College Readiness Skills for High School Students

Most people can agree the jump from high school to college is a big adjustment. That’s because college is a whole different ball game. From more challenging learning environments to living independently, there are a lot of changes for which high school students need to prepare.

Being prepared to enter college is called college readiness or college preparedness. A “college-ready” student will be able to make the most out of their university experience, and later, be prepared for their careers and adult life.

What is College Readiness?

College readiness refers to the skills, behaviors, and knowledge a high school student should have before starting their first year.

College readiness is more than just about having a certain level of reading, writing, and math skills. It’s also about possessing soft skills, which extend beyond the classroom. Students can  become college ready in all realms of their life: personal, social, academic, and work life (if they have a job). 

Prospective college students should begin working towards developing the following five college readiness skills: 

  1. Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking 
  2. Self-Management
  3. Communication 
  4. Goal Setting
  5. Collaboration

College Readiness Skills and How to Help Develop Them

As previously mentioned, students must work to become college ready both in and out of the classroom. This section will explain each college readiness skill and give tips for how parents and guardians can encourage students to develop them.

1. Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking 

College curriculums force students to think abstractly, devise creative solutions, and evaluate different viewpoints. As a result, there is less memorization and recitation, and more problem-solving and critical thinking involved . 

Students must be able to infer, approach difficult questions, and consider different perspectives. In addition, creativity and perseverance are necessary skills to demonstrate.


Advice for Parents and Guardians:

  • Ask your student reflective, open-ended questions. Stay away from yes or no questions, and challenge them to apply critical thinking and creative solutions. Talk about real-world problems and issues, and encourage them to think on a higher level. You can do this when driving in the car, at the dinner table, or wherever you spend time together.
  • Reassure your student that failures are natural and use them as an opportunity to learn. 
  • Give your child independence and let them try complex tasks on their own – you’ll still be able to guide them. 

2. Self-Management

Self-management skills, or “adulting” skills, are essential for students to manage their time, money, and health. 

College is a balancing act. When students first arrive, they might enjoy (or take advantage of) new freedoms and much less structure than high school. 

With all this newfound freedom and independence, students will need self-control and time-management skills to stay on top of schoolwork, maintain a social life, and create healthy habits. 

Advice for Parents and Guardians:

  • Let your student keep track of their calendar (social events, sports practices, homework, extracurricular activities, etc.).
  • Cook together as a family. Show them healthy meals and how to make them.
  • Teach your child practical skills like doing laundry, budgeting, and scheduling appointments. Have them practice at home, and give them room and time to ask questions.
  • Help students work through problems independently, when appropriate, instead of solving the problem for them. Provide support and guidance, but let them ultimately reach the solution. 

3. Communication

In class and in everyday life, students will need to be able to express their thoughts, feelings, and ideas effectively. Furthermore, they must understand that communication is a two-way channel. Therefore, it is equally important to know how to listen as it is to express. 

Another aspect is knowing how to tailor communication toward different audiences, in both written and oral settings. For example, students must understand that how they speak or write to a professor differs from how they talk with friends or classmates.  

Advice for Parents and Guardians:

  • Demonstrate how you communicate to different audiences in front of your student (i.e. schedule a doctor’s appointment when they are listening). Then, let them try scheduling their own appointments. 
  • Show them the different conversations you engage in regularly, like scheduling appointments, sending thank you emails, and scheduling events.
  • Read publications together. Discuss the different audiences for which they were written and how the tones vary.
  • Teach them to advocate for themselves.

4. Goal Setting

College is about discovery. Students will begin figuring out how they want to live and what career paths interest them. Identifying and following through with the necessary steps to build the life they want is an important skill. Students must know how to set realistic goals and make a plan to reach them. 

Advice for Parents and Guardians:

  • Teach your child about SMART goals and help them create some for themselves. 
  • Share your personal goals – show them what you want to achieve and the process you will follow. Demonstrating this process will help them understand how goal setting works outside the classroom. 
  • Have a conversation with your child about what they want their college experience to look like. Encourage them to think about what they can do to build that experience. 

5. Collaboration

College aims to prepare students for a career and life beyond those four years. Most professions require some degree of collaboration and teamwork, so college classes create opportunities to practice. Team projects will be frequent, and your child will have to get comfortable working with people from all different backgrounds.

They must learn to be team players who work towards the team’s success. Therefore, they must be able to navigate differences and conflicts and arrive at agreements respectfully and productively. 

Advice for Parents and Guardians:

  • Encourage your student to join clubs, sports teams, and student organizations or work a part-time job.
  • Take them to cultural events and expose them to different perspectives. 
  • Teach them effective conflict resolution practices, like active listening skills, using “I-statements,” and understanding the other person’s point of view. 

College readiness skills take time to develop. The earlier you start having conversations with your children and introducing them to these soft skills, the better handle they will have on them when it comes time for college. Browse our other blog articles for more advice on preparing your student for college. 

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