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How to Prepare your Kids for College with Nicole Livengood

Hello and welcome to Read with you presents.

Nicole Livengood: I went to the University of Minnesota, Morris, for my Undergraduate Degree in English and Political Science. I got my Ph.D. at Purdue University in Early American Literature in 2007. I have worked at Marietta College, a liberal arts college, since 2008. I've always loved teaching freshman, and became involved in the First Year Seminar program, which focuses on helping students transition to college. I am currently in my third year as Director of that program, and love helping first-year students learn how to learn!

Chanelle: Help us understand the differences between high school and college.

Nicole: There’s a lot that we don’t think about. They might come from a place where they have known people their whole life. Their social structure is different,. Sometimes they are used to being the star in a small arena, and they can become less standout in a big school. Another change is less structured time. There is a lot of unsupervised time, and they sometimes prioritize fun.

Academically, students need to realize that what worked in high school often won’t work in college. There’s a lot of reading for each class. Even if they do the reading, they night not remember what they read. There’s a whole to of new. The first semester can be really overwhelming. Students first worry is making friends and everything else comes after that. Also, navigating food and deciding what to eat.

Chanelle: those are good points; there is just so much all at once. I like how you pointed out there is so much unstructured and unsupervised time as well.

Nicole: Even if students live at home, it can be different. It can feel like they don’t have a place on campus because people make friends on campus or on the weekends. There can be a lot of pressure that they feel from home and students can get caught in the middle.

Chanelle: you mentioned that students first priority is making friends, I can see how that would be harder at home. As parents are hearing this, what can parents do to help students prepare, and how much is the parents job and how much is the students job?

Nicole: there’s always a theory of things and a practice of things. AS much to prepare students in the headspace, of knowing it’s okay to fail. A lot of what that first semester is includes failing. It might mean getting a B when you’ve always gotten A’s. Give students opportunities to develop independence. Encourage children to take risks, even things you would rather they not do. Once students are in college, they are adults. Prepare your child for that early on. Let them talk to their guidance counselor, and be an advocate for themselves.

Chanelle: So college prep starts way ahead of time, at an early age.

Nicole: it’s not even academics, necessarily, its more just having the habits of mind and the resilience, and incentive to act. A big surprise for people is doing laundry, or recognizing that if the dining hall is closed, you should plan some food ahead of time. Maybe encouraging your child to save ahead of time, or to open a savings account, these little things are encouraging them to prepare. They can use these skills.

Chanelle: I’m happy to hear that because I try to do these things with my kids, and it’s good to know that it will pay off. My kids do their own laundry from around age 6. My son heard about his uncle who was in college and needed help with his laundry and he laughed and laughed at that. Instilling that independence from a young age is important. I love these tips on preparing and building independence.

So what can parents do as they see their children move away, what is parents role in helping their child?

Nicole: that’s a good question and a hard one. It can be helpful to be not helpful. Its hard to let your child go off and not want to talk every day. But it’s important to do that so they can start to develop their own space. I heard one student whose mom said he can’t come home until October, even though he lived close by, because his mom wanted this to be his home. If they aren’t making their college home, they aren’t going to enjoy themselves, and they’re not going to learn and they’re not going to make connections. There’s a relationship between social and the rest of their comfort at college. Unless there’s a really egregious issue, encourage students to advocate for themselves. I think those things are important. Another thing I see happen a lot is there’s a lot of pressure on students to know what they want to do with their lives and to choose their major right away. Encourage students to take a wide range of classes and be okay with the fact that they don’t know what they want to do. Most of us don’t know at 18 what they want for the rest of their lives. Even if they are taking a class that you think is ridiculous, just encourage them to do it, and then have good conversations about it. We don’t turn out to be our jobs, we are people doing jobs.

Chanelle: I think one reason that is hard is when you see your kids making bad decisions, if you’re paying for it, does that…even when parents are paying, they still need to kind of take the same, back off approach?

Nicole: I don’t think when it comes to choosing classes, there’s a bad approach. You need to take classes that lead to a degree, but there’s often a limited understanding of what students are gaining in different classes. For example, I encourage my students to take theater. You are learning how to speak confidently, be comfortable in your own skin and express yourself. Theater is one that I encourage because they come out far more articulate and confident. It’s a real transformative class. There is never a job where people aren’t going to have to read and think and write and speak. It’s not a matter of what you major in, you become. We don’t know what jobs will even exist for our students. I love that several years ago, the firm ConAgra started hiring history and English majors for their communication and problem solving skills. Also, no one who invented the internet knew HTML. Employers recognized that majors are important, but they want students who can problem solve and work in groups.

Chanelle: I love that answer so much because it speaks to the heart of the question. I love the whole idea of “there’s a limited understanding of what students are gaining.” Letting them have that experience is a huge part of it for parents. I would love to hear any final tips.

Nicole: Education is not just about the classes. I value the classes, but it’s also things like joining a sorority or getting a work study job, making connections between what you do in the class room as well as out of it. The other thing I would encourage is if a student has an opportunity to do a work study job, they are learning professional skills, and it’s a good way for students to connect to [people besides their peers. I’m a huge fan of research projects with faculty.

Also, please encourage students to use office hours. Faculty wants to interact with students.

Chanelle: I’m excited about the things we’ve talked about today and really taking the long view about the things we are teaching our kids to prepare, and using these strategies with my own kids.

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