Having taught at the college level for 25 years, I have seen many students drop out or be put on probation their first year of college, and “de-matriculated,” at the end of their freshman year. This series of articles is meant to show parents some signs that their son or daughter may not be ready for college yet. During those 25 years, my main responsibility was to teach Freshman Composition, so I may know more about young adults, in terms of probable educational success, than their parents do.
The most common reason for students not succeed at college is a lack of real motivation. Ask your senior: “What do you want for your major and minor? What do you see yourself doing with your life?” If your senior cannot answer that question with some degree of satisfaction, I would hesitate to send him or her to college. They need to be able to give a reasonable, respectable goal. “I don’t know,” is a red flag.
But isn’t college a time for exploring possibilities? Of course it is, but not having ANY goals is a sign of someone who is probably not going to be very excited at planning for a future. At an average cost of a public university education anywhere, that’s thousands of dollars a year to “explore,” only to end up with a whopping student loan or a new mortgage on your house and no progress toward a degree.
On the second day of every Freshman Composition class, I always did an informal introduction session to get students feeling acclimated and feeling a little more like a person and less like a number. I asked them to tell their name, where they were from, a little story about something unique about themselves, and what their educational goals were. Students who could easily say what they wanted to become, even if they changed their minds later on in college, performed much better in my classes. It was the kids who said they didn’t know what they wanted to be, or shrugged their shoulders, who were the kids who weeded themselves out of my class, by not doing their homework, and by not coming to class.
If your high school senior does not have a goal in mind, they are not ready for college, no matter how motivated you are for them to go. It does not matter how much you lecture them about what they need for their future, or that it is a responsibility for them to go. You cannot play the guilt card of “family expectations,” to get them motivated. You will likely be frustrated at the end of that year and in debt, with little to show for it.
I know how frustrating that can be because I tried to motivate kids like yours, and rarely succeeded in motivating them, either. A young person either knows what they want or they don’t, and there’s no making them motivated, no matter what you try. Bribery may seem to work, but your kid will still be lost.
Picking a goal for them does not work either, Mom and Dad. They will only resent you for that in the long run, and in short term, they may do everything they can to dissuade you from a goal they did not pick. It’s a short run to failure on that track. I once had a girl in my class who told me that she had a revelation after doing a very short journal assignment for me. I had told them that people often did not explore the choices they had made in life and what those consequences might be down the road. She told me that her parents had picked her career, her fiancé, and more. She said that she was changing schools, changing her major, and breaking off her engagement. You cannot make these life goals for your child. Externally-mandated goals rarely stick for the long run.
It broke my heart each semester, to see fine young men and women deliberately fail their college classes. It is a waste of time and money, as well as our most valuable resource, our young people. If your child is not ready for college, then don’t send them. I will be offering other signs that your child is not ready for college, in upcoming articles. Stay tuned.
The alternatives are to let your child travel for a year, if you have the money, and perhaps they will be mature enough at the end of that time to choose a career. Another motivator is to compel them to get and keep a job and to have to contribute some money and chores to stay at home. This can be a great way to motivate your young adult to figure out a goal for themselves.