College is a really big deal, not just because a person with a college degree will earn twice as much in a lifetime than someone without one. For many students, college is their last educational chance to show they’re intelligent, knowledgeable, resourceful people, clever problem solvers, and excellent communicators.

What is the question that prospective employers always ask? “How smart are you?” Maybe not in exactly those words, but it’s the basic question on employers’ minds. Employers want mature, industrious people who “achieve.”

Having earned a degree on time with high grades, the applicant can honestly say in a job interview, “Yes, I’m smart and work hard. Just look at my college transcript, and see what I can do. I can get the job done.”

On-time graduation signals that the applicant is organized, focused, responsible, and meets deadlines. Applicants who present college transcripts covering five or six years showing dropped courses, inconsistent grades, and transfers from one college or program to another appear “wandering” without goals, without purpose.

College is Different

Most students think college is high school, only away from home. It’s not. Therefore, to succeed in college, students are going to have to make some serious adjustments. First, most studying occurs independently outside of class, which takesskills, like time management. College is also a full-time job, so students have to study better, harder- and a lot longer. And, lastly, they have to focus on graduating on time. It’s all up to them.

Graduation rates

Most college students do NOT graduate on time. Only about one-third graduate from a 4-year degree program in four years. In fact, after six years, nearly 40% of college students still have not completed a four-year degree. Parents and students don’t expect college to take so long, especially those with great high school grades.

The cost of graduating late

For parents to imagine paying 25% more for an added year or 50% more for two years is financially frightening. Just do the math. All that wasted time and money, and there is your child graduating from college, trying to begin the next phase of life later than you thought-and with more debt.

Why don’t so many students graduate on time? Let me tell you what I have observed across the board: they lack the various personal management skills that enable them to handle themselves, their time, and their course work.

Practicing self-management skills at home

So how do you get your teen from “here” (where you are now) to “there” (on-time graduation)?

From the time your child is a preteen, you have to repeat these family themes: 1) learning is important to keep pace with change in the 21st Century; 2) real learning takes work and time, not just filling out worksheets; 3) college is a big expense for the family; 4) you expect your child to graduate from college on time.

Once you introduce these themes, make them a part of family life, and take action to back them up. In other words, you must follow-through at home. Set specific goals for your young student: for example, studying each subject every day (that means putting in the time, not just “doing” assignments and homework) and succeeding in each course, even when it’s hard. You’re trying to cultivate a self-sufficient, responsible student-

* who understands he/she can’t learn without spending time studying

* whose study techniques are productive and active

* whose study techniques mature each year to manage courses that grow in complexity and difficulty

* who knows how to organize days, weeks, and themselves

* who can manage time and reserve the time needed to “really” learn

* who takes initiative to start assignments early (not last-minute)

* …and who takes pride in work-not do the least they can do to “get by”

Parents’ role

While these abilities (let’s call them what they are: “competencies”) only scratch the surface, they are a start. They are based on two of the twelve strategies I’ve identified in talking to thousands of students. These are some of the abilities lacking in students in academic trouble.

The list contains the kind of self-management competencies needed to succeed in college, where, on their own for the first time, students need to know how to manage themselves, keep pace with their courses, plan ahead, and structure their days.

Therefore, middle and high school students must practice, develop, and refine such skills before arriving at college. Use these years to practice and “get ready” for the responsibilities that await them in college. Kids can’t do it alone. Parents must help them learn to take charge of themselves plus to set and reach goals on their own.

Start early to nurture well-developed independent study strategies. (Some students’ strategies haven’t matured since 6th grade.) As their study strength grows, students will gain confidence that they can work through challenging material. The result? They’ll be among the one in three that succeed in college and graduate on time, giving them a strong first step into their future.

2012 The Hole In Your Head, Inc.

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