Do You have College-Readiness?
Reading time: 11 minutes
We know college-readiness is an important topic for most homeschoolers. How can you know with certainty that your child has it, and what do you need to do to make this happen? College-readiness is more than checking off items on the college admissions criteria checklist. It requires the capability to perform college-level work. The science of learning provides useful insights into a more complete definition of college readiness. Be aware of the Illusion of Future Capacity explained in Challenge 3. This article explores the importance of getting involved in your child’s study methods, study planning, and using better evidence-based learning strategies to expand learning capacity to succeed in college. Read more to find out why.
A Complete Definition of College-Readiness
For most, we tend to think that college-readiness is meeting the admission requirements provided by colleges. But there is more to the idea of college-readiness. Let’s begin by examining the Cambridge dictionary’s definition of readiness:
“Willingness or a state of being fully prepared for something. . . your muscles tense in readiness for action.”
From this definition, two more factors are included in the definition of college-readiness: willingness and fully prepared.
Willingness translates into a student’s confidence when they know they can perform the work to meet and exceed college requirements.
Fully prepared means the student has the right tools and spends time practicing them so they can skillfully perform the work.
So, confidence, which comes from willingness, and the right tools, which fully prepares a student, together create college-readiness.
Now that we have a complete definition of college-readiness, we see that college-readiness has two actionable categories:
- The Qualifications – That which is necessary to qualify for admission; the things the college wants the student to complete and demonstrate knowledge of to get in
- The Success Factors – The skills and habits the student must have to work to higher academic standards once they get there.
Since the college provides the first, let’s review the success factors needed to overcome the challenges that college-bound students will face. Parents and students who devote most of their time working on the qualifications may miss the opportunities to develop the skills to thrive in a new and challenging environment.
Challenge #1: Independent Study and Self-Guided Workload
What produces the biggest shock to new students encountering the new college environment? First, they must learn to navigate an entirely new world of independent study and self-guided work. Most colleges provide little or no hand-holding for the culture-shocked student. At this level, most learning occurs from independent study and projects.
Challenge #2: Increased Workload and Learning Capacity Problem
Second, college is a difficult adjustment because of the increased workload. To the entering freshman, it’s a shock – much like trying to drink out of a firehose. The amount of information your child is expected to absorb and learn in a short time is suddenly a magnitude or so higher than a few months before. This means the unprepared student is presented with a potential learning capacity problem, there is more work than they are equipped to handle.
An engineer or management professional would view this workload situation as a “bandwidth problem.” It’s similar to cramming too much information or fluid through too narrow a tube. When this happens, things start to back up, and the pressure increases to a point where the tube might break. The obvious solution would be to “widen the tube” to increase the capacity to easily handle the increased volume – but how does a student “widen this tube” to increase their learning capacity?
The “narrow tube” or “bandwidth” problem is solved when students know how to use better evidence-based learning strategies that enable more efficient and faster learning – and acquiring and getting comfortable with these skills well before college.
What is overlooked is the student’s expertise and skills in managing his or her own learning
In the research of Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, he observed that better students adopted better learning strategies for dealing with the increased work – they weren’t smarter. They didn’t need to solve the problem by working past midnight. He found, because of their better skills, the “A” students studied less!
Challenge #3: The Illusion of Future Capacity
Our beliefs about our children’s future capacity can lead to faulty thinking. Well-known coach and author Marshall Goldsmith wrote a powerful book on successful careers entitled “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.” On career development, a cousin of college-readiness, he provides insight into our assumptions.
The paradigm for success shifts as one advances up the academic ladder. To apply this to academics, the tools that work for the present fifth-grade student won’t work well for the future college student. Goldsmith says when the conditions change greatly there’s the potential to be fooled by the illusion of future capacity. Because it worked in the past, we believe it will work in the future – ignoring the vastly different conditions. We are cautioned not to fall into the trap of thinking a good student now will be a good student on the college campus.
Stated simply – harder problems demand better tools.
Challenge #4: Striving for “Efficient” Learning
Finally, you want to strive for both effective and efficient learning. The efficient learner gets more done in less time – this is a goal you both need to embrace. Too often these terms are confused and commingled. For example, when a high school student studies something and learns it – he feels successful because it worked! But – what if it took him 3X effort and time to learn it?
We know his learning is effective, but it’s not efficient – and worse, he likely has a problem he doesn’t recognize. Without a parent coach intervention, he will be in for a surprise when the college academic firehose turns loose. Efficient learning comes through using better learning strategies and methods, supported by your encouragement.
Remember – you prepare your kids for success by building greater capacity.
Three Things You Need to Increase Learning Capacity
Here are three things you can do to increase learning capacity.
- Get involved in your child’s study methods and be your child’s learning coach. You may be reluctant to do this because you don’t feel comfortable with the idea of directing homework efforts, or maybe you don’t know how learning works. Don’t let this stop you. Decide this is important enough to want to tackle the job of a learning coach.
- Establish a foundation of discipline in a planning and improvement process. Start by having active conversations about study intentions, efforts, and outcomes. Set aside time to talk about the intended learning outcomes and how the child plans to achieve them. You need a vehicle to help you get better. Businesses and organizations know the value of planning, reviewing, and improving processes. Get started learning and applying these concepts to expert learning.
- Improve learning capacity by equipping your child with better learning strategies. Help your child discover more powerful ways to learn then support the active practice of these strategies until they become comfortable habits. As author Stephen Covey advised from his well-known 7 Habits of Highly Effective People about his seventh habit – sharpening the saw. With your supportive coaching, your college-ready student will have the learning skills that eventually become habits through their frequent use.
A better definition of college-readiness includes the capacity to do college-level work. You must address two components to college-readiness – what does it take to get in, AND what does the student need to thrive while there? Address the predictable learning capacity problem by improving independent study and building capacity to deal with the higher workloads. Recognize students need better tools because the tools of middle and high school will not serve as college tools – they only provide an illusion of the future. And as Stephen Covey reminds us – sharpen the saw through practice and repetition until new skills become comfortable habits.
There are three things you need to do to help your child be college-ready. Commit to get involved as a coach, start a regular planning process to encourage improvement, and emphasize the acquisition of better evidence-based learning strategies
The good news is you are taking this course – which means you will learn how to do all three. Do these, and you will gain the college-readiness you seek.