Guest post by Jackie Hebert, Executive Function Coach and Director of Marketing and Communications at Beyond BookSmart

As Executive Function coaches, we speak with worried parents of high school kids every day. The conversations usually go something like this: “My kid is smart. I see a world of possibilities awaiting them, if only they could be more organized (or stop getting distracted by their phones or be more disciplined about how they work or remember to hand in their homework…). How can I make sure they will be ready for the demands of college?”

It’s no secret that a college education is one of the biggest financial investments a family can make. It’s also one of the riskiest, given current dropout rates and extended time to graduation for many students.

6 Skills for Student SuccessAccording to the College Board, the median cost for in-state public colleges in 2019-20 was $21,950, while private colleges had a median cost of $49,870. Now, consider the startling fact that four-year graduation rates are currently less than 40%. This means that families are bearing a larger than expected cost when their students need extra time to complete their degree requirements (on average 5.1 years). For the roughly 25% of freshmen who do not return for their sophomore year, that tuition investment can be close to a complete loss—and the burden of loan repayment is now added to a young person’s life sooner than expected. In fact, if those students who leave college do not return to school, the implications are lifelong. The federal government estimates that the median income for a household headed by a high school graduate is about half that of a household headed by a college graduate.

Why are students who remain at college taking longer to complete their requirements? There are many factors at play that include needing to retake failed courses, losing credit when transferring institutions, and taking fewer than 15 credits per semester. The rigors of a college curriculum combined with the freedom and distractions of everyday college life can set some students into a tailspin of academic trouble.

Too often, students arrive at college without the requisite skills for success that highlight the startling difference between getting into school and staying in school. Students can thrive in college when they know how to manage their time, effort, focus, and emotions, as well as plan their work and maintain a healthy balance of social life and academics. These critical self-management abilities are known as Executive Function skills. It is typical for high school and college-aged students to still be developing these brain-based skills.

Massachusetts educational consultant Allison Matlack shares a frequent misconception that parents have about the transition to college life: “I spend a lot of time with parents debunking the myth that a student’s Executive Function skills will suddenly improve in the college setting. The truth is, if they don’t have the skills in high school, they won’t have them when they are in a much less structured, unsupervised setting, when the stakes are higher and the supports are fewer.”

We’ve boiled down the skills necessary for college success into six critical areas:

Time Management: Procrastination is the biggest enemy of college students.

Planning: Semester-long projects in college cannot be completed in a single all-nighter.

Self-regulation: Many students struggle to cope with stress and make healthy choices about sleep, nutrition, and socializing.

Flexible Thinking: Dealing with roommates and the demands of different professors require the ability to consider different perspectives.

Self-advocacy: Every college student needs to reach out for help at some point and should feel equipped to ask for what they need.

Self-knowledge: When students know the strategies that really work for them to stay focused and productive, they can set themselves up for success.

If you recognize one or more of these areas as a challenge for your high school student, don’t panic; the good news is that these skills can be learned. Professionals such as Speech-Language Pathologists and Executive Function coaches are trained to effectively teach students how to develop their ability to manage themselves. Look for providers with evidence-based methodology, online session options for convenience, and a track record of success in the field. When your high school child is prepared to self-manage in college, you’ll gain considerable peace of mind even when they encounter inevitable bumps in the road.

Jackie Hebert HeadshotAbout the Author

Jackie Hebert, MS CCC-SLP, is a certified Speech-Language Pathologist and the Director of Marketing and Communications at Beyond BookSmart. Jackie manages social media, website content, and blog/newsletter content for Beyond BookSmart, and she earned her Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology from Boston University. Jackie can be reached at jhebert@beyondbooksmart.com.

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Written by College Coach
College Coach® is the nation’s leading provider of educational advising, offering expert guidance from the best college admissions consultants on the college admissions and finance process. Our goal is to help each student maximize his or her chances of success through services focused on their personal desires, goals, individual strengths, and accomplishments.