College readiness checklists are always about the steps to get your high school senior into college. The larger question is, “Is your teen ready to go to college?”
Editorial Note: All Kinds of Therapy reached out to a few Gap Year/Transitional Young Adult programs (EDGE, College Excel, Mansfield Hall & Onward Transitions*) that serve students who have been counseled to take a transitional year to hone their life skills, social skills, academic skills, emotional readiness (or have attempted college and it did not initially work) before taking the larger step into various types of college or professional settings. Below is an amalgamation of their responses.
College Readiness 101
The paradigm of support fundamentally shifts when a teen moves beyond high school. In high school, teachers, coaches, parents, and mentors are all keeping a close eye on students – and it is incumbent on the adults to notice when a student needs help or support, and the adult initiates that support, with the student often passively accepting increased attention.
Beyond high school this model is reversed 180 degrees. In traditional colleges, no longer is there an adult who is tasked with monitoring student growth or development. No longer is anyone responsible to bring services or supervision to the student – the student must be able to go get what they need for themselves.
One way to evaluate college readiness is to go through the following checklist. An honest assessment is critical.
1. Will your child
Identify when they are struggling – in any domain (academically, socially, emotionally, financially, health, etc)?
2. Will your child Independently Access the supports and services that are available?
3. Will your child Independently and Effectively Apply the supports and services which are provided?
If you and your teen can answer “Yes, Always!” to each of these questions then your child is likely ready to face the challenges of college and increased independence. This does not mean they will not potentially benefit from a supportive experience, but it does mean that they likely have the core competencies needed to successfully face and overcome challenges in college.
However, if the answer to any of the above is “no”, or even or “sometimes”, then there is still a lot of landscape where your child can become lost, and evaluating support networks to mitigate those risks while doing some intentional work to close the skills gap may be needed.
Many families will look to small and supportive colleges, in the hopes that the smaller environment will provide enough active support to mitigate downside risk. While it is certainly true that small and specialty schools can be “more supportive” than, say, a 40,000-student university, it is important to remember that even in these smaller environments the paradigm of support is still fundamentally that of any college – which is to say that there is nobody tasked with continuous supervision of your child, and supports are not initiated by the institution, but rather by the student. Even if the college looks and feels “uber-supportive” then you will need to ask them, the following questions. The answers will help you identify the right level of support for your student.
How Supportive is the College?
1. Is there anyone to knock on a student’s door? While this may seem like pat reductionism, the answer is incredibly important, especially if your young adult still needs someone to “bring support to them” from time to time.
2. How long could one of your students “be missing” (from class, from the dorm, from social activities, etc) before anyone checks in on them? Does the college have any protocols to contact the family in such a situation?
3. Are there protocols to keep the family updated as to a student’s progress? How does this happen? When?
4. Does your teen regulate screen time, have a somewhat normal sleep pattern, do you worry about substance use? TIP: There are ranges in these behaviors.
5. Do you trust that your high school graduate can be healthy-enough, and safe-enough, in college? [“Enough” = a family value]
Emergency Preparedness: Questions to Answer as a Family
Prescription meds and therapy:
a. Does your young adult take psychotropic meds? TIP: This is by no means a deal-breaker for readiness for college, merely there should be a plan with the psychiatrist for college and the plan should come from the student.
b. Does your student advocate for what they need with their psychiatrist?
c. Does your student have a therapist? TIP: This is a support that should be considered before it is needed. If your child has a successful relationship with a therapist in high school, then having a plan to find a therapist in college is a good place to start. Again, your rising college student should be driving this process with his/her current therapist.
6. Does your teen independently advocate for his/her needs in high school?
7. Has your teen gotten up and ready for school, independently during senior year?
8. Does the potential student have the ability to make friends and socialize outside of class? Do they seek support from a peer group?
9. Are parents willing/able to appropriately advocate or support advocacy from a distance? Can parents empower their children and be cheerleaders without necessarily rescuing or enabling passive (or even slightly-dangerous) behaviors?
10. Would your student benefit from the “gift of time”?
TIP: Providing a semester or year of structured, therapeutic support to your child will give them practice, confidence and experience, which can then be applied to real-life
situations that they will have in college. At the same time, it is out of the house. It is “freedom with a safety net.”
Each student, parent, family, and the post-secondary option is different, and finding the best match for your child is important. Aligning interests, skills, and areas of growth with support networks, opportunities and services while minimizing downside risks and maximizing upside growth potential is a complex algorithm.
It is important to make sure that the young adult is actually interested in college, rather than a trade school, a job, or other options. Several programs stated that their clients start college because, “I am supposed to go to college.” Young adults who are not motivated by academic pursuits will usually have more difficulty compared with students who have an internal drive to attend school. Families and professionals helping emerging adults would be wise to spend time confirming that college is in fact a desired goal for the young adult.
On the other hand, it may take some time actually participating in a college atmosphere, with appropriate adjunctive support from a transitional living program, to come to the realization that college is not a good fit. It is at these times that being engaged with a supportive service can make the difference between redefining success (by entering a trade or associates certificate program, etc) and feeling like a failure.
All Kinds of Therapy broke down the levels of care for 18+-year-olds seeking Young Adult treatment (from a high level) in a blog summer 2017. The least restrictive environment was a Gap Year, but even then, you as a parent or young adult, need to investigate and contemplate what supports you need.
* Full disclosure: EDGE (Chicago, IL), College Excel (Bend, OR) & Onward Transitions (Portland, ME) are advertisers on this website, and Jake Weld (Mansfield Hall, WI & VT) is a frequent contributor to this blog.