Beyond Academics—Preparing Your Kids for College

We all want the best for our kids—we want them to take our triumphs and improve upon them, avoid our mistakes, and generally be more successful. Tessa wrote about ways to set up your teen for success in high school, and I want to extend that to help prepare your kids for college.

As a professor, I get to work with many students will all different backgrounds—from first generation college students, to international students, to 3rd or 4th generation college students, and everywhere in between. As I began working on this post, I started to think back to the students who were really successful (or learned rather quickly) and thought of the characteristics that helped them throughout their college career. Academics is an important aspect of college, but academics are certainly not the complete package. This list is mainly focused on how to prepare kids for college beyond another test prep course or AP class.

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1. Respect

Tessa mirrored this in her post that those who are successful in high school show respect; the same is true for college. Teach your kids respect and extend that by encouraging it throughout their lives. Showing respect can take on many forms—ranging from sitting up rather than slouching in their chairs to coming, to classes prepared to learn (we don’t expect you to know the material, but we do expect that you come willing to hear what we have to offer you). I teach in smaller classes (about 50) and know at least your name and something about you. However, in most cases, you become one of many (I’ve heard of 800+ lecture halls), where professors do not always know your name, but we will remember your general attitude. You’ll want to maintain a level of respect especially if you want a professor to write you a letter of recommendation for a job or internship.

2. Err on the side of formal

Teach your kids or students how to formally address people. In college your professor may go by Dr. Smith or less formally, by John, but wait until you’re told that. Until you’re given the first name go-ahead error on the side of formally addressing them (especially in emails). This also ties in with showing respect to your professors; calling them by the appropriate titles they have earned through dedication to education and research in their field.

3. Let them take care of their own schedules

College brings so many fun experiences, new friends, exciting classes, more activities to get involved with than anyone could every dream of. With great opportunity comes great responsibility. Successful college students are those who are able to manage their time, work hard, and learn from their mistakes. I don’t think there has ever been a college student who hasn’t forgotten a due date (guilty), slept in the day of an exam (guilty), or missed an assignment (guilty). The successful students are those who understand that they messed up, do not blame anyone else for their mistake, do not expect anyone to fix it for them, and have learned from it. Parents, you are the gate keepers of their schedules; you are the logistic master in your family. However, in order to truly help your student succeed, you need to take a step back and let your kids figure these things out for themselves. It may pain you to see them mess up, but you need to let them do that. Be there to help them learn the lesson, but they ultimately have to be responsible for their day-to-day activities. This doesn’t start in kindergarten, but it certainly should in high school–especially as seniors in high school–step back and let your students navigate their schedules.

4. Hold your kids accountable for their actions

College is a time for students to expand their knowledge, take risks, meet new people, and begin to figure this adult-thing out. Students who have never faced consequences and have never been held accountable will find college to be difficult and–in turn–they will struggle. Professors expect students to listen and do things the first time they are told. There are few redos in college (and the redos are generally re-taking a class which can get quite expensive).  During high school if your child did not do well on an exam they may have the opportunity to retake that exam—this is almost non-existent in college. If a professor assigns a reading assignment but that student fails to do it, there may be consequences. Help your students learn how to be responsible for their tasks and actions by holding them accountable. If you ask them to be home at a certain time… “or else” and then never follow through, they will continue to expect that treatment in college. Consequences are real and costly in college. Help them before they get to college by understanding they need to be accountable for their actions.

5. Let your kids be bored

Do you love your job? I absolutely love my job.  It is one of the most exciting careers, and I never anticipated that I’d be doing this. I hope everyone has an opportunity to feel about their job like I do about mine. Are there parts of my job that I’m less thrilled about doing—yes, but I do them anyway. I do it because it has to get done. Teach your kids that not everything in life is going to dazzle them. Sometimes they just have to suck it up and do it. Help your students understand that even if they are not enthralled with the topic that it is not OK to fill bored class time with phones, social media, other projects, sleeping, etc.

College is an incredible time; it can be some of the best years of a person’s life. There are so many opportunities to grow emotionally, socially, and professionally. This is a major transitional time where students are expected to grow from dependent young people to independent, thriving adults. You can help your child transition by helping them develop skills that go beyond another AP class, ACT prep test, or academic club. Academics are important in college but know that there are other ways to be successful. Mediocre students academically can stand out in other ways through respect, work ethic, and other “soft skills.”

Have you raised a successful college graduate? Are you a successful college graduate? What are some tips you’d give someone just entering this exciting chapter of life? 

*This post was originally written in 2018

Hi I’m Jamie. I’m originally from Aurora, CO. I moved to Nebraska to attend Hastings College to where I ran into my husband while running on the Track Team. I have my Ph.D in Economics and work at the University of Nebraska at Omaha as an Assistant Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for Economic Education. As a professor I teach economics to college students and research economic education and financial literacy education. As the Director of the Center for Economic Education I get to work with the Omaha and surrounding area K-12 teachers and teach them how to teach economics and personal finance in a fun and engaging way. Economics has a bad rep and I’m here to change that! We have two kids--my daughter Vella is 3 1/2 and my son Brook is 9 months old! I have a fur baby puggle named Rodgers (the Wagners are cheeseheads). We are a family that loves the outdoors and being active!