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Preparing for College—Thinking Beyond the Test

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Wed, 02/05/2020 - 1:50am

If you were to talk to any admissions office of just about any college institution around the globe, you would hear the same story: Today’s high school graduates are simply not prepared for the type of work college demands.

Even those who receive high marks in their elementary and high school years fail to attain the level of rational skills required to succeed in college. Many are also unprepared for the basics, with over half of incoming students in over 200 schools requiring remedial course work for English and math in the 2014-2015 school year, according to one report.

Yet it’s not just the basics that today's students are lacking. Many also lack the required skills to create a successful college career. In K-12 education, students are taught to test, and learn how to memorize and reiterate knowledge accordingly. In college, students need to be able to think critically about material and come to their own conclusions. This, sadly, is not happening in the traditional school system.

So, if you are considering an undergraduate or graduate degree, it’s going to be up to you to learn some of these skills. How can you prepare yourself for college? Here are some strategies to consider:

1. Take the Right Classes

While traditional K-12 schedules leave students lacking, there are optional courses you can take in high school that can help you be better prepared for college. The US Department of Education has a list of recommended classes, including four full years of language arts, four years of math, two years of foreign language instruction, and at least one year of a challenging elective. Some courses that can help you think beyond the traditional education include advanced courses like:

  • Pre-calculus
  • Trigonometry
  • Psychology
  • Statistics
  • Physics
  • Chemistry

 2. Learn to Write

Learn good writing skills while still in high school. Evaluate what you are being taught in your writing classes, then see if you are missing some instruction. Strong writing follows a structured outline, can take a premise and work it out to a conclusion, and uses the right tone for the right audience. Being able to communicate ideas in written word is a critical college skill, so take remedial courses if you find that your writing skills are poor.

3. Learn to Accept Feedback

In college, you are constantly going to get feedback from your professors. Sometimes, the constructive criticism can feel hurtful if you are not used to receiving it, but it is designed to make you a better thinker, student, and communicator. Start taking feedback from those around you and learn how to accept it well as you prepare for college life.

4. Learn Good Time Management

Time management is critical in college, because you won’t have teachers monitoring how you spend your entire day. Especially if you choose to take online courses, you must learn how to prioritize your time and spend it where it is needed. Start practicing time management now by creating schedules for yourself that have times carved out for homework, studying, sports, and other things that are important to you.

5. Learn Solid Debate Techniques

While you aren’t necessarily going to debate your professors,  college is about conversations, not rote learning. If you can learn how to have informed conversations and present your ideas or theories in an intelligent way you will do better in college. Debate techniques are helpful in this regard. If you have the opportunity to take a debate course or participate in a debate, take advantage of it. The skills you learn will translate well into the conversations of college.

6. Start Asking Questions and Practicing Reasoning

In high school, students are taught to take in information and spit it back out again. In college, critical thinking is more important, and that starts with asking questions. Even in your high school course work, start asking questions about what you are doing.

For instance, if you are writing a paper, you could ask what you are trying to prove, and how you can prove it. When approaching a problem that you don’t automatically know the answer to, ask yourself what you already know and how it applies to that problem. 

Also, start learning to question your own assumptions about things. In life and in academics, there are often many ways to approach a particular problem or concern. Learn to question your own general assumptions, so you can see the value in someone else’s approach.

Asking these types of questions will teach you critical thinking and reasoning skills. When you get to college, you will be able to apply learned concepts into questions that do not have a cut-and-dried answer. This is the level of thinking required for college, and it rarely comes naturally, so start practicing now. 

7. Take Dual-Credit Courses

One of the best ways to prepare yourself for the types of intelligent conversation you will need to have in college is to get a taste for it in high school. Dual-credit courses give you both high school and college credit for doing the same work. You can knock out some of your required high school credits while also earning college credit and college-level thinking skills by taking advantage of these programs.

If you are looking ahead to your options after high school, University of the Cumberlands is a good choice. UC has professors with real-world experience who are ready to engage in the conversation with you, and the school offers competitive tuition rates. See what UC can do for you by contacting an admissions counselor for more information today.