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Sunday, January 23, 2022

Signs that Your Child is Ready for College

By Katherine O'Brien, MA CCPS, Founder of Celtic College Consultants

Experts have noticed that there are signs we can observe in high school students which are pretty reliable indications of whether they are ready for life on campus, or not. The fact that a student is accepted into a university is not an indication of his or her ability to be successful on campus. Admissions looks for academic prowess and intellectual curiousity and, to some extent, leadership skills. They do not evaluate each applicant's "soft" skills.

How do you know if your teen is ready for college?

Living on campus is quite different from living at home with a supportive family, friends, teachers, familiar places and groups. How can we discern whether our teen is emotionally ready? Are they mature enough? (And how much can we expect them to mature between now and when they move onto campus?) Are they ready to build a new network of support people and friends, as well as academic mentors?

There has been a significant flow of students onto campus, then back home again after a disastrous first semester or year.

What happened when I put what my son needed ahead of what "everyone" was doing

It can be difficult to be realistic with ourselves. It's easy, as parents, to just flow along and assume our child is ready for college, just like his or her peers. When my oldest son was a senior, he applied to several schools, was accepted, and was offered some hefty scholarships. At the same time, our family had gone through major upheavals during his high school years and, as I watched, he began to unravel psychologically during his senior year. We discussed it several times through the winter and into the early spring. Finally, I sat in prayer, in silence away from home, and looked at the signs of anxiety and immaturity he was displaying. On the one hand, I saw an intelligent, curious, capable Eagle Scout. On the other hand, was a boy with a wounded heart, some serious uncertainties about navigating socially, and fear about moving to the other side of the country, where he knew no one, to a campus we had visited and truly liked. When I was honest, I could see that he needed time. He needed to step out of the "typical" flow and sort himself out. I can't tell you how relieved he was when I sat down with him privately and gently asked what he thought about not going off to college right after high school. His whole demeanor changed. He had been pushing himself to do what he thought was expected. His perception of my expectations were heightened because of my work as a college consultant. And I had to put his needs before my "bragging rights." Ten years later, he still hasn't decided about college. He has a stable full time job that can become a career, and he is much more stable emotionally. Having five younger siblings, but no father, he stepped in in some ways to help anchor the family and help his siblings on their own journeys to adulthood.

Questions to Start to Assess Your Teen's Readiness for College

1. Who is driving?

The college application process takes months and has many facets. Who is leading the way? Are you finding yourself (or your college consultant (me, I hope!)) dragging your child through the process? (If you are having to push him/her through the process, is this new, or is procrastination typical behavior for your teen?) Is he or she discussing college and major possibilities with you?

If your teen isn't the one making the decision to go to college (and why to go), either on his/her own or under the mentorship of myself or one of my colleagues, that is a red flag. If your teen isn't finding interesting and desirable opportunities on the campuses under consideration, that's a concern. Either s/he isn't doing the research into the possibilities or s/he may not be really interested.

2. Can your teen cope with setbacks?

The teen years are full of changes and transitions. Academic, social, and romantic successes and setbacks are plentiful. While this can be rather intense during the teen years, these sorts of occurrences continue in adulthood, and are a normal part of life.

Notice how your teen handles these challenging moments. When a quiz or exam result is not as good as was expected, how do they handle it? What do they do when relationships encounter difficulties or end? Are music, drugs, alcohol, or self-harm their primary method of coping with these situations? How do they handle doubts? Do they find a compassionate sounding board or do they seek someone to "rescue" them and solve their problem for them? Can they handle problems without parental help? Having a strong relationship with your teen is important; nonetheless, s/he needs to learn to manage without us, too.

The inability to cope with setbacks well is something that could well undermine your teen's ability to be successful on campus. Room- and dorm-mate conflicts will happen. Relationships will break down. And academic challenges will be plentiful.

3. Can your teen manage self-care independently?

Basic life skills must be in place before our teens move away. Setting times to retire and to rise, taking care of personal hygiene, organizing one's tasks, and keeping their room and desk in order are absolutely essential skills teens must have in order to be successful on campus. The ability to determine what and when to eat is another basic skill some of our teens lack. 

When the opportunity to drink alcohol, use drugs, or do wild and crazy things arises, is your teen able to make responsible choices? Can s/he exercise self-control? Is s/he able to handle the consequences of their decisions? I was ever so grateful that, as a 17 year old freshman at Northwestern, I absolutely knew how to handle alcohol and get myself out of uncomfortable situations. I watched other freshmen end up in situations they didn't want to be in. Having learned from my parents and extended family, I was able to manage difficult situations successfully.

Another area teens need to be able to manage is making travel arrangements. Whether s/he needs to get off campus for a medical (or other) appointment or travel to a conference or home for a visit, your teen needs to know how to organize a trip. S/he also needs to be able to manage a budget for the trip, and for the semester.

Lastly, our days of advocating for our teens are coming to an end. They need to learn how to advocate for themselves with teachers, doctors, in social situations, etc. Learning to ask questions and get the information and assistance you need can be daunting. Be sure your teen can do these things.

4. What to do? When to do it?

The rhythm of life on campus is completely different from typical high school and work routines. Some independent homeschoolers have a college-like routine. Everyone else must adjust. Life on campus requires strong time management skills. A college student's week can look like it is full of free time and opportunities to have fun. In a sense, it is. In another, this is a serious deception.

For some, this unfamiliar need to organize their work and schedule their days will cause them to take charge of their lives and capitalize on the many opportunities available on and off campus. For other students, the flexibility will lull them into thinking they have plenty of time to "do it later." These students end up being led through their days by the next fun sounding event, rather than doing their work in the stages and time frames they need to perform at their highest level. 

Teens who regularly miss turning in assignments, or typically procrastinate then cram for tests or churn out sub-par papers are throwing up red flags that they are not yet ready for the demands of college life. These teens have not learned to manage their time and their work and will seriously struggle to be successful when they get to campus.

5. Help!

Teens need to become aware of the times when they need help, whether it is a ride to an event, a session with a teacher or tutor to clarify concepts, or medical appointments or counseling support. Parents are conditioned to notice these needs and arrange for the necessary help. Teens need to both learn how to assess their own situations, noting problems, then seek appropriate help. They also need to be able to ask for help determining what options there are for getting the assistance they need. 

Related to this is the ability to rebound after problems and failures. During high school, teens need to demonstrate that they can recover from their failures and learn from them. In fact, failures are among the best learning opportunities offered in life. They need to seek help as needed, too, and from the proper sources. Asking a friend to talk you through the pain of a break up might be adequate; asking that friend to talk you through the pain of a broken arm certainly is not.

6. When Everything Falls Apart

Teens (and adults!) make mistakes. The prefrontal cortex of the brain (the decision making center) is not fully developed yet.  Therefore, their ability to make good judgments is still developing, as is their ability to control their impulses. Given that, making the kinds of decisions they will be able to make when their brain is fully developed is not a reasonable expectation. However, some basic exercise of good judgment as well as the ability to take responsibility for their misjudgments is key. 

Sometimes parents respond to a situation with some sort of statement like, "Do that again and you won't be going off to college next year!" to impress the gravity of the misjudgment on their teens. Many are quite shaken by what has happened and will make changes. Those who do not are showing signs that they are not ready to live independently just yet.

7. Trial Independence

Opportunities to manage themselves when away from the family are great opportunities to see how they do and to highlight areas that need further skill development. Camping trips, retreats, conferences, summer programs, visits to relatives and trusted family friends are all opportunities for our teens to manage themselves, show that they can handle various situations, and make good decisions. These occasions are encouraging both to you and your teen.

8. Danger! That's Risky!

College life offers many opportunities to engage in risky behavior. Consequently, collegians need to assess the riskiness of various choices on a continual basis. Is your teen able to consider the consequences of his or her choices and actions? Has s/he shifted from the "What will happen if I get caught?" way of thinking to considering what could go wrong if I choose this particular course of action.  Realistically and holistically evaluating the possible outcomes is essential.

9. What's Their Plan?

As mentioned above, some students just go with the flow of "everyone" and head off to college. These students are there, but they don't have a focus or a purpose yet. That's a shame. It can also lead to a 6 (or more!) year path to earning their undergraduate degree. Students who go to college are people who are in an environment rich with opportunities for personal, scholarly, and spiritual growth. Those who are on campus because their parents want them there or their friends are there are not poised to make very much of those opportunities. 

Given the expense of college, it astounds me, year after year, that so many arrive on campus without much of an idea about why they are there. Taking the time to create plans and goals that are realistic and well suited to the student is essential. When I work with students, I spend time with them in Spring of senior year exploring the opportunities on campus, including social, academic, spiritual, and more. I help them define concrete goals for what they will look for and participate in when they arrive on campus.

For more information about the many benefits of working with a college consultant, and for information about meeting with Ms. O'Brien to discuss your student's needs, please visit her website:

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Five Habits to Become a Better You

by Katherine O'Brien, MA CCPS


For those of you who prefer the short version, here it is: Be intentional. Be grateful.

Take time to consider each of these habits. Plan some time to work on this over a number of days. Why are you hoping to make this change? What are the positive outcomes that you hope to have as a result of this change? What are the negative outcomes that you hope to eliminate from your life? Why do you want to do this now? Write down these reasons and keep  . They will help you continue to take the steps required to make the change you desire to make in your life.

1) Determine what it is you want to work on. Really take time to consider it. Here are some questions to get you started:

What is tugging at your heart? What is something you are striving to be or want to be? What would complete an "I am _________" positive statement that you want to work toward? Do you want to be confident or patient or prayerful....?

Take time to really consider this. Think on it, pray over it.

Then, Set an intention... A general positive statement. (Please note: an intention is not a resolution. Resolutions are more specific. Intentions are more overarching. For example: Intention: I will eat in a healthy way. Resolution: I will lose X pounds by Y date.)

2) How do you want to impact the world? What is the way your intention will "show up" when you interact with other people? Think about it. Then select a "word" to give to the world, to your family, your friends, people you meet. Will you give them compassion? a hug? How will you do it? Use a certain phrase when you leave people? Start thanking everyone who helps you, from the bank teller to the cashier to the oil change guy, etc.? 

Doing this helps your intention have a concrete manifestation, something you can notice that you are doing or not doing, or doing more often (or less often!) than you used to. Again, keep it simple and take some time to ponder this. If what you select at first doesn't work or needs to be adjusted, then do that. The most important thing is to work at doing or saying something noticeable that is related to your intention, is a fruit of it in some way.

3) Consider what you want to leave behind. Write it down, then burn that paper - safely, of course.  What situation, relationship, attitude or belief that isn't serving you? What is weighing you down? What burdens do you want to let go of?

4) Gratitude is such a gift. Being grateful changes our perspective. As you set this intention and work to improve yourself, take time to honour someone you lost in the last year or so. It can be someone who died or someone who left to go to college or join the military or who moved away. One way to express it is to give a toast to him or her (can be wine or sparkling apple cider...). Make a tribute to this person or these people who have been close to you, someone who has made a powerful, significant, impact on your life. Take time to really consider the blessings you have received by having him/her/them in your life for the time you did.

5) Make an event out of the toast. Dress up. Perhaps gather with others. Do it at a meal, or on an outing. Invite them to join you in doing this.  If you like, you can end that gathering by stating your intentions. Often our desires to grow are inspired by those people who blessed our lives so your intention may well be something your beloved person taught you by the way s/he/they lived.