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Many parents believe if their teens perform relatively well in high school and are accepted to college, they’re starting off on the right foot. In reality, though, college readiness isn’t as simple as a grade or a specific course track in high school. Instead, many successful high school students find themselves in over their heads when they start college. Why is this, and how can we help them to avoid this fate?

 

In this post, we examine the statistics behind college readiness and offer our top tips for college readiness, based on our experiences working with thousands of successful college-bound students.

 

 

Are Most High School Graduates Ready for College?

It’s commonly believed that a high school diploma signifies that a graduate is done with one chapter of his or her education and ready for the next, but statistics reveal that this isn’t always the case.

 

The National Center for Public Policy in Higher Education, a nonprofit and independent organization whose mission is to “provide leadership in the search for answers to critical questions about priorities for higher education,” recently released a study examining the college readiness of recent incoming freshman. It found that nearly 60% of first year college students find out they are not ready for college level work when they are placed in remedial English or math classes. These classes typically do not offer college credit and are prerequisites for students who do not place into the standard, introductory or upper level college courses.

 

Students generally are placed in remedial classes after taking a placement test soon after arriving on campus. Sometimes, standardized test scores are used to determine proficiency also. These remedial classes, sometimes referred to as developmental, are designed to build foundational skills, usually in core subject areas like reading, writing, and math. Students who place into remedial classes generally need a little extra support in building skills or filling in knowledge gaps before they can tackle introductory college work.

 

Unfortunately, students who place into remedial courses are less likely to graduate overall and are more likely to take more than four years to graduate. It’s easy to see why this is a problem worth addressing while high school students still have time to prepare. Though state educational standards and individual schools are undergoing changes aimed at improving college readiness, individual students, along with their parents, can tackle the task on their own, too.

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How Can Parents Help?

Set Clear Expectations

Many students are surprised to learn that they need to take placement tests, don’t take these tests seriously, or don’t bother preparing for the tests. The easiest initial step that you as a parent can take to help your student prepare is to open the conversation about placement tests. Let your student know that more than 80% of colleges restrict enrollment in courses based on proficiency. Remind your student that placement tests are to be taken seriously and have a real world, lasting impact on their educational future.

 

In addition, remind your student that simply showing up for class isn’t enough to prepare for these tests. To be college ready, he or she needs to be an active participant in his or her own education. Encourage your student to sit at the front of the room, engage in class discussions, and seek clarity from the teacher when he or she has questions. Many high school classes will be tailored to the level of knowledge the students possess coming into them, so your high schooler won’t necessarily learn everything he or she needs to know for college simply by sitting back and listening. Instead, your student should actively seek more knowledge and fine-tune foundational skills with the help of teachers and peers.

 

 

Acknowledge and Tackle Areas of Weakness

Students also need to acknowledge and tackle their own deficiencies. Teens have a tendency to try to hide their weaker skills in an effort to sneak by, unnoticed. While this might result in a passing grade, it doesn’t solve the longterm problem of these areas of weakness.

 

Your teen needs to recognize areas of weakness as opportunities for improvement. Encourage your teen to work on weaker skills, seeking the help of teachers or tutors as necessary. Let your teen know that these areas of deficiency aren’t anything to be ashamed of. Instead, they’re an opportunity to become an even stronger student.

 

 

Accept the Challenge of Difficult Coursework

Many students want to take less challenging classes than they’re capable of tackling. This often stems from an unwillingness to extend themselves academically and a fear of not being able to achieve top grades. You can help your teen by putting the bigger picture into perspective—the purpose of high school is to learn as much as possible, not simply to get high test scores.

 

Encourage your teen to enroll in the most challenging coursework that he or she is eligible for. Remind him or her not to let up during senior year, even if he or she has already been accepted to college. If your teen has completed the core subject requirements before senior year, let him or her know that it’s important to continue to learn and reinforce important core skills in subject areas like math and English.

 

 

Get a Taste For College Level Work

Finally, give your teen the opportunity to sample college level work. This could be through AP classes or exams, a local community college summer program, or online college courses. The most foolproof way to establish college readiness is to try it out in advance.

 

Even if your teen discovers that he or she isn’t ready for college level work, at least you and your student will have more realistic expectations and a better idea of which areas are in need of improvement.

 

 

What If My Teen Places Into Remedial Classes?

Though it isn’t ideal, it’s certainly not the end of the world if your student ultimately needs to take remedial classes. You can help your teen by viewing these classes as an opportunity rather than a punishment. Your student will be able to fill in knowledge gaps and improve skills before tackling college requirements.

 

If your student needs additional support, consider hiring a private tutor. While the costs might deter you initially, the amount you’ll pay for a tutor will almost certainly be less than what you’d pay for an additional semester of college, should your student not be able to graduate on time.

 

For more help in determining if your teen is college-ready or additional tips for preparing for college-level work, consider the benefits of the CollegeVine Near Peer Mentorship Program, which provides your student with access to practical advice on topics from course selection and college admissions to career aspirations, all from successful college students.

 

To learn more about supporting your college-bound teen, check out these CollegeVine posts, written just for parents:

 

Parents, How Involved Should You be in the Application Process?

Parent Perspective: What You Need to Know About Today’s College Applications

How Can I Help My Child Prepare for College Applications?

What Parents Need to Know About SAT and ACT Studying Prep

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Kate Sundquist

Kate Sundquist

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.
Kate Sundquist