David Murphy, Ed.D. and Cristina Evans, M.Ed.
Years ago applying to colleges and getting accepted was the hardest aspect of the higher education process. Now it is not only challenging to get accepted into a university of your choice, but it is also increasingly difficult to successfully meet academic and personal expectations while enrolled. Dr. Theresa E. Laurie Maitland of the University of North Carolina conducted a study which showed that roughly half of students enrolled in college are at risk of withdrawal, academic probation or taking longer than four years to graduate. Given the cost of enrollment, these statistics should concern us all.
To be on the right side of the 50% who struggle to manage expectations, you must ask yourself, “Is my child ready for college?” What is the plan to ensure success? Please note: HOPE IS NOT A PLAN, especially if your child has any learning disabilities or executive functioning deficits. One of the biggest challenges of the transition between high school and college is the newfound independence. With this newfound independence comes the responsibility to make decisions regarding schedules, meals, exercise, studying, socializing, etc. In some cases, a parent has gradually given their child independence and responsibilities throughout high school to prepare them for the life that awaits them in college. However, many parents of children with ADHD or other challenges often find that it is necessary and easier to manage their children’s lives all through high school for them to find success. It is with these college students that we see the greatest difficulties, as managing expectations on their own for the first time in their lives may prove impossible without some skill building.
Coaches at Effective Effort Consulting (EEC) work with high school and college students to help them develop the necessary skills for success in college and in life. We target the ten domains of college readiness assessed in the Learning and Study Strategies Inventory (LASSI). We help students develop a detailed action plan to manage academic priorities and find a balance between work time and free time. A vital step in the process is to shift the student into a calendar-based lifestyle. We work with our students to find a suitable online calendar and to then enter all of their academic, personal and social commitments into the system. This process includes scheduling classes, professor office hours, academic support hours, library time, exercise times, meals and social engagements into the system. This calendar should be reviewed daily and shared with a trusted adult to promote accountability.
Another step in the coaching process is to be sure each student is proficient in study skills and note-taking. Often students need training in how to take notes from oral lectures, textbooks, and powerpoint slides. They also need a meaningful system to organize and track their notes and handouts. In terms of study habits, the most effective study habit is to attend all classes and plan two to three hours a day at the library to read, take notes, and complete assignments. By establishing effective zones of productivity (library time) around studying, students can manage distractions and effectively prepare and complete the content for each class.
In addition to mastering the university level academic requirements, students must also be adept at handling their personal lives. A past EEC client called this process “invaluable life skills” (Matt's Story). This process includes the maintenance of an organized room and possessions; management of laundry needs; self-care such as hygiene, healthy eating, exercise, medications, sleep, and friends; balancing emotional needs and stress level; and the management of finances. Methods for maintaining all of these daily living skills should be discussed before entering college and shared with a trusted support team to ensure accountability of the proposed methods.
If your child is a senior or is currently off to college, these are some other recommendations to consider:
- See if your child can manage the college application process. If they need help, then they will ask. If they can’t do it, then that’s helpful information about their readiness skills.
- Visit the school and tour the library. Help them pick the one location they will do their studying.
- Once enrolled, sit down with them and map out their school week and weekends. They will need to know their schedule.
- Schedule meetings with college support services and discuss the services that your child qualifies for.
- Make sure they have a notebook and folder for each class and that the syllabus for each subject is printed and placed inside each class folder.