The Parent and Stepparent Guide to Preparing Kids for College: Part 1

“It’s not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings.” -Ann Landers

I have spent over 15 years both teaching and advising in higher education, at a large university and a community college. Based on thousands of interactions with students over the years, I am sharing three tips in this three-part series on how you can best prepare your kids or stepkids to be successful in college.

Preparing Kids for College

“What did you say again? I want to make sure I write that down. I have a tendency to forget when I get home.” I patiently repeated myself as the mom bent over the notebook in her lap and furiously wrote everything down. Her daughter, Sarah, was sitting next to her, and Sarah kept looking at her phone as it was constantly dinging with notifications. I was sitting with Sarah and her mom because they had come in for an advising session. Sarah was preparing to enroll in classes for her first semester at the community college where I work as an advisor. I looked at Sarah and tried to engage her in the conversation. “What do you think about the classes we chose for your first semester?” She glanced up quickly and replied, “Oh, I am sure they’re fine. I don’t really care that much. I mean, I’m just getting my generals out of the way.” Sarah’s mom peered at her notes and piped up. “You know, we picked Sociology 101, but I think that Sarah might like Psychology 101 better. What is the main difference between those classes?”

I wish I could say this is an isolated incident, but it happens all too frequently.  I can’t tell you the number of times I have met with disinterested students and their overly engaged parents during an advising session. The parents furiously write everything down and ask lots of questions while the student sits there.  So what’s wrong with this picture? This brings me to my first tip.

Tip #1: You should not be more invested in the child’s education than they are. They need to have some skin in the game.

Suggestion: Empower kids to take responsibility for their own education. Of course, you can be supportive, but remember this is for their future. If they don’t take ownership over the experience, they won’t be invested in their own success.

How can I practice this?

Handling these situations may involve some difficult conversations, but here are some examples of what you might say to empower kids.

“Sarah, I’m excited that you’re preparing for college, and I’m happy to attend your advising session with you, but you will be responsible for asking questions and getting the information that you need. Have you thought of which questions you’re going to ask?

“Logan, that’s great you’re enrolled in classes! No, I can’t order your textbooks for you – that is your responsibility. I can show you how to find the textbook information – usually it’s listed in the syllabus, but you’ll need to order them.”

When your kids or stepkids enroll in college, it’s an exciting time for everyone. You can help them find the resources they need or give them some advice, but if you ever notice yourself doing more than they are, such as emailing their professors for them, or buying their books and supplies, it’s time to step back. That’s their responsibility, and they will learn the best life lessons through completing those tasks on their own.

You can read Part 2 in this series here.