College Preparation: It’s Not All About Academics

By: Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI).

As I prepare to send my oldest daughter off to college in a few weeks, I can’t help but wonder whether her mother and I prepared her well enough for the challenges she’s about to face.

In reflecting on how well my wife and I have prepared our daughter, I definitely learned from my collegiate mistakes. I also read articles by people smarter and wiser than me on getting children college-ready. While I agree with McAfee’s advice to recent high school grads (and their parents) to “work hard, take tough classes, and graduate on time,” it is a bit lackin3) Focus as much—and more when necessary—on the social and emotional aspects of school life.

School is a laboratory for life. As such, it teaches children—for good or ill—how to interact with peers and authority figures.g, simplistic, and short-sighted. Parents must start much, much earlier. By time they graduate, it could be too late or, at the very least, a much tougher haul in college.

Consider the following tips as you prepare your children for the rigors of college life:

1) Save early and often. 

It might surprise you (or not) that this first tip focuses on money. I can’t tell you how good a decision it was that my wife and I set aside money for our children’s education. While we don’t have it all paid for, we’re a good way down the road.

2) If one parent wants to manage your children’s school lives, let them go for it.

My wife comes from a family of teachers—her grandmother, mother, and both sisters are or have been teachers. So when my children entered school, my wife started to manage that part of their lives like a fish takes to water. I let her dive right in. That’s not to say that I abdicated responsibility.

3) Focus as much—and more when necessary—on the social and emotional aspects of school life. 

School is a laboratory for life. As such, it teaches children—for good or ill—how to interact with peers and authority figures.

4) Stalk your children’s grades as if they were a Facebook account. 

Let’s face it, grades and GPA matter when it comes to competing for a spot in the freshman class at many colleges. Moreover, good grades and a high GPA can help pay for college through public and private scholarships.

5) Help with subjects you’re good at, and get your children help in others. 

My wife and I have different strengths when it comes to helping our children with school subjects. Unfortunately, neither of us are whizzes at math, so we’ve encouraged our children to get help in that subject from teachers, tutors, and peers (e.g. in study groups).

6) To ease the transition into college, enroll your children in college courses while they’re in high school.

Fortunately, my daughter made the same decision that I did to take college courses before starting college, but she started her junior year of high school. She’ll carry a full load as a freshman, but not as full as she would have otherwise. That’s critical because she’ll have to achieve balance between her school work, holding down a job, and using her spare time to take advantage of the growth opportunities her program will offer that are outside of class time.

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