Summer Vacation and College Readiness

It’s late May, and most students are looking forward with pleasant anticipation to summer vacation. Summertime is a point when high school students traditionally recharge and regroup; however, it is definitely possible to recharge and also engage in activities that will help with boosting college readiness.

The following are my top eight suggestions for the most productive ways to spend summer vacation with an eye to enhancing your college profile:

1 – Seek out a summer job. Work experience counts as something that demonstrates commitment and maturity to college admissions officials, and it is increasingly rare.

2 – Engage in some volunteer work, especially something that you might maintain beyond the summer months. As with work, this also demonstrates commitment, maturity, and also discipline.

3 – Seek out interesting, growth-enhancing experiences that will expand your perspective on life. This may involve travel, a service learning project, or a challenge that you set for yourself and meet (for example, hiking all the Colorado 14ers).

4 – Continue to stimulate your mind by engaging in intellectually engaging activities. If you have a weak academic area, this is the perfect time to review or work with a tutor, and a chance to start the school year ahead of the game in the fall.

5 – Related to the previous suggestion, if you struggled in a high school course and didn’t perform as well as you would like, and there is an opportunity to repeat the class in summer school, consider doing so. This demonstrates your seriousness as a student and may well improve your GPA.

6 – Launch or continue activities that are involved with applying to college. Tour schools of interest, contact colleges and request informational materials, review sample ACT and SAT tests to assess which is your better exam and so forth.

7 – Set out to learn a life skill that you haven’t yet mastered, whether it’s cooking, basic car maintenance, home repairs, etc. This will stand you in good stead later in life, and you never know when it might come in handy, even in your freshman dorm!

8 – Read, read, read, read. Read anything that’s interesting to you, and push yourself to expand your horizons here as well by delving into topics you know little about and genres that are less familiar to you. A key college success skill is reading comprehension. Readers have an edge on developing into good writers as well.

Assessing College Readiness

How do high school students and their families know if a student in the relevant age range is ready to take on the rigors of college with a likelihood of success? This is a significant question, as each year all but the most highly selective colleges lose from 10-20% of their most recent matriculated class (sometimes more!) for a range of reasons. Some of the lost students drop out due to low grades, some are expelled or suspended for behavioral infractions, and some depart an institution that they ultimately feel wasn’t a good match.

In my view there are two types of college readiness, both quite important. One type is intellectual readiness. This readiness has to do with whether a student possesses the requisite skills for college success. Reading comprehension, basic math skills, and writing ability are the key variables here. Students with significant deficits in any of these areas are starting college at a disadvantage, since college coursework assumes a basic command of literacy and numeracy. In Colorado (and elsewhere), media coverage of the high number of students requiring remedial coursework as they start college demonstrates awareness of the importance of this kind of readiness.

The second type of readiness gets less attention, and is less understood and commented on. This type is emotional maturity, including the discipline required to work hard and prioritize studying, basic time management skills, and a willingness to assume responsibility for one’s choices and actions. In an age where “helicopter parents” have managed virtually every aspect of the lives of their offspring, and with fewer and fewer students working during high school, even over summer breaks, many students may be at a loss at how to take on responsibility for their lives. Yet this is what they must do to be successful in college.

Having spent much of my career as a higher education administrator designing and managing programs to increase student success, I have found in my current career as a college planner that I’m pretty good at predicting which of my clients are ready in this latter sense. When comparing extremely bright but immature students with those with lesser intellectual gifts who are disciplined, my money is on the worker bees nearly every time.

So how do we move the unfocused, unmotivated bees along? Sometimes delaying fulltime college attendance can be just the thing.  There is nothing like a yearlong job to foster additional maturity and appreciation of the benefits of college study. Another option might be a gap year, where students complete service projects while travelling and/or studying with fellow students in an established program. A graduated start, say, at a community college, paired with part time work or an unpaid internship at Mom or Dad’s office or business can also be a good way to go. The idea is for the student to consistently engage in something that builds maturity and promotes life learning while they wait out a year.

No Child Left Behind Colorado

From The Washington Post, breaking news, Feb 9, 2012: This afternoon President Obama will grant exemptions to 10 states, allowing them to waive adherence to some of the requirements of No Child Left Behind. One of the states is Colorado, a move that will surely cause local educators to cheer. The law, which led schools to focus classroom efforts heavily on testing and proficiency standards, featured punitive outcomes for those that failed to meet benchmarks – no matter their demographics or resources.

The 2001 law has been regarded for some time as deeply flawed, although Congress did not succeed in amending or nullifying it. The primary outcome of the waivers will be removal of the punitive results of failing to meet standards; for now, schools will still participate in testing and tracking students at predetermined grade levels.

Given the election season, education reforms will continue to be heavily debated, especially the cost of higher education, boosting college readiness, and the appropriate balance of federal and state control over instructional standards. The Denver Post reported on Feb. 7 that the number of high school students in Colorado who do not test as college ready has increased again, although several state colleges are showing better retention rates with those students. Clearly in Colorado, NCLB did not improve college readiness. On to the next thing, time for a junket to Finland to see what they’re doing that works so well!