College: Not just can you get in, but can you get out?

I find that many students and their families concentrate solely on the idea of finding schools where their child can get in. Instead, I advise families that I work with that while of course acceptance is a necessary component in this process, the more important question is: Will they be able to graduate?

The sad fact is that less than half of students who begin a college education will graduate at any time in their lives!  So, it’s not just about getting into a school, but being ready to have a great experience while there and leaving with a degree.

For that reason, it’s critical that you both spend enough time helping your child be academically and socially ready for college (this is a multi-year process!) as well as assist in their choosing the right school.

Regarding academic and social readiness:

Your child needs to be acquiring social and academic skillsall throughout his or her childhood, but especially in high school.  The goal is to help them become:

  • Independent.  You aren’t going to college with them.
  • Resilient.  There will always be setbacks and they have to be able to bounce back.
  • Self-Aware. Knowing their strengths/weaknesses and being able to ask for help when needed.

How can you help? Well, as parents it is beneficial if we expect a lot of our kids, help them brainstorm ideas for new opportunities, gently push them out into the world to explore their interests /gain some experience, and then step away and let them take it from there.

That includes letting them suffer the consequences when they don’t follow through on one of their responsibilities (sleeping through their alarm, leaving their homework on their bed, etc). Watching your child fail now in smaller ways is much better than her learning these lessons later when she is off on her own and the stakes are higher.

(Check out this recent NY Times article on raising successful children which expands upon this topic.)

Spending the time needed to find the right fit in college:

The search for colleges needs to be driven by fit – not by prestige, current popularity of the college at your high school or friends attending there.  The schools on your child’s list need to be a good fit for him or her – academically, socially and financially. That is a project that takes some time to research and not one to be taken lightly.

Things to consider:

  • Where will your child be happy socially?  Do they fit in with the student body? Do they feel at home on campus?
  • Can your family manage the finances? (Plan for 4+ years)  Do you need to find a school where your child is likely to be awarded merit aid? Will more than one child be attending college at the same time (may affect need-based aid).
  • Is the school at the right academic level? Does the school provide adequate academic support?  Can your student do the work once there?  Is it the right balance of work/play? Does the school offer a major(s) that your child (thinks) wants to pursue?

If one or more of these factors is missing, it can require a child to reassess and possibly start over. That’s not the end of the world, but it’s certainly better when enough time is taken to make careful choices that reflect your child’s particular profile and that gives them the best chance at success in college and a good start on the years ahead.

Keep these two important things in mind as you and your child set off on another academic year!

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