Aug. 18, 2014

Today my middle kid boarded a plane to Honolulu to settle in and start his last semester of college. He is a geology student and although he has focused on hydrogeology, he has a keen interest in volcanoes—and where better to study volcanoes than Hawaii? This final semester—his semester abroad—is the end of a college career that started rocky, disappeared for awhile, but finally happened. When he decided he was ready for college, he became a serious student and has done very well.

Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able?—as the title implies—stresses that students need to be ready, willing, and able to be successful in college. That sometimes means the student’s timetable is not the same as his or her parents. The important thing is not to force a student into college if he is not ready. I think I judged well on my son that I kissed goodbye today.

He had his share of trouble during high school, but being clever, intelligent, and charming he made his way through—a favorite with friends and teachers alike. However, he did get in trouble, oftentimes because he was bored. As his junior year wound down, he had already finished, and gone beyond, all requirements for graduation, save a one-semester government class. For his senior year, he proposed several “interesting,” but not challenging courses. He saw it as a year to have fun and coast; I saw it as prime opportunity to find trouble.

I suggested he finish his senior year mid-term and then do something useful and unusual. At first he was skeptical of my motives, but he eventually came around, but insisted he wanted to leave the country. Thanks to his dad’s connections, we were able to set up an internship for him and his older already-in-college brother with a non-governmental organization working in Peru. They both had a great experience and returned home about two days before graduation ceremonies.

Once home and graduated, he needed a plan. He knew our rule—we offered room, board, and tuition for full-time college students; we offered no financial support for other choices. He proclaimed he would attend the local community college and live with three other friends. I knew he wasn’t ready and tried to persuade him to just get a job and work awhile, but I couldn’t sway him. He went to class, hated it, did okay, and played hard. Toward the end of the second semester, he announced that I was, in fact, right, he didn’t really want to do college at that point. “I’m going to New Zealand,” he said. “Have a good time,” was our response.

And he did. He had a great time, worked when he needed money, played when he had it, and learned a lot about himself. After about nine months, he returned home, broke and needing a job quick. He took the first thing that came along—selling high-end vacuums and air-filtration systems. He turned out to be a good salesman, but hated every minute of it. Two weeks into the job, he announced he was ready for college.

The rest is history. He figured out the best study methods for himself, honestly told us that he knew he couldn’t work and do well in college, and made college his job. He had an internship this summer that paid well, provided him new beneficial experiences, and expanded his networks. He is hoping to network in Hawaii and land a volcano-related internship there. On the way to the airport he told me, “Who knows, maybe I can go to graduate school and focus on volcanology.”

His ticket was one-way to Hawaii—one way to the end of a successful college career, and beginning of the next stage—all on his own timetable.

July 30, 2014

It’s not long before college students will start heading back to their campuses. For freshmen, whether they are going close to home or further afield, it is the beginning of new freedoms, new friends, a new era in their lives. While most incoming freshmen have already figured out what they plan to pack and their class schedule, there are some things for which they may not be prepared—things that can throw them offer and hamper their ability to succeed at college. Although, as Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? advises, all college preparations and discussions should be attended to long in advance of dropping a student off at the dorm. However, here are a few last minute things to think about:

1. Be prepared to feel some loneliness and/or awkwardness despite being in a dorm full of students. Most students do not know their roommates, so it helps to have contacted that person before moving in. An initial telephone conversation can lessen the awkwardness of moving into a small space with someone you don’t know. Recognize that all roommates don’t hit it off, but do your best to make the situation as positive as possible and stick it out. Remember, there is no rule that you have to hang out with your roommate. Also, loneliness and homesickness are normal; it takes time to make friends. Take heart in knowing that college buddies can turn into lifelong friends.

2. Plot a path from the dorm to your class buildings before the first day of class. Whether you will hoof it, ride a bike, or use a skateboard, make note of how long it takes to get to each class.

3. Mark the last drop/add date on your calendar. After that first week of class, it is common to drop or add a class for a variety of reasons. Understand that the final drop/add date is not negotiable. If you’ve already bought books for a class you end up dropping, be sure you know how and where to exchange or sell back the books.

4. Within the first week of class, figure out the best place and means of studying. The dorm room is rarely a good study location. The library is ideal, but can get crowded. Consider forming study groups early in the semester—such groups are a great help not only in studying for exams, but in providing notes in case you miss a class.

5. Take note of your professors’ and teaching assistants’ contact information and office hours. Do not be afraid to seek out your teachers when you have questions. Introducing yourself to your teachers is always a benefit to the student.

6. Find out where the campus medical center is and understand how to use it. Parents and students also should visit the closest hospital and make preparations for parents to be listed as persons to whom medical information can be released. If an emergency arises, such a release becomes critical, particular if the student is a long way from home.

7. Remember that a successful college experience hinges on a student’s ability to manage time and priorities. Go to every class, participate in campus activities, study hard, go out for pizza now and then, pay attention to deadlines and requirements, explore recreational opportunities that the area affords, broaden your outlook, and have fun!

Note: Please check out the new second edition, e-book version of Toward College Success: Is Your Student Ready, Willing, and Able? Visit your favorite e-book vendor or go to “Buy the Book” on this website for links. And please—let me know what you think by leaving a review. Thanks!

June 18, 2014

It is the day after my middle kid’s 25th birthday, and I find myself reflecting on the paths my three children have taken toward their futures—some of it success and some of it not. In the past, when I have spoken to parents about Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able?, I have used my three children as examples of the different paths teenagers may choose. Mine are no longer teenagers, yet their journeys toward college success and life beyond high school is still evolving.

My oldest went straight to the University of Colorado after graduating high school, struggled to choose a major, but did well and graduated four years ago. He landed a job in his field right away and was gainfully employed until this spring. As difficult as it was to lose his job, he sees it as the kick in the pants he needed. He feels he had “outgrown” his job and was ready to move on to something else—what? The same problem that plagued him in college remained—what did he want to do? He always assumed he would go to graduate school, and that is what he is planning to do. He has discovered that he can combine graduate school and the Peace Corps at Colorado State University, although he is still trying to decide which program to apply for. He now studies for the GRE and wishes he’d taken it within six months of graduation, is filling out the Peace Corps application and wishes he’d finished it two years ago, and works a part-time job. I still think he was, and is, ready, willing, and able to find his way.

The one who had a birthday yesterday took the bounce-around route through college. He finished high school a semester early, then went with his brother to Peru where they worked for a small nongovernmental organization. A great experience, but it still didn’t leave him “ready and willing” for college. Once home he insisted on going to our local community college despite me trying to discourage him to wait until he really wanted to go; I believe he went primarily because he knew that was the only way he’d get help from mom and dad with living expenses. The second semester he conceded that I was right—he wasn’t ready for college, but he was ready to travel. He put his savings together, and with our blessing, went to New Zealand for a year. He had a great adventure, learned a lot about himself, and returned broke. He took the first job that came along—selling high-end vacuum cleaners. Within two weeks, he announced that he was ready for college. Yes! He was serious about his studies, he figured out the best way for him to stay focused (attention-deficit issues), and he has done well. He will graduate in December, a semester behind schedule. He had to drop out last fall when he broke his leg after being hit by a car riding his bike home from class; he couldn’t participate in his geology field trips on crutches. He has a paid internship this summer, and hopes after graduation he will land a job doing field work. He doesn’t want to be in an office all the time. Will he be “successful?” He is easily bored. Will he eventually go to graduate school? Maybe, but not soon. Will he travel? I’m sure of it. When he returned from New Zealand, I knew he was ready, willing, and able to succeed in college. I think he’ll find his way.

My daughter, now three years past high school graduation, believes she is not ready, willing, and able to succeed in college. In her defense, she is plagued with undefined illnesses despite years of doctors and tests. She tried college for a semester, but took a medical withdraw. She tried an online class and withdrew within two weeks, again because of health constraints. She believes her health issues prevent her from working. It is a difficult situation, and one, that as a parent, is painful and heartbreaking to watch. She is an intelligent young woman paralyzed by her circumstances, unable to move forward. We latch on to the next “hope” and I pray that someday soon she will be ready, willing, and able to find her way.

The point of all this? Just to say that even after all we do to help and guide our teenagers to be ready, willing, and able to succeed beyond high school, it usually doesn’t look like what we envisioned. That is okay. If we do our best to give them the tools, the responsibilities, the freedoms, the consequences, allow them to experience failure, and the encouragement to try again, then I believe they have the best chance to find that path to success—no matter how long it takes.

May 21, 2014

It is graduation time again, and that means smiling families, lots of photos, parties, and questions about the future. Once the celebrating dies down, college-bound students look forward to the last summer before leaving home, while the non-college bound usually jump right into “freedom” and life on their own. Whatever lies ahead, this is a good time for students to consider what they might encounter and, as hard as it might be to admit, what guidance they still may need in order to be successful in school or life.

Finances: Many students encounter their largest learning curve with budgeting, paying bills, and generally managing money—issues that can derail college students as well as those out on their own. Fresh graduates moving into apartments or housing other than dorms will be responsible for getting utilities and garbage pickup set up in their name, as well as signing a lease. Before moving in, figure out if gas, electric, and water are all on one bill or through separate companies, and find out what are reasonable rates so that any spikes in usage can be questioned. Read a lease and understand what it says before signing, and be prepared to pay first and last month’s rent and a damage deposit up front.

Open a bank account and fully understand how it works. Ask about fees, checks, debit cards, and credit cards, and how each work. Pay particular attention to the dangers of credit cards.

Most importantly, make a budget and stick to it. Ask parents for help or look online, but make a realistic budget, pay bills on time, and figure out how to have fun on the cheap.

Be prepared: The summer after high school graduation is often a carefree time spent with friends before heading in various directions for college, gap year programs, certification programs, military, or work. While having the last hooray is important, it is the wise student who is prepared for what is to come. If going to college, research some important deadlines before you start: final drop/add dates, tuition and fee deadlines, and financial aid deadlines. Get into the habit of reading email on a daily basis, as colleges send important messages about deadlines and requirements. Attend orientation to learn more about those deadlines, locate important campus offices and buildings, meet your advisor, and map out the closest coffee shop.

The summer after graduation also is the time to create or update a resume, particularly for job seekers. Contact people who are willing to be references and have their information available before applying for a job.

Be realistic: Leaving home for the first time can be a heady experience, but most students encounter emotions and situations that they were not expecting. Students are surprised when they are hit with a wave of homesickness, are lost when a roommate relationship turns sour, are shaken when they get a D on paper or exam, and can be overwhelmed with the party scene. When loneliness, anger, frustration, fear, or bewilderment rise up, it is okay to contact mom and dad, or school counselors for guidance and encouragement. It’s all part of the process of being successful in college and life after high school.

March 21, 2014

While giving a presentation a few weeks ago to a local school, I was introduced to a fine program offered by Colorado State University. The Dream Project is a “student-initiated, student-run high school outreach program that focuses on peer-to-peer mentorship.” CSU students give their time and energy to helping first generation and low-income high school students figure out the right-fit college, maneuver the college application process, and successfully make it to higher education.

After I had finished my presentation, a group of energetic CSU Dream Project members explained the program and encouraged high school students to contact them if they had questions. Their enthusiasm and eagerness to help was inspiring, and the Dream Project appears to be a great resource for local high school students.

In its second year, CSU’s Dream Project is closely modeled on the University of Washington’s program, embracing the same mission, values, goals, and name as UW’s Dream Project. CSU’s Dream Project not only offers high school students college application assistance that they may not have at home, but it teaches “CSU students about educational opportunity and social mobility and examines these ideas in the context of Colorado State University.” CSU Dream Project students attend a class that meets twice a week—“once as an entire class as part of the CSU course and once with their smaller group at their assigned high school to work with the students. Since the Dream Project is a CSU course as well as an outreach program, participating students can receive up to two credits per quarter.”

In Fort Collins, Dream Project members have a presence at two area high schools, but they encourage students from any high school to contact them. They begin working with students in the junior year to point them toward courses they should take, encourage them to get involved in community service, research colleges, prepare for the SAT and/or ACT, and help them start scholarship searches. In the senior year, Project members help students through the application process, including getting letters of recommendation, writing entrance essays, and filling out financial aid forms. In addition, Project members will take high school students around the CSU campus to give them a feel for college life, and they hold social events to build community.

Because the CSU Dream Project is relatively new, it is still building its program, but one goal is to offer scholarships in the future. UW’s Dream Project offers small scholarships from monies raised entirely by UW students.

The Dream Project model appears to be a win-win program for both high school and college students. So far, the model has been adopted only by CSU and Rutgers University—I do hope other universities will join in to promote this program of students helping students.

To read more about CSU’s Dream Project, go to:

For UW’s, go to:

Feb. 18, 2014

Education articles that spark debate are my favorites, so I perked up when I heard NPR reporting on a recently released study that shows high school grades are better indicators of how successful a student will be in college than are SAT and ACT results. This issue has been kicking around for quite a while, but the study seems to offer concrete evidence that our emphasis on standardized testing is not as valuable as it has been touted.

In the study, “”Defining Promise: Optional Standardized Testing Policies in American College and University Admissions,” main author William Hess, former dean of admissions at Bates College in Maine, said: “Human intelligence is so multifaceted, so complex, so varied, that no standardized testing system can be expected to capture it. My hope is that this study will be a first step in examining what happens when you admit tens of thousands of students without looking at their SAT scores. And the answer is, if they have good high school grades, they’re almost certainly going to be fine.”

Hess’ study looked at over three dozen schools for which submitting an ACT or SAT result is optional for admittance. He found that there was “virtually no difference in grades and graduation rates between test ‘submitters’ and ‘nonsubmitters’.”

The NPR report deduces from this research that high school grades matter quite a lot. NPR reported: “For both those students who submitted their test results to their colleges and those who did not, high school grades were the best predictor of a student’s success in college. And kids who had low or modest test scores, but good high school grades, did better in college than those with good scores but modest grades.”

I believe that more emphasis needs to be on what kids are learning in the classroom as opposed to how well they perform on standardized tests—particularly the ones our kids take in elementary, middle, and high school. However, I also recognize that there has to be some way to measure what and how much a student learns. I don’t have that solution, but instinctively I believe that if more emphasis was placed on creative, innovative teaching that students would have access to more meaningful and useful education. As one high school student said in the NPR story about taking SAT or ACT: “They’re not exactly a fair way to show our skills. I wish they could find some way to really show what we can do.”

And, of course, this study is looking at only the part academics has in a student’s success in college. Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? will tell you that, indeed, academics is only one part.

To read the NPR article, go to: Be sure to read the comments following the story.

Feb. 5, 2014

With the debate ongoing as to whether or not a college education is worth the expense, there appears to be a predominant opinion that students should major in engineering, business, science, or technology fields as opposed to any liberal arts field. The theory is that a liberal arts major is not marketable and offers little in return for the investment, regardless of whether or not the student is successful in his coursework.

A recently published report, “How Liberal Arts and Science Majors Fare in Employment: A Report on Earnings and Long-Term Career Path,” by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, discredits the notion that a liberal arts degree is worthless. The report includes data on “earnings, employment rates, graduate school earnings bumps, and commonly chosen professions” that shows such a degree is actually a good investment.

Authors Debra Humphreys and Patrick Kelly point out that we need workers in social science, public service, and teaching fields that, although they do not pay as well as engineering positions, they do pay decent, living wages.

The report states: “There is a much larger case—beyond the purely vocational or economic case—to be made for study in the humanities and social sciences, of course. These fields build the capacity to understand our collective histories, ideals, aspirations, and social systems. They are indispensable to the vitality of our democracy and to the future of global understanding, engagement, and community.”

In addition, the authors make the case that employers are looking for more than just a degree in a certain field. They are looking for individuals who are innovative, who engage in cultural diversity, and who can adapt and integrate across several fields and tasks. Liberal arts majors usually take a more varied and broad course load than those majoring in specific hard sciences or technology fields.

Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? states that many employers are looking only for the degree itself as an indication of basic skill and maturity. “Even students majoring in areas such as the social sciences or humanities, which many consider employment wastelands, actually tend to do quite well in the labor market. For example, as reported in The College Majors Handbook: The Actual Jobs, Earnings, and Trends for Graduates of 60 College Majors, social science majors with a bachelor’s degree registered a labor force participation rate of 84.1 percent, and those in the humanities registered a rate of 77.5 percent. In humanities, students earning a master’s degree increased that rate significantly to 83.3 percent.”

And not only that, not every college student wants to become an engineer or business executive; rather, she wants to further her education and pursue her particular dream. The student who is motivated by his studies and determined to move forward with his life, is the student who is ultimately successful regardless of his college major.

To read more about the study, go to

Oct. 17, 2013

As any parent of teenagers know, teens struggle to wake up early and then they come alive as nighttime deepens. When my kids were in high school, I was frustrated over how early they had to be at school when I knew all they would do in that 7:45 first-period class was nod off. Really—what teen can fully grasp algebraic equations or effectively discuss “Macbeth” at 7:45 a.m.?

The reality of a later awake/sleep cycle is obvious when college students choose their classes. Eight o’clock classes are the last to fill—the slots all students avoid if possible. And they avoid those 8 a.m. classes because they know they will be more successful in their studies if they are alert while in class. Why hasn’t that idea trickled down to the high school level?

I discovered that the idea is trickling down, and in fact, an entire organization is devoted to making it the norm. Start School Later (SSL) “is a coalition of health professionals, sleep scientists, educators, parents, students, and other concerned citizens dedicated to increasing public awareness about the relationship between sleep and school hours and to ensuring school start times compatible with health, safety, education, and equity.”


SSL works to educate officials and the public about the “physical, psychological, and educational well-being” of teenagers as related to teen sleeping cycles. The group also helps communities make start time changes in their schools. SSL’s website is full of information explaining the physiological reasons that support later school start times for teens. Many parents may already be aware of the biology involved, but even more parents simply know it because they see it in practice. Our elementary kids are early-to-bed, early-to-rise with no problem—let them start at 7:30 or earlier—but high school students do much better if classes start no earlier than 9 a.m.


SSL’s website lists several success stories of schools that have improved test scores, attendance, and attentiveness by delaying start times. The primary excuses I have heard for not delaying high school start times is disruption to bus schedules and after-school activities, particularly sports. While I understand that bus and sport schedules will take time, effort, and probably money to rearrange, apparently it is working and working well in many school districts across the country.


Fortunately students have much more choice once they head off to college. One of my son’s knew his sleeping cycle was so critical to his success at college that he refused to take any classes that began before 11 a.m. Of course, that is not always possible, particularly as a student advances in college, but in those first couple of college years, it can make a huge difference just as it can in high school.


Take at look at SSL’s website,, to learn more about the need for later school starts and to read about schools that have successfully implemented those late starts.

Sept. 25, 2013

My son’s accident has given me another great topic to discuss: the importance of getting to know your professors while in college.

My son is home in Colorado recuperating from a broken leg he sustained while riding his bike home from class at the University of Hawaii where he was doing a “semester abroad.” His injury prevented him from continuing with classes either in Hawaii or at Colorado State University, where he has been a student most of his college career. Stuck at home until he can get around on his own, he fretted a bit over what to do to keep busy. He decided to contact his geology professors, let them know what happened to him, and ask if there was anything he could do to keep up his skills.

He was rewarded with several offers from his various professors—offers to help with different research projects and offers to be a teaching assistant in a class he has already taken as well as helping to grade papers. Some of the offers include payment; some are volunteer positions. And some told him he could continue next semester when he is back in class and earn some college credit.

None of this would have happened if he had not made himself known to his professors during previous semesters. In Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able?, I quote a college student who said assertiveness is important to a successful college experience. He said he advises other students to seek out their professors either after a class or during office hours to try and form a relationship with them. “It helps,” he said, “for the professor to actually know your name among a class of three hundred. You become more than just the kid in the blue hat. It also helps to have someone to ask for letters of recommendation later on.”

Toward College Success also makes this point from the professor’s view. In another story, one student out of a class of 95 introduced himself to his professor just to say he was enjoying the class and wanted to learn more about the subject. Even after the class was over, the student continued to drop by to talk to the professor, discuss an issue, and ask advice. As that student’s senior year was winding down, the same professor asked the student if he would be interested in a master’s program internship. The student jumped at the opportunity and went even further, eventually earning a Ph.D. The professor commented: “They (professors) can help you with your career, but you (the student) have to make the move to say hello.”

Being assertive and self-advocating are not skills that all teenagers just happen to have. Such abilities, like so many other important life skills, need to be taught, developed, and nurtured while that teenager is still living at home. If you have a teenager who is uncomfortable around adults she doesn’t know, create opportunities for her to talk with adults whom you know will be patient, kind, and engage her in real conversation. When your teenager has a problem with a teacher, insist he make an appointment to discuss his concerns. If he refuses, set an appointment yourself, but let your student do the talking. As your child ages, let them make their own doctor and dentist appointments and let them handle their schedules, conflicts, and priorities.

These are just a few ideas to give your teenager the opportunity to learn assertiveness and self-advocacy. Remember that once she is at college, she will have to ask questions and open doors for herself. In the end, it can help make her college experience lucrative, paying off in significant help toward her career.

Sept. 17, 2013

Researchers from the University of Michigan have found that techniques promoted by the non-profit College for Every Student (CFES) truly lives up to its goal “to raise the academic aspirations and performance of underserved youth so that they can prepare for, gain access to, and succeed in college.”

Caralee Adams explains in her Sept. 13 Education Week article that the study that sampled 1,100 6th to 9th grade students in 21 schools across 10 states found 75 percent of the study participants “plan to attend four-year colleges, compared with five percent of students in a control group.”

With such a positive influence, I decided to look further into CFES. CFES uses three “high-impact practices” that help get underserved teenagers on the track to college and that helps them be successful once they are there. Practice number one is mentoring personal and academic growth by means of an older peer, teacher, community leader, college student, or engaged adult.  

Practice number two is leadership through service, which builds not only leadership skills but also develops responsibility skills and resiliency. Practice number three is pathways to college that provides opportunities for visit college visits, for interaction with students and faculty, and introduces CFES students to the admissions process and financial aid options.

CFES’ statistics are impressive: “Ninety-five percent of CFES Scholars nationwide are from low-income households, 99 percent graduate from high school, and 96 percent go on to college.” In addition, nine out of ten CFES students are their family’s first generation to go to college.

CFES sounds like it is meeting an important need: to help low-income, underserved teenagers make it to college and succeed once they are there. My guess is that their techniques would benefit many students that do not fall into the underserved category. Too many teenagers disengage from school for a variety of reasons and the involvement of a mentor could make a huge difference in a student’s perseverance and resiliency. And the fact that CFES works with young students—middle school or even younger—is definitely a contributing factor to the student success rate. As Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? states over  and over: Teenagers need the opportunity to develop life skills long before they graduate from high school. Skills such as time and priority management, conflict management, financial management, self-advocacy, and communication skills are all necessary for a successful college experience.

To read more about CFES:

To read Adam’s article:

An update on my son’s situation: My son, who was hit by a car while riding his bike home from class at the University of Hawaii, suffered a serious compound fracture of his leg. After almost two weeks in the hospital, he realized that it was impractical to attempt this semester of classes (including several geology field trips). His dad helped him pack up, but before they left Honolulu, they took to the beach. I’ll post his picture on the Toward College Success Facebook page ( He is now back here in Colorado trying to figure out how to stay busy. One thing he plans to do is contact his geology professors and see if there is anything he could do from a computer—and further develop his networking as a bonus. His graduation will be delayed, but I promised him that it really won’t matter in the long run.