Three, Two, One…Take-Off: Getting Your Student Ready for the College Launch

For those with a high school student who recently committed to a college for the fall, congratulations! Enjoy this celebratory time! Once the dust settles after the stressful college application and selection process as well as the pomp and circumstance these next few weeks, reality may creep in that your student is about to leave the nest! And, you may start to contemplate if they are “ready!” 

Students’ applications to colleges include an enormous amount of information about their academic accomplishments, which college admissions offices use to determine “admissibility.”  Certainly being accepted to a college implies that a student is positioned to be successful (i.e., earn their degree). Did you know that both the SAT and ACT have college readiness benchmarks that are “the minimum scores in each section of the ACT associated with a 50% chance of earning a B or better and approximately a 75% chance of earning a C or better in the corresponding college course or courses”? In addition to it being well-documented that standardized tests are biased against students who have historically been excluded from higher education, I believe that whatever level of academic readiness such tests may indicate, there are other aspects of “college readiness” that are equally, if not more, important predictors of a positive college experience.

So what does being “college ready” really mean and how can you help your student increase their readiness before they embark on their college journey in just a few short months? Based on my nearly 25 years of experience working with undergraduate students, I feel strongly that college readiness includes three different skill sets: academic, intrapersonal and interpersonal. 

I imagine most of us would agree that the college admissions process largely focuses on academic readiness. I think it is also important to remember that a student’s academic readiness is determined while most students are living at home (or likely in an environment with some degree of regular adult supervision and structure), surrounded by a community that is familiar to the student, and engaged in day-to-day contact with supportive people known to the student for a significant amount of time. And yet, in heading off to college, these things will change for most students! 

Additionally, as families think about preparing their students to thrive in college, I encourage them to focus on two other aspects of their development that I believe to be critical: intrapersonal and interpersonal skills. Is your student mature enough, responsible, emotionally ready and psychologically healthy? Is your student prepared for all that the college experience entails and able to be away from home without guidance from adults and manage? Given the difficulty to assess such attributes within the current process, it is no wonder they are not routinely or significantly considered within the college admissions process. Thus, academic readiness continues to be heavily utilized to determine “college readiness” and presumed as the best indicator of a student’s ability to have a successful college experience.  

Let’s look at intrapersonal skills, skills related to how your student handles their responsibilities, manages themselves, and regulates their emotions. Here is a list of skills that come to mind:

  • Planning, time management, organization, prioritization (also known as Executive Function Skills)
  • Emotional regulation
  • Manage self-care and well-being
  • Sense of agency, internal locus of control
  • Demonstrate self-advocacy and help seeking behaviors 

Here are some questions you can ask to assist you and your student assess their level of intrapersonal skills development with regard to college readiness:

  • How well do they manage their day-to-day personal and academic responsibilities? What do they do well? What are things that they need reminded about?
  • How do they handle a poor academic performance or “failure,” being embarrassed, not performing up to their potential, being emotionally hurt by someone, and other “hard” feelings?
  • What is their level of personal accountability, resilience and willingness to ask for what they need or for assistance?

Here are some ideas for helping to increase your student’s intrapersonal skills over the next few months:

  • Resist micromanaging, let your student take the lead.
  • Have your student establish and take responsibility for their “sleep/wake cycles,” use a calendar tool, organize their “to do’s” and set priorities, schedule medical appointments, manage their money, resolve issues that come up with their self-care, refilling medications, losing their cell phone or keys, etc.
  • Model positive coping mechanisms.
  • When they encounter challenges, ask them about what they are feeling? What’s working and what’s not? What would be helpful?  
  • Ask them about the connection/disconnect between decision/behaviors and their goals/desires. Ask them about their role in various outcomes, what are they proud of, could have done differently? What can they do? What do they need help doing and who can help them? 

Now, let’s consider interpersonal skills, which relate to how we interact with others. These are skills we use every day when we communicate and interact with (as well as react to) other people, both individually and in groups. These are skills like listening, communicating, as well as our ability to control and manage your emotions when dealing with others. 

  • Conflict management, compromise and collaboration
  • Empathy
  • Healthy relationships
  • Ability to work autonomously and with others and receive feedback
  • Exhibit both leadership and followership

Consider these questions when thinking about your student’s degree of interpersonal skills development.

  • How do they handle disagreements with you, other family, friends, and others?
  • How do they receive both positive and difficult feedback?
  • What is their opinion of people with differing viewpoints or identities and how do they interact with them both formally and informally?
  • How do they handle a disappointing relationship or difficult conversation?
  • Do they always have to be in control or how do they function when someone else is in control and they are asked to play a supportive role?

Do you want to help enhance your student’s interpersonal skills before they head off to college? Perhaps these suggestions will be helpful:

  • Increase their opportunities for independence.
  • Resist the temptation to solve your student’s problems or challenges; rather than telling them what to do, engage them in a conversation to process the situation, their feelings, options they can think of and actions they can take.
  • Let them manage conflicts with friends and others.
  • Hold them accountable for their decisions and behaviors and create opportunities for them to talk things through with you and to demonstrate better judgment in the future.
  • Encourage them to ask follow up/clarifying questions and for what they need from others.
  • Give your student increasing responsibility for planning and coordinating activities and logistics with friends.
  • Talk with them about components of healthy relationships, both platonic and romantic
  • Discuss decisions about exposure to and their use of alcohol and other drugs.

Finally, as you continue to think about your student being “college ready,” focus on your student generally becoming more independent and in helping them understand that in doing so, it does not mean that they have to “go it alone” or that asking for support or assistance is a weakness. Rather, parents become coaches rather than fixers and in time, students gain confidence in the following:

Competence- confidence in knowing information or what to do and willing to ask for help

Control- sense of agency, growth mindset….able to handle things (or again, ask for help)

Connection- feeling of belonging and establishing relationships….able to feel vulnerable, authentic and again ask for help

When students feel competent, connected, and have a sense of agency they are more likely to be intrinsically motivated. As a result they will take initiative, utilize their problem-solving skills and critical thinking skills,, and be comfortable asking for support.

Above all else, trust yourself and have confidence in the job you have done to raise a wonderful student, remind them you are always there for them, are their biggest fan and to go out and chart their own remarkable path!

What skills do you think are critical for your student as they prepare to head to college? How do you help develop both intrapersonal and interpersonal skills in your student?


Beth A. Howland is a higher education consultant and college student success coach based in Ithaca, NY. She is the founder of College Navigators, LLC. Check out Beth’s previous posts about college student success.

Leave a Reply

Skip to content