College readiness is about more than completion of academic requirements. Parents of students with special needs should look at them as a whole person and make sure their child has developed the social, emotional, and life skills necessary for success in college. Executive function challenges such as ADHD and autism can pose challenges in a successful transition to college and may require additional planning.
For students nearing the end of the high school years this checklist may provide some indication that students are prepared for the nonacademic aspects of college life. Parents of younger students should look ahead to identify skills to work on during the high school years.
Your college ready student should be prepared in the following areas:
Self-care skills: No more mom to nag you to floss your teeth, eat your veggies, and change your dirty socks. College students need to be prepared to take care of sleep, hygiene, eating, and laundry.
Self-awareness: One area where many students with special needs develop later is in developing self understanding. All people have strengths and weaknesses. Understanding what you struggle with and where you can excel can help buffer disappointment and improve the odds of success. Knowing how you learn best can help you earn higher grades. If the class material is not being presented in your preferred learning style you may need to seek out extra resources or ask the professor for help.
Stress management: It is common for college students to report they feel under stress. Research finds about a third of college freshman report they feel very high levels of stress about the amount of work they have to do. Good stress management techniques can make a big difference. Before starting college students should learn how to set up healthy routines that allow enough time for food, exercise, relaxation, and sleep. Learning to recognize feelings of building stress and knowing how to take steps to lower stress levels is an important life skill needed beyond the college years.
Self advocacy: College is different than high school when it comes to disability accommodations. College students need to be prepared to advocate for themselves, and should seek out support and help from the college disabilities office. Depending on the procedure of their college or university, they will also be required to present a letter or talk with their professors in order to receive accommodations. If the teen is open to help from parents, you can coach them behind the scenes. However, it must be understood that parents are not allowed to communicate directly with professors or the disabilities office. Students need to understand their challenges and be prepared to advocate for themselves.
Resources: Students should know what resources are available at the college or university. The tutoring center is a key resource for freshman. Tutoring is often available free of charge, especially for core subjects such as writing or math. Students who make the best use of this resource don’t wait until they get bad grades. This is especially true for students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia, who need to go into college with the expectation they will get tutoring support. All students, especially those with special needs, should be aware of college mental health services. Many schools provide some access to counseling. Parents should emphasize to students that they don’t need to wait for a crisis situation to ask for help. It is quite common for freshmen to find they can use some support in the adjustment to college life. While colleges offer a myriad of helpful supports and services, all require the student to have the willingness to take advantage of what is available.
Coping with failure: In life there are bumps in the road. Does your homeschooler have strategies for recovery after they make a mistake? Have they experienced unexpected low grades before? Many first year college students find that there is a period of adjustment to get used to the level of work required in college. You want your student to be armed with enough experience to understand setbacks aren’t the end of the world. If they are struggling with a class or are sick and falling behind in classes there are options available to get help.
Time management: Successful college students can make smart use of tools such as calendars and schedules to plan for deadlines. One of the biggest challenge for this generation of students is coping with the constant availability of electronic distraction. Gaming, social media, and videos can all prove to be too much of a distraction. It essential that students begin to learn to cope with managing their time before they get to college.
Communication skills: College brings new challenges in communication. For some teens it is the first time they’ve ever shared a room with another person and for most the first time they’ve lived with a lot of people around the same age. Many students are fearful or hesitant to meet with professors but communicating with professors is part of doing well in college. The ability to write a polite and effective email is also a useful skill.
Bottom line: Understandably, we worry a lot about academic preparation for college. Students do need to master core subjects during high school and a rigorous high school education is an asset. That said, It is important to understand that most students who struggle or drop out don’t do so primarily for academic reasons. We need to keep our eyes on the big picture, especially for kids who have special needs, and take time to attend to essential life and social skills during the high school years. Homeschooling affords many opportunities to help students build their skills in these areas.