I once heard an admissions rep announce to a large group of high school students, “We are not just looking for students to fill a freshman class. We are looking for students who will be able to graduate as seniors.”
While your student is busy planning for their future, colleges are busy planning for their own futures. This involves them thinking about students as four- to five-year-long involvements. It is not in their best interest to invite people to this party, only to have them leave early. Colleges want their incoming students to arrive and thrive.
We’ll be writing a lot about preparing your student to thrive in college. Today I want to write about one of the aspects that’s most important to a student’s “staying power”: thriving academically.
Finding an Academic Fit
I have had students tell me, “I was accepted, so I guess I am a fit.” However, students need to know there is a difference between getting in a school, and thriving at a school. A big part of thriving academically in college is determining what kind of environment will be best for the student. There are certain questions in the college prep process that a student needs to answer honestly for a successful college search to proceed.
- How much academic challenge brings out my best as a student?
- Do I learn better when I am at the top of the class?
- Does having to work hard to keep up help me stay engaged?
If a student does some academic soul-searching, they can probably sense the level of rigor that will help them succeed. (Parents, you can play a big role in encouraging honesty here, too.)
When a student makes this realistic self-assessment, then they have helpful information as they look at colleges.
Once your college shopper thinks through the level of academic rigor that will best motivate them, how can they tell if they will fit at a certain school? There are several clues that can help. Many colleges publish a profile of their most recent entering freshman class. Statistics about the current class might include:
- The average ACT or SAT score of incoming students
- percentage of freshmen who were in the top 10% in high school
- average high school GPA
- breakdown of declared majors
These are just a few of the published clues that can help a high school student see how they might compare to other incoming freshmen… and in turn decide how well they might thrive.
The Inside View
Another very valuable resource a college shopper can use is visiting with students from that college. This can be very helpful, but there are several factors they’ll need to keep in mind. For instance, if a current student hasn’t experienced a full semester yet, they may not have a very accurate picture of academics. Or if their academic abilities are significantly higher or lower than your student, their impressions might not be as helpful.
If you or your future collegian do find some students to chat with, then both direct questions and gaining a “feel” for things will be important. Here are some questions worth exploring:
- For which classes did the student feel the best prepared? The least?
- What study patterns are needed to be successful here?
- What does your student need to do to be more academically successful?
- How is diversity of opinion entertained in the classroom?
- How available is access to faculty? Is mentorship available?
- Do all students have ready access to tech support, tutoring services, rehearsal rooms, study facilities, and libraries?
- What resources are available late at night and on weekends?
- Is the academic and cultural atmosphere hostile toward religious faith? Toward political expression?
There are many factors that contribute to a student thriving academically at a school. Talking to someone who has the inside view can help shed light on many of these.
Academic Fit’s Secret Ingredient
When an ad makes a claim about a product, often a disclaimer briefly shown or quickly spoken is, “Your results may vary.” This disclaimer also applies to every bit of testimony that a current college student shares with a high school kid that is looking for a college.
Why? One student might thrive in an academic setting when another equally talented student might not because of one vital ingredient: motivation. Motivation is the variable that is hard to measure but easy to recognize. Few students really thrive in a meaningful, lasting way in an academic setting without motivation – even if they’ve done all their homework to ensure it’s otherwise an “academic fit.”
When something becomes personally important to an individual, important enough that they work beyond what is easy or comfortable to achieve success, then we see motivation on display. Motivation to achieve academic success gets a student out of a warm bed on a cold morning for an early morning class. It is that same determination that says no to various temptations (sleep, friends, pizza, etc.) until that paper is finished and uploaded to the prof.
If a student chooses a school with an academic focus that they find demotivating – whether it demands too little or too much – then they haven’t found an academic fit. But if a student enters college without possessing an internal motivation for academic success, then no school will prove to be a fit!