Transition to College: How You Can Help Your High School Senior
by Alejandro Gutierrez
Senior year of high school can be a difficult time; not only for students, but for their family, teachers, and peers as well. A world of decisions awaits – Am I going to college? If so, what kind of college? What will I study when I get there? What do I even want to do? What career am I aiming for? Can I afford this? What happens to the people who are left behind? Will I move out of the house and move far away, or commute from home and attend somewhere close by? What color of pillowcases should I purchase?
And so on.
The thing is, it’s impossible to answer these questions all at once, and the answers are all interconnected. In fact, some of these questions are impossible to answer during senior year of high school – or ever. Many middle-aged adults worldwide are still asking themselves, “What do I really want to do?”
Though we may not be able to answer these questions, we still need to ask them, and at least try to answer them; with this in mind, the question then becomes,
“What can I do to put my student in the best possible position for success?”
Let’s begin practically.
First, focus on desired strengths. I say desired strengths because your student’s desired life path may not, at this moment, necessarily be a strength, meaning something that he or she is expected to choose. Perhaps, for example, he or she has always excelled at math, but recently has discovered a passion for fine art; perhaps the history buff has suddenly become enamored with English literature, or the aspiring philosopher with biochemistry. Sudden changes like these happen all the time; many college students graduate, only to forsake their major entirely and pursue a graduate degree in law or business.
“Strengths” are not restricted to academic areas of study, either. Have your student develop what he or she is good at, or wants to be good at, during the course of senior year. Seek as much help and practice as possible.
Don’t lose sight of the long-term. The college game, at this stage, is less about getting anything “accomplished,” and more about developing the skills necessary to take advantage of opportunities in the future on the road to accomplishment. Many students with a 4.0 GPA in high school struggle in college, and many studies have found that college GPA has almost no correlation whatsoever with later income or success in the job market. Rather than focus only on grades, focus on developing good study skills. Rather than simply doing all the coursework, work on forging relationships with teachers and classmates as well. Be the best person possible, in and out of the classroom. Do the work, but relax and live a little - a well-rounded person is more likely to succeed. David Brooks, in his book The Social Animal, writes that “socialization is the most intellectually demanding and morally important thing they will do in high school;” furthermore, “no more than 5 percent of a person’s emotional perceptiveness [the best indicator of “success” in the real world] can be explained by… IQ score.” Basically, this time in life is best served not with success, per se, but with developing the abilities to have success later. For example, we all know that grades in middle school don’t really mean anything in and of themselves; their purpose is served in developing study skills and adjusting to a social and academic environment.
Next, encourage your student to play to his or her best characteristics. It is essential to stand out from the crowd. This is important at all stages of life, from college applications to finding a great job, even to non-academic accomplishments like getting married or making friends. Good things do come in small, plain packages, but these kinds of packages are also rarely opened or discovered. Nobody is going to appreciate what students have to offer (and every student does have something unique to offer) if they never see it. Students must learn how to sell their strengths.
Encourage students to forge productive relationships and start networking. “Networking” is often imagined as attending stuffy business dinners, where everyone wears a nametag and tries to accumulate as many business cards as possible, hoping to amass human connections in order to fulfill one’s agenda down the road. The term, I feel, is actually far broader – networking refers to every relationship along the way that helps someone get to where they’re going. Friends, family, teachers, and the school janitor all fall under this category, and learning how to effectively relate to them will help immensely to realize goals.
And, above all, relax. You’ve made it this far, and there’s no reason to stress now. Take confidence from the fact that most of the work is already done; the only thing that remains is to support your fledgling adult. Students need to make mistakes and find things out for themselves, and nothing is written in stone. During my senior year in high school, I could not have possibly imagined that I would be living in South America, finding opportunities for work and personal growth that have absolutely nothing to do with my college major or on-paper credentials. Certain things will always remain the same; senior year of college will be stressful and awkward, and during freshman year of college both you and your student will change immensely. Students will make a lot of mistakes, and life will always go on. Simply providing the tools and support for success will make a world of difference.
Though speaking about raising children from an earlier age, author David Brooks’ words still apply:
“If there is one thing developmental psychologists have learned over the years, it is that parents don’t have to be brilliant psychologists… or supremely gifted teachers. Most of the stuff parents do… to hone their kids into perfect achieve machines doesn’t have any effect at all. Instead, parents just have to be good enough. They have to provide their kids with stable and predictable rhythms… combining warmth and discipline… establish the secure emotional bonds that kids can fall back upon in the face of stress… provide living examples…”
Senior year of high school is a crucial time, with emotions running high and many college applications to be filled out. However, it is important to remember what stage of life begins (and ends) with high school. There are a million guides on how to get into the right college, or how to be effective in school, but the important thing is to maintain perspective; students need this time to be guided with “wiggle room” into being the best student they can be. There are bound to be failures and mistakes along the way, but such is life. As long as they have the tools to succeed, things will probably just turn out fine.
So cheers to that, and a deep breath to all.