We’ve shared these statistics before, but they’re never any less shocking. The United States is ranked 9th among 28 industrialized countries for college enrollment, but DEAD LAST for college completion. This means that thousands of aspiring students will begin college each year, but a large percentage will never finish.
If you’re a parent of a soon-to-be graduating teen, this is a message you don’t want to miss. As parents, we need to set our children up for success by equipping and encouraging them to reach their goals.
For a host of reasons, today’s young adult faces an even greater transition than in generations past. The fact that so many students don’t finish college reveals their lack of preparation for adulthood and all the responsibility that comes with it.
In many cases, it’s because they get off to a rocky start. The first three months after leaving home are vitally important, often setting the tone for the rest of a person’s college or career experience. We’ve all heard the tragic stories of college careers that ended prematurely.
Here are some ways you can help position your teen for a strong start after they leave home:
- Prepare them for the social adjustment. The loss of a teen’s convenient support structure (parents at home, familiar teachers and friends) can be hard to take, especially for those who are reserved by nature. Often, this leads to intense loneliness and getting into the wrong crowd for the sake of making new “friends” quickly.
Talk about this in advance, so they won’t be surprised by loneliness and feelings of isolation. Help them plan some strategies, like making it a point to meet everyone on their dorm floor, joining clubs/organizations of interest, working out at the rec center, studying in the library where they can meet people, etc. All of these strategies help make a big place feel smaller. The goal should be to patiently seek out people who share their interests and values. It will take time, but they will make new friends.
- Help them develop strong disciplines. Time management, distractions, new responsibilities (laundry!), variable class schedules, and the like are all new facts of life. Plus, in today’s technology-laden world, the temptation to be playing video games (or surfing Pinterest) instead of doing homework can be huge—not to mention the new social opportunities.
Help them develop a list of priorities and to become master schedulers and time managers. What’s important to them? Grades? Fitness? New friends? Spiritual life? Encourage them to look at their priority list daily. Their time is a precious asset with limited capacity!
- Prepare them for the academic pressure. Competition is stiffer, grades are fewer, professors are less inclined to offer extra credit, and college is pricey! Many times it takes students a full year to adjust to these new stressors. I was a poster child for that!
Encourage them to buy and use an academic planner (or app on their phone) that puts all of their exam and assignment due dates in ONE PLACE. This way your student can keep track of deadlines and not feel rushed. Also, What I Wish I Knew at 18 contains some effective strategies for mastering the academic transition into college.
- Set them up for financial success. I was amazed by how many credit card mailers our household received when our kids were high school seniors! Is it any wonder we hear so many young adults run into problems with credit cards and overspending?
It is a MUST for parents and students to be on the same page with respect to money. If you are funding their college education, be sure they understand their financial responsibilities. Whether they are in college or out in the workforce or military, you can help them set up a list of expenses and create at least a rudimentary budget.
- Establish a communication strategy. Be sure to develop mutually agreed upon expectations for communicating after they leave. Regularly scheduled weekly calls during the first year are reasonable. (We regularly hear of text/phone calls with parents as much as 5-10 times a day—NOT reasonable!) They can always call in the interim, but resist the temptation to initiate frequent calls or texts to check in. As hard as it may be, that would run counter to your role as an empowering coach.
Bottom Line: Advance preparation for these key adjustments will make all the difference in the world. Put the above five tips into practice and you’ll help position your teen for a successful transition into their new life chapter.
If you have a young adult in college what ways did you help prepare them for the transition? How did they do? Do you wish you did anything differently or have any advice to share?
About the author
Dennis Trittin is the author of What I Wish I Knew at 18: Life Lessons for the Road Ahead and Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World. Through his books, blog, and nationwide speaking engagements, Dennis prepares students for life success and equips parents and educators in their vital training role. You can find him here on Facebook.