What Is Student Strategy?

In any endeavor, having a strategy means having a plan. For students and parents, knowing how to be prepared for college is more important now than it has ever been. College costs are at record highs, and four year graduation rates are shockingly low, which makes being prepared and making good decisions paramount to a student earning a college degree.

The traditional definitions of “college preparedness” can quickly break down once the student enters the higher education system, and even students who earned high GPA’s and had top ACT and SAT scores during high school can have problems. This is because the skills needed for college are not always summarized by these “predictors” of college success. A re-definition of college preparedness is needed, one that is based on what real-life college students face.

So, what does “Student Strategy” mean?

It Means You Have A Plan

“Student Strategy” means that you have an effective plan for college. You understand that just picking a school based on its popularity, sports teams, or because your guidance counselor gave you some names of places where you could “get in” are not the best ways to approach higher education. In a recent three part study sponsored by the Gates Foundation, students who did poorly in college engaged in little or no planning, and rated their guidance counselors low on critical issues related to planning for college. Students who want to attend college need to have a plan, and should expect to develop it on their own.

You Know The Factors For Success And Failure

There are many well-known factors for college success and potential problems that most people have never heard of. Do you know what “student engagement” is and why it’s important? How do you find out a college’s graduation rates? Who does better in college, boys or girls? Who’s more at risk of having problems? These are not closely kept secrets held by colleges but information that is available to you. In most cases students and families are just never told what they need to know to make good decisions. You need to “qualify yourself” to make good decisions for college by knowing the factors that can come in to play and need to be considered.

You Use Effective Decision Making

An effective Student Strategy means making effective decisions. Decisions are based on the research that you’ve done in order to give a high probability of student success. They are also based on what is best for you, what will help you to be prepared for the realities of higher education and beyond, and not based on what the crowd is doing. Many traditional pre-college activities like sports, band, and most clubs are obsolete and eat up precious time during the critical preparation phase of high school. Ineffective decision making can lead to academic problems during college and parents paying for additional years of tuition, which is now the norm. The trend is toward longer times to graduate, with an average of only 52% of students graduating even after six years.

You Know What’s Going On In College

Nearly all parents and students that I work with tell me that during high school no one ever told them about the state of higher education in the U.S. Currently: The U.S. ranks 15th out of 29 nations in college graduation rates, with only 36% of students (on average) finishing a bachelor’s degree in four years. College has become increasingly expensive, both due to tuition costs and parents having to pay for additional years. An effective Student Strategy intends to reduce graduation times, and therefore costs, to students and families.

You Avoid The Pitfalls Of College

Among the many pitfalls of the traditional approach to college planning, a clear one is “admissions-only” thinking. Every high school student that I’ve worked with said that their guidance counselor essentially gave them a list of schools that matched their GPA and SAT scores, usually from a formulaic computerized system. Over-focusing on getting in to college ignores the fact that a student must actually graduate from college. An effective Student Strategy considers admissions, but focuses more on other aspects related to success while they’re there. This view considers many more factors than a student merely being accepted.

You Address Specialized Issues

Students transitioning from high school to college often have specialized issues that must be addressed. A very common one that I work with is a student with disability who wants to attend college. In high school, students might receive an IEP or a 504 plan to gain accommodations and then believe that they will automatically get accommodations while in college. This is simply not true. College choice, based on research and solid experience, is a leading issue for students who have some kind of condition that can affect their studies, and choosing the right college can make the difference between continuing good performance and even not graduating at all. Students with a disability can be placed on academic probation, suspended, or even dismissed from their college, regardless of whether they have a disability.

Having an effective “Student Strategy” means that you have an effective plan that goes beyond the conventional thinking about college. Think of it as a “college success plan” that can ultimately increase the likelihood of a student doing well in college and prevent mistakes. It should also serve an educational function, since too often students and parents are not informed of key issues during high school. Because I work with students who are in college, my focus is on the realities of that level. Having an effective Student Strategy means knowing what lies ahead so that good decisions can be made to minimize problems and maximize student success.