Many teenagers assume they’ll be packing their bags for a life of independence on a college campus far from home immediately after high school. And while some are ready for the challenge, many are not. You need only ask the scores of parents who have sent a child away, only to have him or her return a semester or two (and thousands of dollars) later with a terrible GPA or worse.
So how can you know if your child can handle the responsibility of higher education away from home? Here are some indicators to look for.
1. Demonstrated personal responsibility. If your high school senior still can’t consistently complete household tasks without being hounded, and take care of school assignments without your helicopter mom help, slow down. When he moves away to campus, you can’t hover over all that he needs to do to be successful. However, if your child regularly demonstrates personal responsibility in the small things, he can probably handle the next step.
2. Respect. Respect is a character trait that may be a little more difficult to define, but you know it when you see it—heeding authority and giving parents and other elders their due. Why is it important in this analysis? Because respect is a sure sign of maturity—the kind of maturity that will enable your child to make sound decisions when you’re not around. If your child is still straining against your rules and bucks the system with teachers, coaches, and others, she may lack the grounded, grown-up thinking she’ll need away from home.
3. Academic readiness. College costs are high and rising every day, it seems. It’s neither financially nor strategically sound to throw your 18-year-old into the deep end of the academic pool if he’s just not ready. Making the leap from a high school curriculum to the more rigorous demands of college can challenge even good students and doom those on the borderline of failure. Your academically average child may have the best chance for success by starting out in a less demanding (and distracting) community college environment, so that you can be around to help with the transition.
4. Time management. One of the greatest challenges to young college students is that of managing their much-less structured days so that important tasks—like studying—are accomplished. If your child is skilled when it comes to managing his or her own time and knowing how to prioritize tasks, college success is much more likely. If she’s easily distracted or struggles with procrastination, it can prove to be a real problem when there’s no one around to say, “Shouldn’t you turn that TV off and write your paper?”
5. Strong sense of self. Does your child know who he is? Does he have the backbone to go against the tide if necessary to hold to his own values and principles? College students will find everything they’ve ever believed challenged when they head off to campus: by new friends from different backgrounds, by faculty members who hold different values, even by their own curiosity. If your child possesses a strong sense of self and the confidence to maintain his or her own standards despite opposition, he’ll probably be just fine. But if you know your child is easily pulled along by the crowd, or too insecure to be different, give him some more time at home to develop greater clarity about what he believes and the self-confidence to defend it.