5 Ways Parents Can Help Their High School Seniors Prepare for College

You’ve done it—you’ve raised that adorable little child who could once wrap their tiny hand around your finger. It hasn’t been easy, and senior year is full of more ups and downs, but you’re finally done. Well, almost.

Parents of high school seniors can see the light at the end of the tunnel. That light is freedom (and scary) for you and your senior. That light at the end means that you’ve still got a lot of work to do.

I’ve parented three high school seniors who have had vastly different senior year and college experiences. Though they were all different, there were five key lessons in all three journeys that helped us through that final dash of senior year.

1. Adulting

Many people talk about forcing high school students to take adulting classes, but the reality is that teenagers aren’t ready to take on the challenges of adult life until they’re willing to seek guidance and do the work. When they leave home, your kids are going to have a million questions. Be patient with them and be prepared. When they come asking, make it a priority to help them learn adulting skills. This will establish a level of comfort and trust as they move into their adult lives.

Spend a bit of time on adulting lessons like learning how to open, organize, and respond to mail and emails; setting a budget and paying bills; calling and talking to professionals (such as scheduling appointments with doctors, dentists, etc.); filling out forms and applications; maintaining a home (like keeping the home clean, doing laundry, and grocery shopping); and managing other day-to-day activities that parents know instinctively from years of experience. You’ve been adulting for a while now, so trust your instincts. If your way is not working, research alternative adulting strategies with your child.

2. Establishing Routine

Another important lesson to teach our high school seniors is how to establish a routine. Although we know we can’t enjoy a mundane life, routine helps us create habits that keep us focused. You may think your child has a routine already as a high school senior, but once the freedom of college hits, that same student will need to create a new schedule and a new routine without you. Remember, you’re also going to have a different routine once your senior has started college. Sit down with your child to model how to create a routine when things change.

As a mom, a college graduate, and a university instructor, I strongly encourage routines that work for the individual. Last year, I helped my daughter set up her semester classes in the afternoons, which is when she thinks best. She worked shifts at the school gym in the early mornings where she could work out, which is how she’d get physically focused. That left her evenings free to play volleyball, which is her social and soul-satisfying time. It was a routine that worked for her.

3. Setting Boundaries

Some of the most challenging parts of growing up are encapsulated in the following three sections, and as parents of high school seniors, we have a responsibility to help our kids through these challenges.

The first of these is setting boundaries. We must teach our high school seniors what boundaries are, how to set them, and how to stick to them. These can be used with strangers, friends, or peers, or even with us as parents. As your child becomes an adult, they will form new relationships, particularly in the first year of college. It is essential to set clear boundaries, empowering children to grow and advocate for themselves.

If we teach our high school seniors about setting boundaries and sticking to them, the next two challenges will be easier.

4. Making Choices

Our kids make choices every day. But they usually aren’t making big choices—or those big choices don’t have the same impact as they’ll have when they’re in college. It’s important to teach our high schoolers strategies that will help with future decisions.

Two strategies that work for me when faced with a choice are list-making and talking it out. My oldest son goes through the same process almost exactly. He’ll make a list and then call me to talk it out. My second son calls my husband or me to talk through his decisions. Modeling these strategies also means appreciating that our kids grow up and figure out strategies that work for them. It doesn’t always look like what we do as parents, and that’s okay.

5. Living with Consequences

Finally, we must teach our high school seniors about living with the consequences of their actions. I find this lesson to be the most difficult because I want to fix problems within my kid’s lives. But we can’t (and shouldn’t) fix everything for our children. They must learn how to handle the consequences of their actions with dignity and respect.

Consider how your high school senior will react to failing an assignment in college. Will your child quit? Will they blame the professor, or will they work harder on other assignments? Maybe they’ll start a study group? Will your college freshman talk to the instructor to discuss actionable plans moving forward? Often, our child’s reactions mirror what we as parents are doing their senior year. Think about and be conscious of the examples you set.

Parenting is one of the hardest jobs you’ll ever have, but it’s also one of the most rewarding learning experiences in life. When preparing a high school senior for the next stage of their life, it can feel at times like that light at the end of the tunnel will never arrive. But if you can be patient and teach your child practical life strategies, a new light of respect will shine.


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