Are You Setting Yourself Up For College Success? - Blog! - Two-Fisted History


Are You
Setting Yourself Up For
College Success?

I was fortunate.  I went to an elementary school that over-prepared me for high school, and in turn, a high school that over-prepared me for college.  By the end of eighth grade, I had a 25-page paper on Johannes Kepler and his theory of elliptical orbits under my belt.  Throughout high school, it was routine to receive an assignment for a 5-page paper to be assigned every two weeks.  This made the transition to undergrad, where I could expect several ‘measly’ 2-3 page papers every week and a 5-6 pager maybe twice a semester, significantly easier than it was for many of my classmates.

Nationally, around 20-40% of students fail to make it through their first year.  Some of these problems are social – students coping with life away from home for the first time, falling in with poor life habits, etc.  More often, however, the number one factor I hear (from both students and professors) is that they weren’t academically prepared for post-secondary school.


From Students:

  • ‘I wish I would’ve worked harder on homework’
  • ‘I wish my teachers would’ve assigned harder work.’


From Professors:

  • ‘None of my students has any idea how to write a paper.’
  • ‘A student asked me for a graphic organizer.  Did he come from elementary school?’


What are some areas we can focus on to help prepare secondary students for college?

College Prep Image

Note Taking:

Note taking is the linchpin skill in every class. Students need to have some experience with *actual* note taking in high school (not just graphic organizers – unless you make your own) so that you can develop the style and format that works best for you when it comes time to write papers and take tests. You’ll need to ferret out which information is important and what is extraneous information.  I often would have a hard time keeping up with my teachers’ lectures, so I used a tape recorder (OK, in Grad School I used a digital recorder) so I could listen to the lesson more than just in class.

Time Management:

Students need to practice good time management in high school because they’ll need to be experts at it in college. High School schedules are easy.  You know where you are and what you’re doing between 8.00am and 3.00pm. In college, students may have anywhere from 2 – 4 hours of class a day, leaving most of the day open to spend however they wish; time that is easy to fill up with video games or whatever instead of studying.

A big shocker? No one is going to wake you up, and no one is going to ask you, ‘Why were you late for class? Or ‘Why weren’t you here?’ Some professors take attendance, and at some schools you can fail for missing too many, but many don’t keep that sort of record.

Professors will give out a syllabus at the beginning of the semester with all the projects and exams listed for the term and expect their students to have everything done when the due date rolls around. It is up to the students plan out these projects and to prepare on their own. If they don’t: too bad, so sad.  Students should develop a system for keeping track of when assignments are due. Students may wish to use a large desk calendar, a day planner or their smartphone to keep track of these assignments and be sure to begin their projects in a timely manner.

Reading Skills:

Students who want to be prepared for college-level reading should be reading ALL. THE. TIME.  You mind will be blown when you see how much your professors expect you to read.  You will ask anyone who’ll listen, ‘Don’t they know I have other classes, too?’

Practice reading all sorts of materials – novels, textbooks, newspapers, essays. Learn how to read for comprehension and retention and how to use highlighters to identify key definitions and themes. Take notes and annotate.

The reading load in college is way higher than the reading load in high school. If you haven’t practiced reading large amounts quickly will have a difficult time keeping up with the workload of college reading requirements.

Writing Skills:

Along similar lines, WRITE. ALL. THE. TIME.

Well maybe not all the time, but write often.  It doesn’t matter what it is.  Just practice writing.  Essays, position papers (They’re not as intimidating as you think.  Just say why you agree with something), short stories.  I would’ve been so lost in college if I hadn’t had an English teacher tell me in no uncertain terms that I was going to start entering short stories and essays in writing contests.  You need to practice writing.  If you walk into your first college class and turn in a raggedy sheet of paper with misspelled words and grammatically incorrect sentences, your professor is going to throw it back on you.

Study skills:

Students need to learn how to study for tests.  One of the top complaints I hear from college professors about new students is that they feel the students think that they can just coast through.  As a high school student, you should get into the habit of taking AT LEAST one hour to study every night, whether or not you have homework.

‘Studying’ could mean re-reading a chapter of a textbook on which you’ll eventually have a test on. It could also mean reviewing notes taken during class (read over them or rewrite them onto note cards).

One method I also encourage is to develop sample test questions (CastleLearning is a great site for this!) and practicing how to answer those questions. Students who do not have anything to study should at take that hour to read a book (preferably one that has been recommended by an English teacher or a librarian) or to practice writing an essay or research paper of your choosing.  Always be doing something!

Combining this with reading skills, read an encyclopedia. I know this sounds lame, but one of my best birthday presents was a set of the World Book Encyclopedia when I was nine.  I read that thing cover to cover from volumes A through Z.  In doing so, I picked up way more information than a nine year old ought to, and I was far ahead of the game when it came time for high school and later college.

College is an entirely different ball of wax than high school is.  If you’re going to make it, if you really want to get that college degree, you need to work hard now and start getting in a routine.  Good routines build great habits.  Bad routines build habits that will hurt your college career before it’s even begun.

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Tags : Education Post-Secondary HigherEd EducationSkills

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