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What if my teen is not ready for college?

As hard as it may be to accept, some kids might not be ready for college right after high school. Here are some signs to watch for.

While some teens embrace the college application process, some simply aren't ready for college. Here are some signs the experts say to watch out for.

Applications and deadlines

The application and decision processes for college-bound students are challenging, and your teen is responsible for the brunt of the work. Bon Crowder, math teacher and blogger, says college readiness becomes apparent during the application process. If you are doing everything for your kid - researching schools, deciding which schools to apply for, reminding them of all the deadlines - then they probably are not ready for college. The skills required to plan, manage your time and make decisions are all extremely important to academic success in college. And if your teen is not ready, this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. “If your child is not ready for college, it’s okay for them to not go to college,” Crowder says.

College student in yellow shirt holding textbooks while standing in a class hallway

Life skills

Your teen should have a set of life skills to be able to function independently while on their own. These skills are necessary to manage their time, get around, get enough sleep, and take care of their basic needs. Studying, social life, student organizations, laundry, cooking, and exercising are all examples of things that need to be balanced and managed effectively if your student is going to be successful in college. Ask yourself: Does my student have discipline to get done what they need to get done? Does my teen get out of bed in the morning without my having to wake them up to get to school on time? Can my student set aside time to study without being told to do so? Does my teen go to sleep at a reasonable time without having to be told? If the answers to these questions are no, your teen probably isn’t ready to be living on their own.

College aged boy wearing beanie staring off into a distance unhappy


Some teens just need a little more time to mature before they are ready to live away from their home. “You can’t have the mindset that they just have to go,” says Wendy Rock, a Louisiana-

based high school counselor. Rock says students are ultimately most successful in college when they are ready to go, both academically ready and when they are mature enough to handle independent living. Parents know their kids the best, and all families are different in evaluating and identifying maturity. But if you feel that your teen needs an extra year to become more responsible and develop some independent skills, that is a feeling you should honor and recognize.

Mother and daughter walking outside holding a serious discussion

What do I do if I notice these signs?

Have a family discussion

Parents and their teens have to have a discussion about what the next best move is. “I think it’s important for parents to help their children evaluate their own readiness,” Rock says. If a teen is pushing to wait a year, recognize that as a sign and have a family discussion about it. If you are noticing some of the above signs around the time that students are deciding on and applying to schools, then you should talk to your teen about these signs you are noticing and why you have some concerns. Either way, this is not a decision that can be made in a silo.

College aged man in dark blue shit smiling at camera

Gap year

Taking a gap year between high school and college can be a good solution for some families and students. Working or volunteering is a great way to build some skills, gain maturity, and potentially save a little money in the meantime. One of our experts shared an anecdote about her son. We chose to not include the name out of respect for the child’s privacy. This expert says while her son is very much academically ready for college, she has considered having her son take a gap year to learn more independent skills before leaving home. “I’m not going to spend all that money to send him to college and set him up for failure. I know five years from now, my son will be fine. He just needs to mature a little bit more.”

Students working on computer lab with male student in bright green shirt

Look at other education options

Beyond academic readiness for college is also the desire to pursue fields where a college-degree is necessary. If your student really does not like or excel in highly academic environments, then there are other education paths available. Enrolling in a more hands-on, technical program is a really good fit for many students. These programs usually do not require much theoretical math or English, but rather learning applied skills like using specific machinery or technology. These programs prepare students for professions that can make them a lot of money and that they can get into immediately after completing the program.

Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Bon Crowder, Math Teacher and Blogger,; Laurie Curtis, Retired Assistant Professor, Kansas State University; Jocelyn A. Chadwick, Former President, National Council of Teachers of English; and Wendy Rock, Assistant Professor, Southeastern Louisiana University.