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College Readiness Checklist for Parents

Jeff Livingston

Senior Vice President, College & Career Readiness at McGraw-Hill Education.
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As May begins, high school seniors are enjoying their final weeks in school before graduation. In just a few months, they will be stepping onto college campuses for the first time and entering a new chapter.

Twenty-five percent of college students drop out in their freshman year because they are not academically, emotionally or financially prepared for college life and adulthood. Whether students like it or not, college takes planning and preparation. Fortunately, there are things that parents can do to make sure that their child is ready for what will be one of the biggest transitions of his or her life.

Here's a college readiness checklist to make sure your high school grads are prepared for what's waiting for them on campus. (Teachers, you may wish to pass this on to your students' parents.)

Arrange for them to speak formally to a recent college grad.

No one can give your child better advice than a family friend who has recently completed college and found a career in their chosen field. Encourage your child to speak with them about what it takes to be successful in college and what, if anything, they may have done differently. Have your child follow up on the meeting by writing a formal thank you note.

Teach them the ins-and-outs of their college finances.

Students are more likely to take college seriously if they understand how their college finances work. To show them the importance of making the most out of their education on a day-in, day-out basis, go beyond yearly tuition totals and review the cost breakdown of each individual class. Also show them the benefit that finishing in four years will have on their long-term financial future.

Have them start building their network -- now.

Some of the most important connections your child can make in college are ones that begin before they even set foot on campus. Encourage them to speak with their future roommate, other high school classmates who are attending the same college, and student officers in the clubs your child may be interested in joining. Sites like will allow your child to connect with future classmates who may share similar interests. And when your child arrives at school, urge them to be aggressive about participating in activities and meeting new people.

Give them opportunities to practice critical thinking.

For instance, you could give them the opinion section of a major newspaper and ask them to take an opposing viewpoint to an article, even one they agree with. Doing college-level work requires more than just taking what you read at face value and memorizing a bunch of facts -- students should practice thinking critically about what they see, hear and read.

Help them learn to manage their time.

Encourage them to use a digital calendar to keep track of appointments and deadlines. Many students arrive at college not knowing how to manage their time effectively. Digital calendars, such as Google Calendar or Apple's iCal, can be accessed from a smartphone or tablet, allowing students to stay on top of their schedule no matter where they are.

Make sure they get to know their faculty advisor.

Making big decisions like picking a major or following a career path can be daunting, causing students to put them off as long as possible. Faculty advisors, provided to students by most colleges, can help take the fear out of the process. Make sure your child develops a relationship with their faculty advisor as early as possible to ensure their choices are well informed.

Show them how to use social media beyond photos on Facebook.

College-age students are among the most active users of social media, but how many are aware of the ways it can benefit them academically and professionally? Have your child talk with recent grads who have used social media platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn to help build their academic network and market themselves as professionals. Additionally, sites like can help students get a feel for their school's culture before stepping foot on campus.

Equip them with the right technology.

To succeed in college, students need technology that works with the latest tools and systems being used in the classroom. Only a few years ago, this simply meant buying the latest model laptop. These days, as colleges introduce more technology into the classroom, students are using a combination of devices -- such as tablets, smartphones and e-readers -- to stay on top of their coursework and connect with classmates. Check the school's technology guidelines before making any major purchases.

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Jeff Livingston

Senior Vice President, College & Career Readiness at McGraw-Hill Education.

Comments (5) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Selena Trotter's picture

I believe this is an excellent list of ways to manage the trials of a first year of college. There is a great deal of advice of what college can do and how to get there, and what to do after college, but lists like this to help manage your time while you are a student in university is very rare. Another piece of advice that I think is really important is mental health and stress management. Many high school students are not prepared for the toll university level academics will have on them. Managing time is an important part of this, but also taking the time to de-stress and maintain your health is also vital. Taking time to go to the gym with friends, playing and building friendships which can help bring balance but also is one of the most important parts of the college experience.

Eric Brunsell's picture
Eric Brunsell
Asst Professor of Science Education @ UW-Oshkosh

I think one of the most important things we can do is to provide our recent grads with a "primer" on effective reading (and listening / viewing) comprehension strategies -- probably the single most important academic skill for college success.

M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

"Give them opportunities to practice critical thinking."

But don't expect too many professors in major liberal arts universities to encourage it in your child. Major liberal arts universities are little but factories to train your kid WHAT to think, as in, how to view the world, its people, its cultures, its religions, and races/ethnicities that comprise it. Don't be fooled into thinking that these universities will encourage true free thought, as in, any thought that dissents from what these professors want you to believe. I only needed five years on the faculty of a major liberal arts university to learn that it's true. I was often appalled to hear students' stories about being graded based on the point of view taken in term papers dealing with controversial political topics, such as Israel vs. Palestinians. Forget your grade if you sided with the Israelis. Forget your history grade if you didn't condemn Manifest Destiny. Forget your grade if you didn't embrace the tenets of christian socialism in a core humanities course and view the world as a bunch of haves and have nots.

Yep, that's what fifty grand a year to send your kid to a top school gets you ... an intellectual automaton and useful idiot for the Left.

Rocky Barrera's picture
Rocky Barrera
Student Services Professional

As a former Financial Aid, and Admissions Officer dedicated to access and equity for non-traditional students, I feel it is critical that all students first and foremost have a solid appreciation for the opportunity and privilege of pursuing a college education. On that note, students from families of modest means should also understand that they will be surrounded often times, by students from a more well-to-do, and privileged class. Often times in their desire to fit in to the social environment, will find themselves short on funds &/or feeling less than adequate, or 'inferior' to their peers. They must be armed with a level of self acceptance and prepared to guard against the pressures.

Beth Decker's picture
Beth Decker
Foundations teacher- A course for successful transition into adulthood

As a mother of 3 current college students, pursuing drastically different goals at varying types of schools, and a high school teacher/reading coach of 20years I have to chime in and agree with other 's comments. I feel there is a huge black hole in our system that far too many kids are falling through when it comes to coaching them into adulthood/careers. I created a class that I have been refining for a decade that I honestly think is a viable solution. Huge doses of reality, infused with deep critical areas of thinking, laced with concrete real life success building strategies around motivation, prioritizing, and independent learning and reading. I call it Foundations for Success and through the work with over 1,000 students now, a workbook project was born to help teens and their parents manage the transition into a challenging adult world. I would love to hear what other schools/teachers/parents are doing along these lines to address the huge gap that is growing between % of students starting college and those finishing as well as those feeling like they missed the boat of their dream job/career because they didn't get time to think/plan before leaping into reality.

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