Alex Chediak is an author, speaker, and associate professor of engineering and physics at California University, and he’s been involved in campus ministries and student mentoring for many years. His 2011 Christian Booksellers Association Best Seller, Thriving at College, explores the ten most common mistakes college students make and how to avoid them in order to successfully transition from high school to college.
In this article Chediak speaks to the parents of college-bound teens and examines practical ways they can prepare their children to have a rewarding and productive college experience. Going beyond the typical advice on financial aid and college visits, he instead focuses on what parents can do to aid their child’s character development, the discovery of their passions, and the recognition of their talents to help identify potential majors and career paths.
College: A Launching Pad into Adulthood
While seven out of ten high school graduates enter college, about 30 percent will never make it to their sophomore year, and about 50 percent won’t have graduated even six years later. Meanwhile the average student who does make it to graduation will have racked up $23,000 in debt. Today the cost of a college education is increasing two to three times faster than the overall rate of inflation.
Besides being expensive, college is also time-consuming and life altering. Particularly for students who move away from home, college is the season of life in which they launch into adulthood—for better or for worse. How they establish relationships, manage their time, spend money, and pursue coursework (or not) will depend largely upon their worldview and character.
Their perspective on the purpose of college is also a factor. Is college just a recreational interlude between childhood and adult life, a time to maximize enjoyment and delay responsibility? Or is it a season of academic preparation and personal growth to propel a lifetime of effective service to God and neighbor—a launching pad to responsible Christian adulthood?
To be prepared for college, a student needs to fully and accurately understand what college is and what it’s not. For starters, college is not an expensive four-year personal discovery vacation funded by Mom, Dad, and student loans. It is a temporary season of academic and professional training—a time to prepare for a life of useful service in a profession which either requires or benefits from college-level training.
Full-time students should also be prepared to approach college as a full-time job. The general rule is two hours of out-of-class work for every hour spent in class, which means the typical course load of 16 to 17 semester units becomes a 50-hour-per-week commitment. College-bound students need to be both motivated and disciplined in order to maintain this level of commitment. Unlike when they were in high school, nobody will check up on them to see if they’re working or even attending their classes.
Character Development: Drive and Discipline
College admissions counselors will tell you that no amount of intelligence can make up for a lack of ambition or discipline. Schools have been known to sometimes reject applicants with high test scores who don’t also have good grades. If a prospective student has a super-charged brain but very little success to show for it, this raises a red flag. There’s much more to succeeding in college than just being smart.
So what are the character traits that predict success, and how can parents help cultivate these traits during their child’s pre-college years? Drive, ambition, determination, and grit, if properly applied, can marvelously fuel the kind of personal discipline required for success in college. It’s that fire in the belly to do something big, to be a part of something great. Christians are called to be “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14, NKJV), and high school students should be no exception (1Tim. 4:12).