Homeschool FAQ: How Can I Prepare My Child for College Studies?

The recent news about a college admissions scandal has overshadowed what is, for most, a bigger issue — college readiness. After all, getting into a college isn’t of much value if a student isn’t actually prepared to the work required to succeed.

In fact, as university provosts and deans have shared with me over the past year, our traditional indicators for measuring a student’s ability to succeed in college have proven increasingly unreliable. Many are coming to realize that GPA and scores on entrance exams are not necessarily accurate indicators that someone is ready to do college-level work. While these tools may indicate a general cognitive ability and/or the potential to memorize and manipulate sets of foundational information (in math, English, reading, and science), they do not necessarily measure the maturity level of a person’s thinking or their aptitude for learning.

In other words, knowing sufficient information to process what is being presented in college classes does not necessarily correlate to being able to think critically about that information. It is also not a reliable indicator of a person’s ability to take responsibility for their thinking and learning.

This gap between being knowing information able being able to think and self-direct in the learning process is one of the reasons an increasing number of institutions is de-emphasizing entrance-exam scores in the admissions process.

More than 220 colleges have de-emphasized the ACT and SAT since 2005, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a watchdog group. Last year Colby College was among nearly 30 institutions to drop or modify their testing requirements.

One reason the list is likely to keep growing: data, data, data. Colleges are using ever more sophisticated statistical analyses to better understand how their students perform. On many campuses, deep dives into enrollment data have helped admissions offices determine which pieces of information they collect from applicants actually help them predict a variety of student outcomes, such as first-year grades and progress toward a degree. Chicago found that ACT and SAT scores didn’t tell it much about who would succeed and who would struggle.

Now, back to the question. If your goal is to prepare your child for real academic success in college and beyond, you need to look beyond the traditional admissions requirements and work with them to develop some essential skills. These are the same skills, by the way, that we focus on in the College Readiness mini-course we are developing (to be released in July).

1. How to Study and Learn in College — One of the biggest differences between high school and college courses is the expectation that students be responsible for their own learning. They must manage their personal schedules and take ownership of their studies. They will have to develop their own study materials and strategies, as well as maintain their motivation. College students must also adjust to the fact that answers and explanations may not be provided conveniently by instructors — they will have to find these on their own.

2. How to Think — Succesful college students have a “learner’s mindset.” They are explorers who enjoy being pushed centrifugally outward into the world to discover new things. As part of this discovery process, they must be able to think both critically, creatively, and strategically, connecting information pieces from across the curriculum to form new mosaics of understanding.

3. How to Communicate —  Strong written and oral communication abilities are critical to college readiness and success. Students need to understand the appropriate channels of communication in college and learn how to take advantage of those channels for proper effect. They will also need to become effective listeners, knowing how to ask good questions and collaborate productively in group projects. Successful college students are able to assert their ideas and opinions and disagree respectfully with other students and their instructors.

Rob Reynolds, Ph.D.
Executive Director, TEL Library