How to Prepare Your Kids for College – Part 1

Photo by Joel Coleman

Environments to Consider

In an effort to help assist parents as they guide their children through the next chapter of their life – beyond High School – we will take a look at several areas that warrant parental attention. In the first part, we will examine various environments that these students will encounter: Physical, Spiritual and Academic. The second chapter will cover the practical needs and preparations that the students will need and/or want; the final article will offer some conclusions for you as parents to consider.

Every parent has the same goal: they want better for their children than they had at their age. In practice, this takes a variety of forms, but the underlying principle is the same from family to family. All parents want their children to “go farther” than they did.

For some families, the idea of a college degree is new. Years ago, only a few students had the opportunity to attend college through graduation. Usually, immigrant families filled the labor market (as opposed to management or executive positions), but with sacrifice, planning and hard work, they could get a son or daughter off to college to improve the family status.

College is much more accessible today. There are a myriad of higher education options that are available to nearly all students. Today the question isn’t “can we send our child to college?” it is “where should our child go to college?”

There are some very important areas to consider as you help prepare your child (who is a man or woman by now!) to go to college. Here are three areas to consider as you get ready to send your student off to attain higher education. (Note that the assumption is that the student will be enrolled full-time and reside on campus during each semester. Even if this isn’t the case for your family, the ideas mentioned are transferable and still important to consider.)

Physical Environment. Dorm life is very different from home life. Dorm life is different from apartment dwelling, too – dormitory life is its own reality! This will be the biggest adjustment the student has to deal with. Unfamiliar surroundings, unfamiliar people (who often have a different set of morals/ethics/customs/habits/experiences) and new routines can be overwhelming to the new student. They should be made aware that there are resources available on campus to help their adjustment. They will need to be experts at taking responsibility for all their personal activities, possessions and schedule. There won’t be a mom or dad waking them up in time for class or telling them to wash their clothes. For many students, this is a wake-up call to adulthood (or at least personal responsibility), as they had most of the mundane tasks done for them. On top of that, they will get to learn how to get along with a strange roommate.

Spiritual Environment. Every school environment has a spiritual quality. Even the self-designated “secular” environment has a spiritual quality (even if the view is that there is no absolute authority). Generally, most non-religious colleges and universities try hard not to have a specific spiritual environment, but we know better. If your student has a desire to pursue a specific course of study that is best done at a mainstream university, they will do well to understand that the specifically secular environment will actually be in direst opposition to most faith-based worldviews. Higher learning can be an end to itself and the unprepared student can be challenged more than they are able to withstand unless they recognize and understand the culture of the school specifically and academia in general. The prudent parent will ensure their student has a firm foundation for their worldview and spiritual condition.

Educational Environment. The student must recognize that they are not in High School anymore. Where grade school was compulsory (and subsidized by the local populace through taxation), college is voluntary and self-funded. Where the High School student may have been catered to (with tutors, reminders and other assistance), the college student is expected to take ownership of their assignments, papers and exam preparations. A grade school education is provided; a college degree is earned. College professors have a different perspective than High School teachers – they expect the student to do their own work with minimal direction (outside the classroom). The college student is to be motivated by default; they are pursuing an endorsement from the school for their knowledge and capabilities which will be used to achieve success in the world. This is a higher standard than meeting the number of days of compulsory attendance under state guidelines for grade school!

In all three of these environments, there are multiple distractions to derail an otherwise successful college endeavor. Self-discipline is critical for the new student to overcome these pitfalls. Sex, alcohol and drugs and other heretofore unrealized ‘freedoms’ can result in much damage. While all schools have a code of conduct, the truth is that the college environment is fraught with risk – physical, emotional and spiritual. The wise student will recognize these risks, count the cost of decisions they make and reduce the impact of potential distractions. The discerning parent will have honest and frank conversations with their children before they matriculate in order to prepare them for this new chapter in their lives. This article is not meant to discourage college attendance, it is a call to examine this idea with open eyes and honestly assess the whole picture (warts and all). Parents have spent a significant portion of their lives instilling the family values in their children; it is foolish to neglect this step of preparation for this portion of their journey. The practical elements (finances, travel, course schedules, etc.) of college will fall into place at the proper time. Don’t allow your student to be caught off guard and blindsided by unanticipated negative influences or opportunities. After all, we all want the best for our children!