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Is Your Child Ready to Go Away to School? (part 1) - Academic Preparedness, Social/Emotional Preparedness

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Academic Preparedness

Academic preparedness is the easiest to determine. What are your child’s current skill levels in writing, reading, and math? Find this by having your child take the ACT test fall or spring of junior year or by having your child go to the local community college and take the COMPASS test. You can then compare your child’s ACT or COMPASS scores to ACT’s College Readiness Benchmarks.

The ACT College Readiness Benchmarks are the ACT test scores required for students to have a high probability of success in the credit-bearing (not remedial) college courses many students typically take in their first year of college. These first-year courses include English composition, social science courses such as American history and psychology, biology, and college algebra. ACT has done extensive research on college readiness. The benchmark numbers are the minimum ACT or COMPASS scores that students would need to achieve in order to have a 50 percent chance of earning a grade of B or better or a 75 percent chance of earning a C or better in the corresponding college courses. The ACT looks at English, reading, math, and science skills, while the COMPASS looks at English, reading, and math. Do an Internet search for “ACT college readiness benchmarks” to see a chart of benchmark scores.

Another aspect of academic success in college is what high school counselors call the ability to “play school.” This is your child’s ability to adapt to the norms and culture of the institution, whether high school or college, in order to achieve academic goals. The ability to “play school” includes doing homework outside of class, turning in assignments on time, meeting teacher expectations, engaging in classroom discussions constructively, asking questions, getting along with teachers, using the library and online resources, managing time, and meeting multiple project deadlines. All of these behaviors shape the “habits of mind” needed for success in college. How well does your child “play school” in high school? How well do you think she will “play school” in college?

One indicator is how much time your child is spending on homework outside class during her junior and senior year in high school. Students who attend college will be expected to spend at least two hours per week of outside study time for each credit hour of class. A student who is taking 15 college credit hours will need to budget at least 30 outside study hours each week to be successful in those classes. This amount of independent study can be a shock for an academically strong student attending college for the first time. It can be a time-management disaster for a student who is not accustomed to doing any homework at all.

Another indicator of your child’s academic readiness for college is her success in high school math. Almost all bachelor’s degrees require college algebra or another course in quantitative reasoning. To avoid taking remedial math courses in college and the corresponding delay in completing a degree, your child should take as much math as possible in high school, including a math course senior year. Studies show that one year of high school math beyond algebra II can increase your child’s chances of completing a bachelor’s degree by 50 percent.

A third indicator of your child’s readiness for college is how well she can write. College students are expected to produce numerous short papers, as well as longer research papers, in a variety of classes, not just in English classes. Going into college, your child will be expected to read unfamiliar material, analyze it, and respond critically in writing. She will be expected to write quickly and concisely in response to essay test questions. How well does your child write? Has she written a research paper in high school in which she has referenced multiple sources using a standardized writing style guide? Your child should be comfortable and confident in her writing skills when she goes to college in order to be successful.

Social/Emotional Preparedness

Social/emotional preparedness is the second factor you need to look at in assessing your child’s readiness for college.

This is a more subjective matter than academic preparedness. It involves your child’s resilience and resourcefulness and her ability to set personal boundaries and make good choices in a new, unregulated environment. It is about how sensible, practical, and organized your child is and how easy or hard it is for her to make new friends, ask for help, and be open to new interests.

College, and especially the transition to college freshman year, is stressful. Many parents romanticize their own college experience as a sort of idyllic break between childhood and adult responsibilities. But college was stressful back when you were in school, and it is stressful for young people today. More students who are academically underprepared for college are attending college today. These students, along with their more academically prepared counterparts, are taking on much more debt than students 20 years ago to pay for college. Young people experience stressors that didn’t exist when you were in school. Errors of judgment in the party scene that would have caused you private remorse 20 years ago can be recorded on a cell phone and publicly shared on the Internet. Going away to college means leaving a support system behind and creating a new one. How well do you think your child will handle this challenge?

Step back and think about your child. What are her personal strengths and weaknesses? As you imagine her in a new college environment, how well do you think she will do making new friends? Will she have a support system already in place in terms of friends from home attending the same college? Will these friends be a positive or negative influence? Is she likely to join campus groups of students who share similar interests? Will she be joining a sorority and have a new support system there? How well do you think she will handle situations in which alcohol is involved? Does she have a track record of setting healthy personal boundaries in unregulated social situations? Do you anticipate your child being homesick or “friend-sick” in that she will be emotionally focused on family and friends in other locations and not fully engaged in her new environment?

These are all things to consider in making the decision about where to send your child to school.

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