College Prep Tips for Homeschoolers: It’s Not Just About Academics
Here is one important skillset needed before going away to college. A professor provides her insights to help Catholic homeschool parents prepare their teens for life after high school.
Parents often want to know what they can do to prepare their children for college. Homeschool parents tend to be primarily concerned if they are doing enough to set their children up for success.
I’ve been a college professor for over ten years and so I have some insight on this topic. Parents always stress about ensuring their students are academically prepared, but they often overlook the more important success factors.
As a professor, I rarely encounter students who just aren’t capable academically. More often, it is other issues that contribute to a student not succeeding in college. A significant factor parents (and students) often overlook is self-regulation. Self-regulation is the ability to plan and execute your goals while ignoring distractions. Some people call this self-discipline.
A self-regulated student is able to look at the semester and realize due dates for big projects and exams for many different courses. They then plan accordingly. They can look at their schedule and realize that they can only handle working ten hours a week at their job to keep their grades from suffering. They plan and organize their time to be successful.
Another aspect of self-regulation is being able to delay gratification. A student who has an important exam on Friday but wants to attend the basketball game on Thursday night will realize they have to study early on Wednesday or choose not to go to the basketball game. They prioritize their time, putting study time before the game.
Balancing Studies and Activities
College campuses have many activities designed to keep college students engaged. Unfortunately, if a student is not skilled at balancing their responsibilities, these activities can become a distraction. They can become a stumbling block for academic success.
Self-regulation can be especially difficult for a college student who is out on their own and away from their parents for the first time. Thrown into an environment that includes a lot of tempting social activities can contribute to academic struggles.
A recent study showed that only 64% of students who start at a four-year college or university complete their degree within six years. For two-year colleges, that percent was even lower, only 34% completed their degree in three years (National Center for Education Statistics, 2022). While I can’t say that every student who has done poorly in my classes lacks self-regulation, I would wager that the majority of them would do much better if they gained this skill.
The Parents’ Role
So the logical follow-up question is: How can parents help their children develop self-regulation?
First, you need to give your children a chance to develop it! When our children are young, we take care of everything. This is referred to as parental regulation in the social sciences. We do everything for our infants as they aren’t capable of much by themselves. As our children age, we slowly give them more responsibilities and move into more of a co-regulation relationship, where we share planning and responsibilities, in adolescence.
Eventually, our children will be grown and should be able to take care of themselves. However, this is not a trend we are seeing with young adults in today’s culture. We often hear colleges and employers complain that many young adults are immature and irresponsible.
How can we fix this? Give your children, especially your adolescents, age-appropriate responsibilities. Along with that, let them experience natural consequences for their actions. Your adolescent daughter didn’t do her laundry? Well, now she has no clean clothes for tomorrow.
On the academic side, I would encourage parents to have adolescents plan their own schedule to complete their academics – don’t set a schedule for them. Lay out the expectations of what needs to be done but let them figure out when and how, especially for high school students. Your middle schoolers and even early high schoolers will probably need some guidance, and that’s ok.
This isn’t a skill most people learn overnight – it takes practice and opportunities to make mistakes and learn from them. You may sit down with your middle schooler and go over what needs to be done each week and ask them to plan out a schedule, then offer suggestions for improvement or point out things they missed.
For example, your child may plan on finishing an assignment Thursday night for a class on Friday morning but forget that they go to youth group on Thursday evenings. As a parent, you can point out that they will probably not want to do homework after youth group. It is practice like this that help adolescents develop these skills.
I have encountered many college students who lacked self-regulation skills and had a difficult time in college because their parents stepped in and did all the planning and set schedules for them. Because of this, they didn’t allow their children to make mistakes or fail. As a result, their children didn’t learn the skills needed for self-regulation.
It is much better when students learn and make mistakes in middle or high school when the stakes are lower (and less expensive). If students don’t have the opportunity to practice self-regulation, they will have difficulty adjusting to college or being out on their own. Many parents assume that as they get older, self-regulation will come naturally. While self-regulation does improve somewhat with our cognitive development, students who didn’t get the opportunity to practice self-regulation in high school, aren’t naturally going to be good at it in college.
Parents, take the opportunity to help your children develop self-regulation skills. Give them opportunities to practice planning and executing some of their own responsibilities, especially with academics. Guide them, but also let them make mistakes and learn from them. Self-regulation will be one of the most important skills that will help them succeed not only in college but throughout life.
If you need help in this area, Homeschool Connections can recommend theses resources: