Overview: “Should I go to college?” is a common question for a teen — and for their parents. Use these thoughts to help decide if it's a good fit for YOUR teen.
College student: “Mom, my midterm was today.”
Me: “Yea, how did you do?”
College Student: “I don't know. I didn't even know it was midterm day until I sat down in class.”
True story. And even as I write about it, I feel all the feels I did then. Frustration, shame, maybe a little “what in the world do you think you're doing there??” I can't remember my exact response; I've probably blocked it to protect my illusions of being a good parent.
This was the same child who about a year later decided not to finish college. (Ya think? What was your first clue? LOL.)
Here's the thing: I know she was homeschooled the same way as all of our other kids (two of whom have their Bachelor's, and another is about to finish his Associate's), and she actually kept a B average at college (even with that spontaneous midterm!), so I don't think that she wasn't prepared well enough for college — but I do feel responsible for not realizing earlier that college would not be her jam.
There are some kids for whom college is a good fit, and there are some for whom it is not. The latter can be just as intelligent as the former and have been given all the tools necessary to succeed — but they just don't enjoy it, they aren't motivated to do well, or they are better suited to investing their energies and talents in some other endeavor.
There is no shame when a teen isn't wired for college. We want our kids to be happy, fulfilled adults, don't we? Now I can confidently say that college is not the only way to get there.
Let's examine some of the indicators that can show if your kid should go to college. Having learned the hard way, and still paying off debt for those two years almost five years later, I'd love to save someone else the expense and time and emotions that we experienced.
Some of these are obvious clues, others not so much. Only you know your teen, and sometimes you can only find out by trial and learning (“trial and error” sounds too, um, erroneous), but at least these considerations will provide fodder for discussion and evaluation, so that you will know you have examined many of the aspects of the decision and are not going into this thing blind.
(As I started writing about these, the article got VERY long, so I've split this discussion into two parts. Part 2 can be found here: How to Tell if College is the Best Option for Your Teen – Part 2.)
Indicators that help answer the question “Should I go to college?” for the homeschooled teen
None of the following (also see Part 2) are deal breakers in and of themselves; but if several are obvious characteristics of your teen, then I would advise that you consider carefully before assuming they will be successful at the college level.
1) Academic ability does have to be a thing.
If your teen struggles with learning, then chances are they will struggle even more at college.
Slow reader? They could easily fall behind and never catch up.
Difficulties with math? This might not be so horrible, if they don't pursue a STEM major and they can scrape their way through any college level math classes they might have to take to meet their degree requirements. But I think this needs to be weighed carefully, because it's not just about math; it's about science classes that require math, or statistics classes, or even just logical thinking.
Not good with spelling, grammar, punctuation? These can be learned, but going to college without the ability to write a decent sentence or paragraph that doesn't contain a multitude of errors would be a recipe for disaster. Writing is a large part of the college academic experience. There are not only papers, there are essay exams and long-answer questions on midterms; there are online forums to contribute to; and there are emails to professors.
Here is a huge clue: If your teen is not taking high school level classes in high school, and you're having to adapt to a lower level of learning, then your child will probably only be frustrated by applying to colleges and attempting to take classes there. Don't set them up for that.
Related Reading: When you Fear Your Homeschooled Teen is Behind
Another huge clue is test scores from the ACT, SAT, or CLT. A low score would indicate that college will probably not be a happy thing.
To some who are reading this, academic ability may seem like a too-obvious factor to consider, but I've actually talked to parents who were expecting their teen to proceed to college even though the teen had severe learning issues. Sometimes we parents get stuck on one outcome and need a wake-up call.
Yes, there are ways to make it happen, but this involves a perhaps long period taking remedial classes at the community college after high school in order to “catch up” before actual college classes can even be attempted. Why force the young adult (by this point) to continually face their areas of struggle, when they could be being happily productive doing something else?
There are so many other options besides college; for the kid who struggles significantly academically, I think it's wise to realize this on the front end and pursue one of them. See Part 2 for some examples.
2) Time management skills are a biggie.
If your kid is struggling in this area, it might be a good idea to wait for college until this gets tightened up a bit. One great way to learn this is for the teen to get a job. Now they are responsible to get themselves to the place of employment on time every time.
Another way to improve time management is to hold them accountable for their schoolwork the first time. In other words, whatever they turn in gets the grade it deserves, and there are few do-overs. There are deadlines to meet, and there are no extensions.
Instead of reviewing over and over until your kid is getting all A's, set a standard above which is an acceptable grade and only below which will require review. Mine was 80. Anything over that was good and there was no reason to re-do.
For a grade lower than your standard, give them ONE opportunity to correct their work, and then don't give full credit back. I believe there need to be consequences for wrong answers or a lack of quality. When they make corrections, give only half of the points back that they lost in the first place. This will encourage them to do it right the first time in the future.
Teens can be slow to learn in this area, and we don't expect perfection before heading off to college, but the teen who has a fair amount of difficulty with this might not be ready yet. Just something to consider.
More ideas for improving time management here: Episode 17 – Helping your Teen with Time Management
Related to time management is the ability to organize their schoolwork and their personal belongings — although the latter is not as important, she said, as a former teen whose bedroom looked like a tornado tore through it on a daily basis, LOL. (I have ALWAYS hated cleaning!)
Doing work neatly (or not) is a sign to look for, as well as keeping supplies, notes, and assignments in some intentional order that actually makes sense, even if only to the student.
Let your high schooler experiment with organizational methods to find what works for them (which might not be the same as what works for you). Better they try and even fail while still at home, am I right?
(Obviously my kid was still working through these issues when the midterm fiasco happened. I think there were other factors at play that affected her time management and organization; more on those as we continue and in Part 2.
3) Is the teen interested in going to college? Or is this a goal that you have placed upon them?
We're getting real here, now. As parents we may think we know what's best for our teen, and we try to force OUR agenda in THEIR lives. The reality is that doesn't always produce a good result.
One way to judge your teen's interest in college is if they are taking responsibility for the college search and gathering the information about scholarships, application deadlines, majors, etc. all by their little lonesome.
If you are having to hound them about doing this, then they might not be that sold on facing the academic grind for four more years. Let them drive this train without nagging from the parental units. No train, no college — until they are motivated to start shoveling the coal for themselves.
Sometimes this happens last-minute, when they realize that if they don't get a move on they won't be able to go at all — and worse yet, they'll be stuck at home next year, LOL. If they are suddenly (finally!) showing interest and asking you to look at this college or that one and to advise them about how to proceed, then do everything you can to hop on the express and support them. My son applied in late May and still got a scholarship. It can happen!
If you're feeling like your teen is truly interested in going to college but isn't doing the work of the search, then just come out and ask them what they want. Remind them that it won't happen if they don't step up. But then let that be the end of it. If the application window closes, that's on them.
But you know what? It's not the worst thing that can happen, that they wait a semester or a year before heading to college. In the meantime they can be helping out at home and/or making money and/or taking Gen Eds at the community college.
But doing the college search for them, or dragging them to college visits, or making their life miserable until they fill out applications is definitely not the preferred path. I can remember my husband and I actually having a conversation along the lines of “we need to throw her in the pond to see if she can swim.” Aagh. I wish we'd known then what we know now.
That's why I'm here — to pass on my experience, good and bad, so you can learn from my successes AND my mistakes.
In the end, our daughter made good friends at college and became more self-aware — but the price both monetarily and emotionally was pretty steep.
That's why when we saw some of the same issues with her younger brother, we flat out told him he wasn't going straight to college after high school. And he was completely fine with that. Want to find out what he did instead? Read Part 2!
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