Is your Teen College Ready?

For many families, there is just an assumption that our children will attend college. It seems like the next logical step after high school. The problem is that not all high school students are ready for college. In fact, statistics show that only about 60% of students at four-year institutions complete a bachelor’s degree within six years of enrolling. In the United States, less than 60% of college freshman returned to the same college for a second year. Before you get wrapped up in visiting college campuses and filling out applications, make sure you consider whether your teen is truly ready for college.

Red Flags Your Teen is Not Ready

There are definitely some signs to look for when determining your teen’s readiness for college. Here is a list of things to assess:

Academics. The fact is that high school graduation standards do not always mesh with college academic expectations. Just because your child graduates, does not mean they can handle the rigorous course work of college. Solid scores on the SAT, high GPA, and ability to keep up in advanced classes are all indicators that your teen will be able to handle college. If your teen is struggling in basic classes, they will likely find college coursework to be too demanding.

Motivation. Is your teen able to get things done without being nagged? If your teen can set their alarm and make the bus on time, complete all of their homework assignments, and generally keep up with their responsibilities, they will likely do fine in college. College might not be right for your teen if they skip school or arrive late every day, are plagued by missed homework assignments, and are always shirking their chores. Another indicator might be who is filling out all of your teen’s college applications. If you are filling everything out and reminding them of due dates, there is a good chance your teen might not be very interested in college or doesn’t have the motivation level necessary to be successful in college.

Time Management. College requires its students to keep up with regular reading assignments and plan ahead to meet project deadlines. If your teen is a procrastinator or is unable to break down larger assignments into smaller milestones, they will have difficulty keeping up in college. Your teen should know how to use a planner, set goals, and use good study habits. If you are constantly intervening with reminders about academic and other responsibilities, you might be failing to realize that your teen cannot manage them on their own.

Emotional Maturity. Age does not determine maturity, and every individual matures at a different rate. Consider how your teen handles difficult situations and feelings. Does your teen make good choices most of the time? Does your teen know how to relieve stress in a positive way, make positive friendships and avoid toxic people, resolve conflict with others, solve problems, and advocate for themselves when necessary? When they perform poorly on an exam do they go for a run or a beer? When a love interest rebuffs them do they soothe themselves with music or drugs? When they are suffering from doubt do they call their parents looking for someone to solve their problems? Finally, does your teen know when and how to get help when they need it? Whether they need to ask their professor for help or seek out medical advice, they won’t have you to do it for them. They must have the maturity to recognize when they need help and the determination to seek it out.

Self-Care. Other factors to consider when determining college readiness include the ability to take care of themselves and perform normal day-to-day activities such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, use public transportation, and other chores. You will not be there to help them get these things done. They need to be able to maintain good hygiene, eat well, get enough rest, and determine when they need to see a doctor and know how to make an appointment. Can your teen assess risk well to keep themselves safe? If your teen doesn’t know basic self-defense, sign them up for a local class or read our previous blog, Teaching Teens Self-Defense.

Money Management. Is your teen responsible with their finances? Does your teen know how to budget, save, and make good spending decisions? Does your teen know how a credit card works? Regardless of whether your teen goes to college or not, they absolutely need good money management skills as they enter adulthood. If you’re not sure how to assess and/or teach your teen’s financial abilities, read our previous blog, Creating a Financially Responsible Teen.


If your teen falls short in several of the areas above, you should reconsider their ability to handle college. If your teen only seems to fall short in one or two areas, then use the rest of their high school career to teach them the skills they lack so that they can be successful in college. Your teen needs to be able to demonstrate during their senior year of high school that they can make good decisions and take care of themselves on their own.

Discuss Other Alternatives

Have an honest conversation with your teen about what they want to do after high school. If you decide that a 4-year college is not right for your teen, talk about positive alternatives. Encourage your child to visit a career center or their guidance counselor to learn about their options, and help your teen gain an understanding of what types of opportunities are available and think through the pros and cons of all their options. Here are some ideas:

  • Community college: Community colleges are a great option for teens who might need more time to mature, who are afraid to leave home, or who do not have the resources to pay for an expensive university. Community colleges are less expensive, local, and a great way to get some of the general course requirements out of the way. After two years at a community college, your teen may feel more ready to attend a college, and they will have completed two years of basic coursework so that they can focus on classes that fit their major. They also offer young adults a way of easing into college by simply taking a course or two, instead of going full-time.
  • Trade or other specialty school: Some teens choose not to go to college because what they want to do needs a different type of education. For example, if your teen wants to be a mechanic or a chef, there are wonderful vocational schools and programs to support their interest.
  • Internship: While most internships are unpaid, they provide an excellent way to explore career options, make contacts, and develop relationships with mentors. In a year’s time, your teen could possibly participate in two or three internships, helping them to define their true career goals. This is an excellent alternative for the student who simply doesn’t know what they want to pursue as a career.
  • Military service: Entering the military can be an excellent choice for a teen who isn’t sure what they want to do in the future. The military will teach a teen discipline, help them earn money, teach a trade, provide great benefits, and help them save for college and have access to grants, scholarships or other assistance for future educational programs.
  • Work: Your teen might want to consider pursuing full- or part-time employment. A job will help your teen earn and save money, become more responsible, learn skills such as communication with co-workers, and gain valuable experience.
  • Other education or life experiences: For some teens, taking a “year off” after high school to travel or volunteer can be beneficial and provide them with valuable life experience. Many universities will even allow a deferred enrollment, when they apply and get accepted, but don’t attend until the following year. Your child could use this time to travel, do community service, or even live in a foreign country before the responsibilities of life make it harder to do so.


Final Thoughts…

As parents, our opinions have strong sway with our children. As they become older teens, try to avoid making assumptions about their future – whether you’re assuming they will go to college or that they won’t. Use the tools above to assess whether your teen is ready for college, and then based on your assessment, discuss your teen’s options for their future.

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