College Readiness Messages We All Can Spread
By Julie Sweitzer
When we hear the words ‘college readiness’, often we assume that means getting students academically prepared for a four year college. That feels outside of the roles most of us hold as neighbors, club leaders, relatives, or even as school employees who aren’t classroom teachers. Yet you can help prepare the children and youth you know by helping them explore fields of interest, learn about people who study or work in that field, believe they can be successful in college, persist in the face of challenges, and know how to ask for and obtain help.
Here are some practical ways everyone can help school-aged youth build a college-going identity:
- Youth need to know that people ‘like me’ go to college. ‘Like me’ could mean race or ethnicity, first generation college student, having a disability, being from a low income family or from a small town, etc. Help youth find role models.
- Most youth only know of a few jobs they see in their lives – teachers, doctors, nurses, bus drivers, store clerks, etc. Exposing students to other fields and learning about a range of jobs in that field is particularly valuable long before college.
- If you know whether and what college degrees are needed for a particular job, or options in a broader field, share that knowledge. A student who has some idea of a career goal can then connect why college is going to matter to enter that career, and why their middle and high school experience is important preparation.
- Remind youth that there are different types of colleges – two year, four year, and technical colleges with shorter programs including many trades such as electrician or plumber, as well as computer training.
- Consistently making an effort and persisting in the face of challenges are critical skills needed in college. We call it a ‘growth mindset’, which is believing that intelligence isn’t fixed and that everyone can get smarter, even in subjects that don’t come easily. There is no math gene!
- Let students know that it is not only ok, it is important to ask for help when it is needed. They should ask for help when something is confusing or uncomfortable, whether it involves academics or personal issues. Even college students have to ask for help.
- Mention a book you are reading. Reading is critically important to learning at all ages. Hearing about other people reading helps youth see reading as a pleasurable norm (and the increased vocabulary helps in school and on college entrance exams.)
- College isn’t cheap these days, but there are many scholarships and grants to help cover the costs of college. You don’t need to know the details, but assure youth that there are ways to make college affordable, and encourage them to explore financial aid options with school counselors.
- Emphasize that working hard in high school will make college easier. No senior year slumps! Encourage students to take math and science through senior year to help them meet college entrance requirements and avoid taking remedial classes. Even welding programs require math skills!
Want to learn more about how schools and out-of-school programs can have an impact on college and career readiness? Visit Ramp-Up to Readiness.
About the Author
Julie Sweitzer is Executive Director of the College Readiness Consortium and Ramp-Up to Readiness. Previously she directed the Minnesota Principals Academy and helped create Youth Central, a website that makes it easy to find the University of Minnesota programs and activities that serve K12 students and families. Julie was an elected board member of the St. Louis Park Public Schools for 12 years.
She holds a Masters of Public Affairs from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public
Affairs, and a J.D. from the University of Minnesota’s Law School.