College Bound? Focus on Readiness

By Eve Kessler, Esq.


Parents play a critical role in helping their child make a smooth transition to college • Use these guidelines to identify and track your child’s readiness in key areas and work with their school team to make improvements where necessary

Few high school students are one hundred percent ready to make the transition to college, but for students with learning differences, the transition can be especially daunting. Most have yet to master necessary readiness skills, despite having worked twice as hard as their peers without learning challenges.

According to Janine Kelly, JD and Deborah List, PhD, parents play a vital role in helping their kids make a smooth transition. As professionals who prepare students with disabilities for post-secondary transitions, Kelly and List advise parents to “Understand your student as a learner and help them understand how they learn best. It may seem like common sense, but it’s critical to know the particulars of where they excel and where they need continued work.”

Determining independence levels for particular skills is often tricky, especially for those involving executive functioning. If your teen is getting “A”s in high school classes based on IEP or 504 accommodations and modifications, that won’t necessarily translate to success in college, where there are no modifications. However, once you understand how independent your child is in each skill set, you’ll be better able to help them build their skills and work with their team to incorporate appropriate goals, objectives, and strategies into their IEP or 504 Plan.

Starting to identify and track your child’s college readiness skills in middle- or early high school will allow for time to work on areas that need improvement.

The College Readiness Checklist

By the time your teen is ready to apply to colleges, they should understand their unique strengths, needs, and interests and be able to explain what’s required for them to learn successfully. Following are the areas Kelly and List suggest you focus on to identify college readiness:

Academic Skills:

  • Language Arts. Can they communicate, explain and objectively analyze thoughts and ideas in speech and in writing?
  • Reading Comprehension. Can they process text, understand its meaning, and incorporate it with their own background knowledge; identify the main idea and key details; sequence a passage into beginning, middle and end; answer who, what, when, where and why questions; make inferences and predictions; and identify unfamiliar vocabulary?
  • Writing. Can they narrate, explain, analyze, persuade and argue in written form?
  • Critical Thinking. Can they objectively analyze and evaluate issues and form cogent, expressible opinions?
  • Problem Solving. Can they analyze and communicate problems; research and create solutions; and work collaboratively with others?
  • Research and Citation Skills. Can they write a research paper and cite sources accurately? In higher education even an innocent mistake in citation can lead to plagiarism charges.
  • Note Taking and Study Skills. Can they process information quickly and clearly enough to take notes that highlight key points and serve as helpful study guides? While teacher-generated study guides may be an available modification in high school, they are not available in college.

Executive Function Skills. Can they set goals; organize materials and work; plan, start and follow through with homework and long- term projects; manage time; self-monitor and regulate their emotions and anxiety levels?

Independence/Life Skills

  • Self-Advocacy in Academic and Medical Settings. Can they make decisions; clearly explain their strengths, needs and learning styles; ask for help; explain their medical needs and manage their health care? Do they understand their rights and responsibilities as students and patients and can they advocate for themselves with teachers and medical personnel?
  • Self Sufficiency. Can they maintain their living space; do laundry; shop for groceries/supplies; timely fill prescriptions; make and keep doctor’s appointments; maintain a bank account and budget themselves; take the bus; drive; navigate an airport and take a flight on their own?
  • Self Care. Do they have good hygiene; good eating and sleeping habits; get up in the morning on their own and get to class on time; exercise regularly or have other productive ways of relieving stress; take necessary medication as directed? Can they care for themselves and follow a treatment plan when they’re sick?
  • Work/Job Skills. Can they follow directions, respond to criticism and relate to a supervisor politely and respectfully; show up on time; dress properly; send appropriate emails/text messages/letters; and understand what not to post on social media?
  • Social Skills. Do they understand the elements and boundaries of a healthy friendship; respect other people’s space/belongings? Can they interpret social situations, problem solve and understand other people’s perspectives; send appropriate emails/text messages/letters and use social media appropriately?

This article is based on a webinar, The College Timeline: Nuts and Bolts for Teens with IEPs or 504 Plans, by Janine Kelly, JD and Deborah List, PhD, partners in College Access & Beyond, LLC. Eve Kessler, Esq., a former criminal appellate attorney, is Executive Director of SPED*NET,, and a Contributing Editor of Smart Kids. Click here for a recording of the webinar.

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