In my role at High Point University, I recently interviewed about 30 graduating high school students who are eligible for HPU’s top scholarship program. These students are the best and the brightest from all over the country, and any institution of higher learning would be proud to enroll them.
Because of the pandemic, however, these high school students have been left without many traditional experiences, including hands-on learning opportunities and regular social interaction, both of which provide a healthy foundation for the life skills they’ll need to succeed.
These high achieving students still found ways to stay engaged. Several started their own online businesses, some found ways to perform community service to help COVID-19 victims, and others tutored their peers who struggled with online learning.
How will rising college freshmen know they are prepared for college after this pandemic year?
But no matter how hard the students had tried to thrive in their virtual learning environment during the pandemic, it had clearly taken a toll. That’s why they all asked this very astute question:
What would you suggest an incoming freshman do to be successful after losing a year of in-person education with our teachers, mentors and fellow students?
Their question reflects national research that is beginning to show these students’ transition to college will likely be more difficult than for any previous generation. For example, a study from the Brookings Institution estimated that nationwide in 2020, students’ reading and math improved 30% and 50% less than in previous years.
McKinsey & Company did a national study that suggests students’ increased social isolation and anxiety “can reduce academic motivation and hurt academic performance and general levels of engagement.” That kind of setback potentially has long-lasting effects.
So what can you do as a parent to help ensure your high school student will overcome the challenges from a year of virtual learning and be successful when they start college?
How high school students can succeed in college
1. Find a Mentor
Your student should find a mentor as soon as they get to campus and meet with that person as often as possible. Whether their mentor is going to be their faculty advisor, a faculty member, an RA from their dorm, or their Freshman Success Coach like we have here at High Point University, their mentor can help them with every aspect of their transition to college and provide support.
He or she can talk to your student about their intended major and provide guidance in finding the right organizations to join on campus, locating the best tutoring or student support services when needed, connecting with new friends or simply being there to listen when your student has a question or wants to talk. As the George Lucas Foundation found, “Focus on relationships first…strategies that center around relationship building will be needed.”
2. Take a life skills class
While students have been out of a traditional class setting for about a year now, they have gotten out of practice with typical skills needed such as time management, in-person communication, classroom participation and team work. These are all life skills that will make a student successful in a faster pace, more independent college classroom.
Some colleges and universities offer an academic skills course that will help students learn how to improve their comprehension, manage time effectively, set goals, reduce stress and procrastination, and prepare for tests on a college level.
At my university we have a course called Academic Development which focuses on the foundation of academic success and our President teaches a seminar on life skills for all freshmen, during which he focuses on fiscal literacy, effective communication and presentation skills, energy management and more.
I expect demand for these types of courses to be exponentially greater this year. I recommend your student take this type of course to set themselves up for long-term success after being out of the in-person learning routine for so long.
3. Start working with the Career Services Office immediately
I know students are often tempted to think they don’t need to start working with the career office until they’re upperclassmen, but this is absolutely not true. Students need to start their first semester, and we need your help to get them in the door!
Parents, you are the biggest influence in their lives and they listen to you. Our Office of Career and Professional Development has a Four Year Action Plan that gets students started on their post-graduate goals while they are freshmen. After that, as sophomores and juniors, they will learn about a variety of occupations and participate in hands-on activities such as internships or volunteer work to clarify their choices.
Their senior year should be focused on preparing for and executing an actual job search. At HPU 97% of our graduates begin their careers or graduate school within six months of earning their undergraduate degree. (Remember to always ask colleges about their outcomes rate.)
The global pandemic has made the job market more competitive than ever, and how students get jobs has changed forever. Virtual interviews and career fairs are here to stay, remote work is the “new normal” and today’s students must be prepared for jobs that our generation could never imagine even existed. So working with a career office that can prepare your student for these changing work environments from day one is more essential than ever if students want to have a job upon graduation.
4. Take advantage of all the student support services offered
Parents, you are paying for them, so get your children to use them. Most schools offer tutorial support for classes. Many also have writing centers that provides writing assistance for undergraduate students. As the McKinsey study noted, due to social isolation during the pandemic, many students are suffering from increased levels of anxiety. In addition to seeking academic support, students should also familiarize themselves with counseling centers on campus early and not wait until their anxiety starts to affect academic performance.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted high school seniors by making them finish their education in a virtual learning environment, it doesn’t have to mean they won’t have a wonderful and successful start to their college and a professional career. These students just need to be more intentional about how they start their freshman year and they need to know what services to seek out at their institutions.