What is “College Readiness”?

Embedded into our society and schools today is an expectation to prepare students for “college and career.” It can be seen in the standards that are taught and in the legislation that is passed. For a long time, the concept was an abstract one for me personally. I was not quite sure what this specifically looked like. Having now wrapped up my second year teaching at the university level, and working with many first-year students, I have a better idea of what college readiness entails. Here are five concrete “college readiness” concepts that won’t be listed in the Common Core (except one), but will sure help students succeed in higher ed!

1) Self-advocacy: In college, no professor will call your mom or dad when you fail a test, forget to come to class, or don’t do your assigned readings. In fact, FERPA laws prevent professors from even acknowledging to a parent that the student is in your class. I have witnessed too many students bewildered at what to do when they get a C; a tell-tale sign that their parent was the one who made the phone call to the school when there was an issue.

What does this mean? We need to teach our students at an early age to speak up for themselves and be their own advocates. Naturally, there are appropriate times in grade school when mom or dad need to speak to the teacher or administrator, but concerns about a grade or asking for help can (and should) come from the student. I have experienced too many students in college who have never had to speak up for themselves and are still too timid to do in now, so they are left with poor grades and no skill in how to ask for help. As teachers, put it out there on day one with your students and parents that any concerns about a grade must first come from the student.

2) Time management: On average, in college you are only going to have class a few hours a day. If you plan your schedule well enough, you can have days with no class at all. That leaves A LOT of hours open to fill. Students fill these hours with studying, clubs, sports, working out, a job, volunteering, or the ever popular sleeping. The point is that time needs to be managed appropriately, and without proper skills in managing time, things that truly do need to get done get forgotten or pushed to the side. Again, since mom and dad aren’t there to tell you what to do and when, students who have never had to manage time before typically face an unbalanced schedule of sleeping/partying to studying/working early in their college days.

What does this mean? As educators (and parents), we need to teach our children to set goals, use calendars, checklists, reminders, etc. to organize the many tasks and opportunities that are at our disposal. Independence comes with responsibility, so the earlier we instill pieces of responsibility, the easier the transition to college (and the real world) later on. 

3) Mental health: This is a touchy subject, and one that will not apply to all, but one that must go on the list. Each semester, I have found that I deal with a handful of students who are going through some type of mental health situation. Depression, insomnia, eating disorders, and substance abuse are all real issues that 18-22 year olds deal with. What I am finding out though in speaking to many of them is that these issues started years before in either middle or high school. Some students have a firm grasp on their situation, while others need more help.

What does this mean? We need to have keen eyes on our students at an early age for signs of mental health challenges. Since we know these issues arise early, finding professional support who can teach mechanisms to help cope and function in a setting like college is important.

4) You’re not that special: That sounds really harsh, but let me explain. At the university I work at, there is an overwhelming number of students who were either captain of sports team, president of the club, top of their class, most outgoing, prom queen, soloist musician, and so on. Many of them were used to being a big fish in a little pond. When you put a lot of big fish together in an even bigger pond, not everyone can still be the big fish. Naturally, there are some special students who continue to stand out even among their peers in college, but an overwhelming amount have to come to terms with being another fish in the pond, and that is a hard reality for some.

What does this mean? Challenge all your students, even the brightest ones, because it is safe to say there is always someone smarter/more talented out there. It is important to know how to fall and get back up to fight harder. Those who do not learn how to overcome adversity tend to have the toughest time adjusting to the demands of college and beyond.

5) Write, write, write: I promised there was one Common Core related point, and here it is. As a college student myself years ago, I got my backside kicked with how much writing there was in college. It seemed like every week I had papers due, and I was an average writer at best coming out of high school, so it was a crisis! In middle school and high school I got away with generic “opinion” pieces that may or may not have been based on anything of substance. In college, now all of a sudden I am expected to dive into books, journals, and articles to find evidence to support a thesis. Many of my first-year students struggle with this as well, and I sympathize with them because I felt the same way.

What does this mean? Integrate writing into every piece of your teaching, not just during language arts. Write across the curriculum and utilize primary sources to teach proper research mechanics and styles. Offer feedback as frequently as possible and require rewrites so students learn that one draft of a paper is not “done.”

In college, like most things in life, “you get out of it what you put into it.” College readiness has floated around as a fun buzz word for some years now, but has not been defined in concrete terms. Hopefully these points above, gathered from real experiences, serve as a glimpse into the important pieces of making our students “college ready.”  

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