This month we have the privilege of bringing you a word from Sandra Corbitt, dean of students at Patrick Henry College, Purcellville, Virginia. We believe you will appreciate her wisdom and heart for helping homeschool students make the transition from home to college life (wherever that may be). You may already be putting into practice many of her suggestions, so we hope this will give you assurance that you are heading in the right direction. On the other hand, Dean Corbitt’s recommendations may be the gentle nudge you need as you seek to improve your teen’s skills in areas where they can grow. In any event, our desire is to inspire you to see the young adults your teens will soon become. And, we are here to help you along the way!
This past fall, as dean of students at Patrick Henry College, I welcomed my sixth class of new students to campus. I have seen many homeschoolers come to the college, some prepared to be here and others needing various levels of help. Since over 80% of our student body are homeschoolers, I believe PHC is a giant lab for studying the strengths and weaknesses of homeschooling.
I love working with college-age men and women. I love this phase of their lives. They are figuring out who they are and what they think and whether their values and faith are their own or their families. This is the time of life when they really begin to take ownership of their convictions. It is also an important time of personal development. Students do a great deal of growing up between entering our doors as freshmen and leaving as graduates.
Oftentimes, when the subject of preparing homeschoolers for college is addressed, a great deal of time is spent talking about academic preparation; however, I want to focus on other areas of preparation that I encounter as dean of students.
College is a huge time of transition for all high school students, including homeschoolers. They will experience living away from home, surrounded by a large group of their peers. Suddenly, they will be making all of their own decisions, from what to wear, eat, sleep (or not), to who their friends will be. They will have to get themselves up each day, clean their rooms, and do laundry. Of course they did this at home, but probably with prompting. I have been in dorm rooms, and I am pretty sure most of you would not approve of their cleaning standards.
Academically, they will decide whether or not to complete their assignments on time and go to class. They will be small fish in a big pond, comparing themselves to their peers. It won’t take them long to realize that college requires more study and work than high school. Some will be too social their first semester and have many friends, while others will be too studious and end up without many friends. There will be dateable, marriageable people on campus.
I encourage parents to consider how best to prepare your teens for these changes. If I had to summarize my recommendations into one main idea or thought, it would be to allow your teenagers to begin making decisions and exercising responsibility before they leave home. You want to foster independence in your young adults so you will be able to relax a bit when they are away. One of the easiest ways you can accomplish your goal is to refrain from doing everything for them. Rather, make them responsible for household chores, getting themselves up each morning, dressing for class, and turning in assignments on time (without extensions). Give them enough slack in the rope to learn but not enough to hurt themselves. Let there be consequences that will help them grow.
It is also important for you to have conversations with your teens about your expectations in the area of courting, dating, and relationships in general. I see the importance for your teenagers to spend time with the opposite gender while they are still under your supervision so you can give them some feedback.
Another area homeschoolers sometimes have difficulty navigating is the world of organizational systems that are different from family and church structures. If teenagers have been homeschooled most of their lives, they are often not familiar with policies and procedures of institutions and how to respond to different types of authority. There can be a lot more negotiating in a family than at a college. I find students often think their situations are unique and deserving of an exception. Certainly, there is a time that this is true, but too often students think this is the norm instead of a rare exception. Also teach them to understand the various authority figures they will encounter throughout life and how to appropriately address them.
Your teenagers will arrive at college as what I like to call a young adult in training. They do not know all they need to know about being an adult. Part of the dean of students’ job is to help them move along the line of becoming more responsible so that when they leave college they are not only academically trained but also socially prepared to live in the world as good citizens.
During new student orientation I tell parents their role in the life of their teenager is now changing. Instead of telling their children what to do, they will want to ask questions to ascertain how their teens are thinking and processing things. Parents become advisors, encouraging their teens to solve problems that arise. It’s OK to sympathize with them, but ask them what they are going to do about the situation rather than giving the solution. This will enable the student to grow and develop in all areas of his life. Our registrar does a workshop with the RA (resident assistant) team on some of the stages of development and what kind of advice to give. When students come to the RA with a problem in scheduling or in meeting requirements, he is advised to say:
Freshman: “Here is what I would do if I were you …”
Sophomore: “Well, here are a couple of options that could work …”
Junior: “What do you think you should do; what does the catalog say?”
Senior: “Yes, you are right that you have a problem ….”
The PHC faculty also asked me to include their recommendations for preparing your teenagers academically for any college.
In high school, give your student firm deadlines with consequences for failing to meet them. Homeschoolers often have difficulty realizing deadlines are firm.
Writing skills are essential to successfully completing college assignments. Parents can give teens practice by assigning at least one 10–12-page research paper during the high school years. This will prepare students for college-level research projects. In addition, give tests that include essays where one-half to one-page answers are required.
The professors also cited the importance of reading skills. They suggested keeping a reading list which includes a range of literature genres from a variety of perspectives. Improving a student’s reading should involve learning how to read material quickly while looking for key themes rather than assimilating every detail.
Finally, the professors want students to know they are available to help, but the students must take the initiative to ask for help when needed.
In closing, if you are sending your teenager to a secular college or university, I advise you to inquire about Christian organizations that meet on the campus. Encourage your teen to become involved in one of them to meet likeminded friends and hear godly speakers. Some I highly recommend are Campus Crusade for Christ, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Navigators, and Baptist Student Union.
Dean of Students, Patrick Henry College
We trust you are encouraged that you are indeed preparing your teens well to leave your nests and soar into the next season the Lord has planned for them. Whatever paths will be traveled, Dean Corbitt’s common sense recommendations should give you fresh enthusiasm for using the high school years to continue to nurture your teens toward maturity.
Come back next month to learn about ways to pay for college.