Jan. 2, 2013

Today’s guest post is from Linda Forshaw, a Business Information Systems graduate from Lancaster University in the United Kingdom. A leading contributor to Degree Jungle.com, a resource for college students, she is a full time writer and blogger specializing in education, social media, and entrepreneurship. Contact her on Twitter@seelindaplay.

“Just 46 percent of Americans complete college once they start.”
                             Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

While there is no single reason that can be attributed to the staggering dropout rate of college students in the United States, some of the best opinions focus on the cost of education, the misconception that four years at college will automatically equal a pass to a middle class lifestyle, and the effect of college readiness (or lack of it).

Taking a closer look at that last one, there have been many attempts to define “college readiness,” but many of these resources tend to focus on the academic readiness of college-bound students—exam preparation, grades, test scores, and the like. What many of them don’t do is offer guidance on the softer, yet often equally vital, life skills essential for a successful college experience.

Most lists of how to be prepared for college are somewhat subjective and will depend somewhat on the student’s lifestyle to date (and their parents). Some parents take a common approach route to teaching their children the basics of life; how to do a load of laundry without turning the entire wardrobe pink or three sizes too small, for example. Still other parents will have treated their offspring with kid gloves, making their beds for them each morning and having never expected them to lift so much as a manicured pinky. How parents raise their children determines how many essential life skills those teenagers will take with them to college.

#1. Eating Well: A healthy diet, eaten from the start, will help students avoid falling into the trap of becoming the latest star customer at McDonalds. A student cookbook is a must, but it’s also essential that the students try out some of the recipes at home first (presumably under the watchful eye of a parent). Another book that is worth a go is Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Chef. Not only will it teach students how to cook some restaurant class meals, it also offers guidance about what tools (saucepans, chef knives, etc.) are required, and, perhaps more interestingly, promises that the same technique (meta-learning) can be used to learn pretty much any topic.

#2. Managing Finances: College debt is no walk in the park. Even with financial support and scholarships, the average student leaves college with an average debt of over $43,000. It’s a significant amount of debt to be starting a professional working life with and it sure doesn’t need to be any higher. Students must be fully aware of how to create and manage a sensible budget. Many adults take using banking facilities and managing finances for granted, but those skills may need to be explained to students who are to be let loose for the first time (and possibly armed with a credit card). On a lighter note, even a simple understanding of the value of couponing can help students to not end up on the upper scales of the average college debt. Remember that credit profiles established now will affect students well into their working lives.

#3. Driving Safely: Even if a teenager has been driving since they were 16, it’s likely that their driving experience will have been limited to their local neighborhood—maybe back and forward to high school, perhaps to their friends house a few blocks away, or to the local mall. The basics such as how to start a dead battery, how to fill the tank, and most importantly of all, how to drive safely should have been covered already (and probably more than once). If your teenager doesn’t already know, now is the time for him or her to know exactly what to do in the event of an accident, what to do if they get lost or break down, or get stopped by the police.

Making sure teenagers are “ready” for college is a smart idea. What’s also smart is the advice offered by Alina Tugend of the New York Time:And what do parents need to learn? To step back. Try not to fix every problem. Saying ‘figure it out yourself,’ or nicer words to that effect, is perfectly acceptable.”