Signs Your High School Senior Is Ready for College

5 Ways to Instill College Readiness When It Is Lacking

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Senior year is one of the most exciting years of the high school experience. Its filled with so many activities and milestones that it can seem to fly by in no time at all. And before you know it, your rising senior is walking across a stage in front of family and friends to accept their diploma. And if you are like many parents, you and your new graduate will spend the summer preparing to attend college in the fall. But is your son or daughter truly ready?

Throughout the school year, it's easy for parents and their seniors to get wrapped up in the process of filling out applications, visiting college campuses, doing college interviews and discussing college essay questions, that they forget to ask themselves the most critical question of all: Is my high school senior truly ready for college?

Unfortunately, the majority of parents just assume that the logical next step after accepting a diploma is to attend college in the fall. So, they send off their high school graduate with a computer, a new comforter, and host of other supplies without ever truly considering if college right now is the right choice. 

For many high school seniors, going off to college in the fall is something they are not quite ready for. In fact, only about 60 percent of students at four-year institutions complete a bachelor's degree within six years of enrolling. Meanwhile, degree completion rates for two-year institutions are even worse. One of the primary reasons that kids are not completing their degrees is the lack of college readiness, especially academically. 

For instance, a significant percentage of students are not ready for first-year college courses. In fact, 54 percent of college freshman are ill-prepared for college algebra and nearly 70 percent are not ready for biology. Meanwhile, 33 percent are not ready for English composition and nearly half of them are not ready for social science classes. Combine these numbers with the fact that many students also lack the academic behaviors and goals to be successful in college and you can begin to see why degree completion rates are so low.

So, how do you know if your senior is prepared for the next step? Here are some suggestions on how to asses your student's college readiness as well as ideas on how you can help them become college ready.

How to Assess Academic Readiness

Nationwide, about 40 percent of college students have to take at least one remedial course to prepare for college-level coursework, according to the National Center for Postsecondary Research. Researchers suggest that one cause of this lack of college readiness is the fact that high school graduation standards do not always mesh with college academic expectations. So, how do you know if your student is academically ready for college?

Aside from solid scores on tests like the ACT and SAT, teens should demonstrate that they are ready to handle the coursework that they will find at a typical college. One way to do that is by looking at the level of difficulty of the classes they are taking in high school. If they are mastering AP and Honors courses, there is a good chance that they are academically ready. But if they are struggling in basic classes, it might be time to assess their ability to handle college coursework.

Another indicator of academic readiness is the level of procrastination your teen engages in. Putting off assignments until the last minute is a bad habit to have, especially in college. A majority of college courses require that the student plan ahead as well as keep up with regular reading assignments. And there is a lot of reading in college. Getting behind on reading can significantly impact your child's success.

Attendance is another factor affecting college readiness. If teens have a habit of skipping school or need a day off from school pretty consistently, they will struggle in college. Many college professors require class attendance and may even make it part of the final grade. For this reason, teens need to be disciplined enough to get to class every day. Skipping classes not only will impact their attendance grade but also has a negative impact on their ability to grasp the course material. More times than not, lectures and class notes are essential to passing a class.

Finally, look at basic academic skills like writing, reading and time management and be honest. Does your teen have the skills that college will require? If not, you may want to consider tutoring programs and summer classes to get your student ready. Another option is to enroll in a community college as a way of bringing your student up to speed.

How to Assess Emotional Readiness

In the United States, about 60% of students enrolling at a 4 year school completed a degree at that same institution. This is a significant turnover rate suggesting that kids are enrolling in college before they are for the challenges that lie ahead. As parents, it can be easy to assume that every teen is ready for this next step but this is not always true. In reality, many kids are just not emotionally ready for all that college entails.

One of the best ways to determine if teens are emotionally ready for the college environment is to take a close look at how they are managing their lives in high school. For instance, you need to be honest about your teen's ability to be responsible, to make good choices and to manage time well. Does your teen arrive on time, get assignments done on time and steer clear of trouble or toxic friends?

Also be sure to examine how your teen handles difficult feelings and situations in her day-to-day life. College is not easy. Professors can be difficult to deal with and college roommates might be bullies. Think about how your teen would address these situations. Being able to solve problems and advocate for themselves are essential skills for college students.

Likewise, when life gets challenging how does your teen let off steam? Teens who turn to partying or other unhealthy behaviors for coping will struggle in college. Meanwhile, teens who know how to deal with stress in healthy ways will be more successful.

Other factors to consider when determining college readiness include the ability to take care of themselves and perform normal day-to-day activities like cooking, cleaning, laundry and other chores. There will be no one there to help them get these things done. When teens are not responsible enough to do these things on their own, this is a sign that they may not be ready for college.

Finally, consider how well your teen can assess risk and stay safe. For instance, the first few weeks of college are extremely dangerous for college freshmen, especially young women. Not only are they new to campus without a support network, but they also may lack the skills needed to keep them out of dangerous situations.

In fact, researchers have identified a "red zone," or the first few weeks of the fall semester, where incoming freshman women are at the highest risk for unwanted sexual encounters and sexual assault. It is important that teens have some basic safety skills to ensure they are not injured or assaulted as they are getting used to their new life on campus.

These skills include never going to parties alone, using the buddy system at night, limiting or not drinking at all and never accepting drinks from others. If your teen does not have a good radar for unsafe situations, you might want to consider delaying college or encouraging your teen to live at home the first year until they have developed some maturity.

5 Steps You Can Take to Instill College Readiness Now

While going off to college may seem like a declaration of independence, it does not mean a teen is prepared with the responsibilities that come with that independence. Students need to demonstrate that they make good choices, manage their time, learn from mistakes and live responsibly in order to show college readiness. And it is your job as a parent to help prepare them for that next step.

Avoid Making College Assumptions

Remember that not every high school senior is ready for college right out of high school. It is important to ask students what they want. Some kids are aware that they are not ready or prepared for the workload and responsibilities that come with being a college student.

For this reason, it is vital that you have an honest conversation with your senior. Listen to what they want and remember there is no shame in taking a year to work, participate in a gap year program, take a light course load or attend a community college in order to gain more experience as well as maturity and autonomy.

Additionally, be realistic about the high school workload and coursework. Ask yourself if the classes they took truly prepared them for the next level of education. For instance, college requires a lot of reading. If your student was not reading their textbooks on a regular basis, they may not be ready for all the reading that is required in college. Before you invest thousands of dollars in an education, be sure your student can handle a college workload.

Make Sure Your Teen Is Responsible

Many kids head off to college either with their tuition underwritten with their parents' hard-earned cash or with student loans. For this reason, it is important that your teen is responsible enough to handle the time management and self-advocacy that is needed to survive in college.

A good first step is teaching teens how to budget their time. Teach them how to use a planner or an online calendar to block out time for studying, catching up on reading and studying in advance for a test. Stress the importance of scheduling in some stress-relieving fun time, but not at the expense of other priorities such as studying, work obligations and sports practices.

Additionally, your teen should know how to interact with professors when they need extra help or feel that a grade is not accurate. It's important that your teen be able to approach their teachers now to ask for help when they need it. If they do, they will be more likely to ask for help from their college professors as well as advocate for themselves.

Provide Money Management Experience

Being able to manage money is an essential life skill and one that teens need to learn before they head off to college. Start instilling money management skills by asking your teen to develop a monthly budget for expenses like gasoline, eating out, school lunches, entertainment and other activities.

Also talk about wants and needs. If their wants exceed the money they have available to then help them learn how to cut back to make ends meet. This might mean eating out less with friends, packing their lunch for school or making coffee at home instead of spending $5 at Starbucks every day. The key is that kids realize that their resources are limited, and even more so when they are at college. Learning to live on a budget at home will help them immensely when they head off to college.

While many kids will have access to campus meal plans while away, they still will want to have snacks and drinks in their dorm. There also are books to think about as well as basic necessities like school supplies, paper towels, toothpaste and toilet paper. Teens should know how to manage their limited resources before they head off to college. 

Instill Life Skills

No incoming freshman should enter college without basic life skills. For instance, be sure your teen knows how to make simple meals, do their own laundry, and take care of minor problems around the house like plunging a toilet. While these skills may seem simple and inconsequential, they are an essential part of everyday life and teens should be able to handle them on their own.

Additionally, your teen should know how to navigate without a GPS or smart phone. There will be times in their lives when their phones are either dead or unavailable and not knowing how to get from point A to point B, can be a really big deal.

Teach your teen the basics of directions as well as how to use a bus or a subway. And if they do not know which direction to go, be sure they are confident enough to ask for directions. There is no worse feeling than wandering around a city with no idea of where you are or how to get where you need to be. Be sure your teen knows how to manage these situations.

Teach Basic Self-Care Practices

Self-care is one of the most basic requirements for life in college. For instance, your child will need to know how to make an appointment at the university's health center if they are sick. Likewise, they need to know how to take over-the-counter medications safely as well as take care of their bodies. If teens do not have good hygiene, never remember to wear their retainers, do not go to sleep on time and have no concept of proper nutrition, college will be a challenging experience for them and they will not fare well.

It is important to talk to your teen about demonstrating solid self-care practices before heading off to college. One of the best ways to do this is to encourage them to establish routines. For instance, teach your teen how to eat and sleep on a schedule as well as establish a basic nighttime routine. These basic skills will set your teen up for success while away at school. 

A Word From Verywell

There are many factors at play in determining whether or not a student is ready for college. While most parents assume that getting a solid ACT or SAT score is an indication of college readiness, this is only one factor. Students also need to be independent and responsible. They need to know how to make good choices as well as know how to ask for help when they need it.

Remember, students are primarily on their own at college. They do not have a parent there reminding them when to go to bed, when to eat and when to study. They need to be able to make these decisions on their own. And if they are not able to demonstrate this ability during their senior year of high school, they may not be ready for college in the fall. As a parent, it is your job to be sure that your student is prepared for this next step before pushing them out of the nest.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Act, Inc. Readiness Matters: The Impact of College Readiness on College Persistence and Degree Completion.

  2. National Center for Postsecondary Research. Preparing High School Students for College: An Exploratory Study of College Readiness Partnership Programs in Texas.

  3. Kimble M, Neacsiu AD, Flack WF, Horner J. Risk of Unwanted Sex for College Women: Evidence for a Red ZoneJ Am Coll Health. 2008;57(3):331-338. doi:10.3200/JACH.57.3.331-338

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon is a published author and a bullying prevention expert.