Why Teach College Knowledge?

Poor postsecondary decisions are the consequence of too little college knowledge, too late.

The U.S. Department of Education, EPIC, and other highly influential organizations consider college knowledge a key element of college readiness. No matter what a student’s background, experience, or academic profile, every one of them faces a different obstacle to postsecondary education. How do you connect with each of them? How can you instill in them an appreciation of and commitment to postsecondary education, and confidence on their postsecondary path?

What things are essential to a college knowledge program?

1. Students need to know how to “speak college.” The path to college is intimidating and complicated enough! It’s made worse by the fact that most students enter high school completely unfamiliar with the unique college-going terminology, and unprepared for the volume of information they’ll receive about college, college selection, preparation, and the college application process. Just the ability to “speak the language” of college goes a long way toward building the confidence students need to navigate the (overly)complicated process. As part of your schools’ college readiness instruction, build students’ knowledge of the vocabulary terms and concepts of the college and postsecondary process.

2. Students need to know what’s in it for them. There are dozens of life long economic and social benefits of college. Students need to explore how those benefits translate meaningfully into their lives. Some may connect to the benefits by comparing the chance to work at their dream job one day instead of serving up fries for the rest of their life. Others may appreciate that through college, they’ll build an extensive social network of friends and acquaintances. Others may respond to the economic benefits — college graduates make more money, which ultimately gets them stuff like tickets to awesome concerts, nice threads, or travel. Think that’s shallow? It’s not. Those are the kinds of things that make up quality of life.

3. Students need a dose of reality.  It’s a little unnerving for students, but they need to know that after high school, they face several decades (like 40-50 years) in the workforce before retirement. Have students calculate their age and the year it will be when they retire. They should assume they will be in the workforce for 40, 45, and 50 years. You may see even the most college-resistant student amenable to the discussion of how a solid postsecondary education will make that time more successful, meaningful, and enjoyable.

4. Some students need a double dose of reality. “I-don’t-need-a-college-education-to-pursue-my- dream”  is a fantasy right up there with unicorns. In today’s world everyone needs some level of postsecondary prep, whether it’s college, Career Tech Education, fine art academy, community college, or the military. Admission to everything is competitive. A strong college prep is the very best way to be prepared for any opportunity or challenge that comes their way. As part of a strong college readiness program, students should explore, not just traditional college, but alternatives such as fine art academies, career tech ed, community college, U.S. Military Service — even attending university overseas.

5. Students need to know how to pay for college. Ok, sure, there are a few students who are fortunate to have college finances in the bag, but the overwhelming majority of students simply cannot pay for college. Yet colleges are full of students! What’s up with that? Students need to know that even if they can’t afford college, they (like everyone else) will manage it. It helps, however, to plan ahead. A solid college knowledge program teaches students early on about loans, grants, and scholarships. Students should be encouraged in their first year of high school to research and target scholarships, and create action plans detailing how, over the next four years, they’ll  work at qualifying for the targeted scholarships. Qualifying for a scholarship is a four year process.

The 21st Century Student’s Guide to College is scheduled for release in August 2015. It is a high school adaptation of cousin Tween’s popular resource The Middle School Student’s Guide to College. 15 fun lessons introduce students to the lifelong benefits of a college education, encouraging them to connect to the goal of college. It also appeals to their lighter side by demonstrating that college will be one of the most enjoyable experiences of their lives. By the time students complete this course they understand key concepts about college prep, college selection, applying to college, campus life, alternative postsecondary paths, postgraduate goals — even a little about college sports. Instructional slides, vocabulary flashcards, and additional resources included.