< Back

Be Prepared

August 24, 2018
By Billy Handmaker

“So prepare for a chance of a lifetime
Be prepared for sensational news
A shining new era
Is tiptoeing nearer”

If you’re a fellow fan of The Lion King, you may recognize these lyrics from the song “Be Prepared.” Although this catchy tune may refer to regicide and succession, it does have applicability to other areas of life.

I thought of these words this past Monday at morning drop-off as I greeted members of the Class of 2018, who had just returned from the Annual Senior Trip. From all reports, it was a great excursion.

According to Director of College Counseling Sara Christiansen, “Seniors spent the weekend camping and exploring in the mountains of West Texas. We toured the Caves of Sonora, a two-mile walk about 155 feet underground to view stalactites and stalagmites, and attended a star party at the McDonald Observatory, operated by the University of Texas at Austin, under the perfect West Texas night. Seniors enjoyed a sky constellation tour and viewed Saturn, Venus, the moon and more by telescope. We attempted to view the mysterious Marfa Lights; seniors are still deciding if they believe the lights to be real or not. We even made a stop at Prada Marfa, a famous art installation on the side of a desolate West Texas road. As part of a college counseling exercise, seniors read, discussed, and made admission decisions on actual applications to Harvard. We enjoyed meals together, hiked, went swimming in Balmorhea Lake, and had plenty of downtime for students to connect with one another before senior year begins.”

Like so much else in education and life, a large part of success in college stems from good preparation. However, many students wait until the summer before senior year to get serious about what they’re going to do and that may be too late. All too often, students go to college and fall apart or drop out because they’re unable to handle the responsibility of taking care of themselves.

According to the New York Times article, “How to Help A Teenager Be College-Ready,” by Mark McConville, preparing for college needs to begin in junior year, if not before. McConville states, “The most reliable signal that the transition to emerging adulthood has begun is evidence that the child has begun taking sole ownership of these responsibilities-independent of parental involvement-via personal initiative and follow through.”

McConville looks for signs of emerging adulthood in three specific areas: medical and behavioral health, academics, and administrative tasks. Are children taking their health and well-being into their own hands? Are they setting their own bedtimes and their personal wake-up times? Are they ready to be on their own without a parent to regulate their schedule?

Similarly, students by junior year should own their academic success. They need to manage their academic calendar, and they should be proactive in seeking help if they’re struggling. If the parents of juniors or seniors are still overseeing their children’s academic performance, the odds are high that students will struggle with their newfound independence, even if they are extremely bright.

The third area McConville proposes that may indicate whether children are ready for college is how they handle administrative tasks, such as scheduling appointments, meeting a deadline, or taking care of paperwork. While these chores may not be exciting, they are necessary to success, and adolescents must learn how to do them to be successful. Parents are not going to be there to do them in college, and it’s these little things that may determine whether a child turns in a paper on time, makes it to a lab, shows up for an interview, or gets a job.

Whenever high school alumni regale me with stories about their college roommates, I tell them a little about what I experienced my freshman year. I was in a three-person room, and both of my roommates, who were extremely capable, flunked out. It wasn’t that they weren’t intellectually able to do the work--they were. However, neither one handled the freedom of college life well, and too many nights of partying and too many skipped classes led to bad grades and loss of scholarships. I had two new roommates second semester, and only one survived to move on to sophomore year. All of these people could do the work, but their inability to manage their academics, personal lives, and administrative tasks prevented them from meeting their potential.

So, as parents and as educators, let’s teach our children the wisdom in the words of General Colin Powell, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure,” and let’s start this process early so they can be well-positioned to be the best that they can be.