Helping Our Sons and Daughters Be Successful in College
Parents whose sons and daughters recently went off to college want their children to stay in college. Many of us hope and believe that what is inherently desirable about the college experience will be sufficient motivation for our children to do what is needed to successfully negotiate the demands of higher education. And yet, in the United States, more students drop out of college than graduate! Equally shocking is the fact that 6 out of every 10 jobs require a postsecondary education. What causes so many students to be unable to sustain effort over time and leave college without graduating?
Graduation rates at public or state four-year colleges and universities remain at only about 40 percent of entering students. Private colleges and universities fare only slightly better: 57 percent of their freshmen go on to graduate. Two-year public colleges, or community colleges, have the worst record, graduating fewer than 30 percent of their students. Sadly, these statistics have been fairly stable over the past three decades, even though more people than ever before now attend college.
If we want to help our sons and daughters to maximize the chances for success in college, there are a number of things that psychologists, e.g., Raley (2007) have uncovered that can tip the balance in favor of successfully completing college.
- Research the college and visit prospective colleges; attend open houses; ask questions.
- Assess yourself: Are you ready to put the time, money and effort into getting a degree?
- Attend a college preparatory program in high school if one is available. Participate in summer programs and take basic skills courses. Ask for a summer reading list. Register and plan your schedule early. Attend student orientations.
- Do not limit your options: Most students change their major at least once, and any degree trumps none at all.
- When a problem crops up, do not be shy. Seek out college services such as psychological counseling, career guidance, faculty mentoring or tutoring.
- Research the college with your son or daughter.
- Provide emotional and social support, regardless of your child’s choice of major or career. Set goals for your child and provide financial incentives if that will help.
- Help your son or daughter prepare. Encourage participation in summer programs and orientation sessions.
- Stay informed and in touch: Is your son or daughter involved in student activities? Has he or she made friends? What are his or her grades?
While in High School, encourage your high school senior to take advanced placement courses to give them an idea of the academic challenges they will face when they enter college. Important skills in college are the ability to analyze literature, and the ability to take effective notes utilizing advanced skills in saliency determination. Also important is the ability to support one’s opinions. When these skills are well developed, the student has a far better chance of successfully completing college. When they are not well developed, high school students should be encouraged to attend a summer program or take remedial courses that focus on these skills. All college freshmen would be wise to take a study skills course if their school offers one. Such courses can help students manage their time and take effective notes. Teaching saliency determination will help the student focus upon the most important content of a lecture or textbook, a skill that will help them survive the next four years.
Lastly, ties to the home and family remain important, even as students try to move on. Parents should stay involved with their children and ask them about their grades, friendships, activities and overall happiness. Whenever practical, parents should visit their son or daughter at college, and do whatever is needed to help make school feel more like home.
Raley, Yvonne (2007) Scientific American Mind, Vol. 18, No. 4