Parents Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Incompetent College Freshmen

By Sam Rosensohn

If your college-bound child has been consistently on the Honor Roll, while doing the minimum and devoting the majority of his time to fun and vegging, be aware.

It takes a work ethic, skill-sets, and good judgment to succeed at a community college or one of the Ivies.

A friend, who happens to be a highly competent and dedicated high school English teacher, told me over a sandwich the other day that his daughter had dropped out of Smith College.

There were a lot of factors involved in her decision not to go back for sophomore year this fall, and inadequate writing skills was one of them.

“The papers killed her,” he said. “Her problem isn’t seeing the big picture; it’s making the big picture too big and then it’s impossible to complete the assignment.”

Just a few days earlier I bumped into a mom I may see twice a year.  She’s a pediatrician. I asked after her son, a boy who did high school with one eye. She said he wasn’t invited back to Northeastern. “He didn’t get around to doing enough school; he was majoring in fun.”

Two very different stories, but they’re not so different. Many highly competent high school students get to college whether that’s Southern Connecticut or the University of Vermont unequipped to successfully complete the work or run their daily lives.

A third story – a few days later a high school senior spun her wheels at my office for nearly 90 minutes as she tried to construct a personal essay to submit with her college application.

Nearly 90 minutes of work produced two bulky paragraphs that needed to be recast and rewritten. She said that writing anything other than a traditional spool paper was outside her skill-sets.

This terrific kid, who has excellent grades and SAT scores, may well find herself in the same bind that the girl at Smith did.

When I taught Middle School at John Winthrop Jr. High in Deep River, I had a student who was running a D in writing class. His parents came in for a conference and we worked out a plan to help the youngster improve his writing.

The next paper that came in was no doubt written by someone other than the student. Every paper after that came in well crafted and with a point of view that I didn’t think belonged to this 13-year-old.

I asked him if he had help on each of the papers that he wrote. Each time he said that he wrote the paper without help. He got A’s on every paper he turned in until he took the writing final in class.

On that he got a D.

This all takes me back to tiny little desks that my wife, Ann Louise, and I couldn’t get our knees under on Back to School Night when our son Zac was in third grade at Essex Elementary School.

His teacher Mary Nodden told every parent there: When your children run out of the house without their backpacks don’t run after them. Let them learn for themselves how to be responsible for their schoolwork.

Mary knew that if students didn’t learn how to organize, prepare, study and master blocks of material, they would pay for it down the road. So take a page from Mary’s book and let your children hand in papers as they’ve written them and projects as they’ve constructed them even if they’re a day late.

Now colleges have known for decades that many of their incoming freshmen are going to struggle so they have plenty of support in place. That’s one of the first things students should focus on when they’re looking at schools or get to school.

Locate the academic support that is in place, and please take advantage of it. Don’t think of it as a place for losers. And if you’ve always received help, you’re most likely going to need help at school.

The National ACademic ADvising Association (NACADA) is made up of professors, advisors, counselors, administrators and students whose aim is to enhance the educational development of students.

The NACADA recognizes that “by capitalizing on the benefits of quality advising, colleges can more effectively help students select the programs and courses that will help them stay in school and on track toward achievement of their education and career goals.”

The group ( ) points out that “academic advising is the only structured service on the campus in which all students have the opportunity for on-going, one-to-one contact with a concerned representative of the institution.”

Since most high school seniors are just aiming to get today’s work done without getting too aggravated, now’s not the time to suggest they start retooling for college level work. But I do encourage them to take advantage of the extra help that awaits them at college – particularly the ones who owe much of their classroom success to mom and dad.

Sam Rosensohn is the founder of College Planning Partnerships, which offers prep classes for the SAT and helps students to prepare for college and write college essays. He can be reached in Clinton at 860-664-9857 or at