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Ready For College? Why Some Students Are More Prepared Than Others

Going to college is a huge transition for anyone. But some high schoolers are more ready than others. Experts share signs of college readiness.

Going to college is a huge transition for anyone. But some high schoolers are more ready than others.

Just because a student graduates from high school doesn’t mean he or she is ready for college. Recent retention rates show that over 40 percent of students who start as freshmen will not be students at the same college the following fall. Experts say there are clear signs that parents, high school counselors and teens themselves can look for in assessing college readiness. Here are some of those indicators.

Ready to apply to college

Students who are ready to go to college are ready to apply to college, explains Howard Greene, a nationally known educational placement consultant and the author of many college guides. If a high school student is being dragged by her parents or led by her high school counselor through the admissions maze or is passive or resistant to the process, Greene says this is a cause for real concern about college readiness.

Special report: Get tips and advice about college at College Game Plan

Ready to handle risk

Being able cope with risky situations and exert self-control is a sign of college readiness, according to Lisa Damour, a psychologist, clinical instructor and author of Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood. Students who have gained the maturity to thrive in college are able to assess risk and when faced with it, don’t ask themselves, “What are the chances that I get caught?” but rather, “What could go wrong if I do this?”

High school students who are are struggling with self control when exposed to dangerous substances, such as alcohol or drugs, may find these problems trail them into college.

Ready to manage time

One of the biggest changes between high school and college is the amount of unstructured time students have. When a high school student, still in a more structured environment, struggles to turn in homework on time or manage longer term assignments, they may be unable to manage their own time in college. Julia Routbort, Ph.D. Associate Dean of Students at Skidmore College says that some high school students have time management difficulties but concern should be raised about those students don’t learn from their high school mistakes and alter their behavior.

Ready for independence

One of the signs of real adult independence, says Routbort, is knowing how, when and who to ask for help. Teens who are ready for college have shown that rather than just running to their parents with every set back, they know how to seek out a teacher, tutor, peer or psychologist (or someone else in a support role) to assist with their problems.

Ready for emotional challenges

Damour notes that college is a time full of emotional challenges and hard feelings. A student who can handle difficult times, be it a bad grade, bad breakup or bad game by, for example, exercising, listening to music or catching up with friends is displaying emotional readiness. If a teen deals with emotional challenges with drugs, alcohol or needing their parents to solve their problems, red flags should be raised.

Related: Why Students May Not Consider Taking A 'Gap Year,' But Should

Many experts offer a gap year as a way to increase college readiness. Greene notes that parents often worry about their teens taking a year away from their studies, fearful that they may not return to college. His experience suggests opposite. A year of real life leaves most high school graduates more enthusiastic about their studies and more mature and ready to tackle college.

Lisa Heffernan is a writer and cofounder of Grown and Flown, a site for parents of 15 to 25-year-olds.