How Parents Can Help Their Kids Get Their College Degrees

Most college students take longer than four years to get their Bachelor’s degree. That’s not even half! Less than 60% of college students graduate with a Bachelor’s degree after six years.

Based on my book, Who Graduates from College?, here are a few things parents can do to help their child finish college. Nobody doesn’t.

Try to do better in high school. Students who work hard and give their all in high school are more likely to do well in college. Students are more likely to get a Bachelor’s degree from college if they had a better grade point average (GPA) in high school and did better on tests to get in. If a student gets an A average in high school, they are three times more likely to finish college than if they get a C average. Preparing for tests and getting help from a teacher can also help. Don’t do anything else for more than two hours a day.

Take classes that are hard. Students who go to schools with rigorous academic programs or programs that help them get ready for college are more likely to finish college. If your school offers them, sign up for Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) classes. Take part in programs that allow high school students to take college classes at a nearby college.

Math does matter. Students are more likely to finish college if they take more math in high school. Taking math classes after Algebra 2 like trigonometry, pre-calculus, and calculus is very important. More than twice as many students get a Bachelor’s degree if they take math classes after Algebra 2.

Look around to find the best school. If you apply to more than one college instead of just one, you may be more likely to graduate on time. Apply to a mix of 5–7 schools that are a match, a reach, and a safety. Compare the student’s admissions test scores to the 25th and 75th percentile test scores on the U.S. Department of Education’s College Navigator website. This will help you find colleges that are a good academic fit. When choosing a college, you should also think about how many people graduate and how much it costs. There will be more graduates from selective colleges than from colleges that let anyone in, but they may cost more.

Apply for help with money. Students are more likely to finish school if they fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students who win private scholarships, especially those worth more than $25,000, are more likely to get a Bachelor’s degree. The main reason people drop out of college is that they run out of money.

If you go to a 2-year college but want to get a 4-year degree, have a clear plan. If you want to get an Associate’s degree or certificate, a community college is a good choice. If you want to get a Bachelor’s degree, stopping at a 2-year college will require more planning. Only about one in five students who start at a two-year college with the goal of getting a Bachelor’s degree do so in six years. Compared to that, only two-thirds of students who start at a public or private non-profit 4-year college end up there after four years. Know which credits will transfer and how they will be treated if you start at a 2-year college so you don’t waste time and money.

Enroll full-time in college. Even though part-time enrollment is faster, students who go to school full-time are more likely to graduate. They can pay more attention to school. When compared to students who go to college part-time, those who go full-time are five times more likely to get a Bachelor’s degree in six years. Even though taking 12 credits a semester is considered full-time, to graduate in four years you need to take (and pass) 15 credits a semester.

Stay at school. Students are more likely to get a Bachelor’s degree if they live on campus instead of in an off-campus apartment or with their parents. Living on campus puts you in the middle of things and lets you take advantage of unplanned ways to learn, like studying with friends or doing problem sets together.

Be careful if you decide to work full-time while in college. There is a small benefit to having a part-time job in college, maybe because it helps students learn how to manage their time. But if the student can, the focus should be on part-time work. When compared to students who work 12 hours or less per week, full-time workers are half as likely to get a Bachelor’s degree. One of the main reasons people drop out of college is that school, home, and work life get in the way. But some students might have to work more than 12 hours to pay for college. Make sure you have a good plan for how to handle your home, work, and school obligations.

Don’t go to a different college or change your major. If a student changes programs, he or she is less likely to finish on time or at all. Not every credit will count toward the new major or transfer to the new college, so the student will lose ground on their degree. This will also raise the cost of college.

Don’t wait to go to college or take a gap year. Some students who take a gap year never come back. When they do go back to school, only about half of them will get a Bachelor’s degree. Taking a leave of absence, also called a “stop out,” will also make it harder for people to finish college.

Get involved and make sure your goals are high. If a student’s parents are involved in their education and expect them to graduate, they are more likely to do so. Start by making an environment that is focused on schoolwork and college. Join the PTA and take part in its activities. Meet with your child’s teacher. Make sure your high school and college-aged child is interested in both. They are more likely to finish school if they feel like they belong. Peers can also affect what the student thinks is the highest level of education they can get.

If the student’s parents don’t have a Bachelor’s degree, they should be encouraged to find a role model who does.

Learn how to handle money. When students and parents know how to handle their money instead of letting it handle them, the student is more likely to finish college. Learn how to save, make a budget, and borrow money. Look at the net price of a college, which is the difference between the total cost of college and the aid you get from grants and scholarships. If your school or college doesn’t have a class on how to handle money, you can find many free classes online. On the Financial Literacy for All site from the U.S. Department of Education, you can find a good list of online resources.

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