the student completes daily work and the test grades are low, it is important to figure out why that is the case. Does the student understand the material? Does she know how to study? Does anxiety interfere with test performance? Understanding the obstacles and problem- solving the solutions are important lessons for the high school student and the parent to tackle together. Is the student motivated to invest in solutions? Will the student work harder in order to do better in school?

Getting a high school student ready to be successful in college involves parents monitoring real data, and then, having ongoing conversations with the student as to the expectations. Do not rely on the high school grades to inform you how academically prepared your student is to be successful in college. Away-colleges are expensive settings to complete non-credit, remedial classes, especially if the student is capable of much more. Parents may not be able to force the teenager to complete homework or do more than the minimum to get by, but they can make informed decisions on what level of college they will invest in for their student. The students will weigh in on the decision by the data they provide.