A Holistic Approach to College Prep for Adolescents

college prep

Addressing academic challenges and preparing for standardized tests are important goals for adolescents in any college prep program. But college preparation is about much more than standardized test scores. Students in a therapeutic educational environment need encouragement and motivation to grow and challenge themselves inside and outside of the classroom. They also need guidance in developing the emotional tools necessary to address self-doubt and build the confidence, leadership, and life skills necessary for future educational environments and beyond. A well-rounded program like that at Shortridge can help teens grow in all areas of their lives, prepare for college, and develop into compassionate, confident, and curious young adults.

Developing Academic Strategies for Future Success

Academics are key to college preparation, but many students in a therapeutic program may fear that past difficulties may prevent them from achieving success in the future. Overcoming these issues is often a major goal of treatment that requires students to develop new academic skills. Building a growth-oriented outlook, identifying one’s strengths, and finding academic strategies which work with one’s unique learning style are all critical.

An academic advisor can guide students in these key areas, and help address common challenges which often hold students back. With proper instruction and guidance, students can improve their test-taking skills, build efficient study habits and strategies, and learn to solve problems with academic material effectively. These habits do not just lead to better grades – they lead to a better relationship with academics and learning as a whole that will serve students well in the more intensive learning environment of college.

In addition to helping students hone in on their strengths, academic advisors can also help students find the subjects or forms of learning with which they struggle and develop specific goals to work on those areas. Working on these challenges can help prepare students for standardized tests and to anticipate and address academic difficulties before they arise.

The Emotional and Life Skills Necessary for College

Students must devote a great deal of focus, concentration, and discipline to take in all the information from schooling – and that’s just the academic aspect. Between the pressure to maintain one’s grades, think about college and the future, and manage one’s relationships and personal life, students can feel a great deal of stress and self-doubt along the way. Any college-bound student needs the tools to manage these pressures in healthy ways and to break these large amounts of work into manageable steps.

The kinds of skills necessary for success in college are also critical for life generally. The life skills that college-bound students need to develop, such as time management, organization, and collaboration with others, are all indispensable in any working environment. Similarly, students who learn healthy coping strategies, and receive the individualized mental health treatment they need, are well-served in college and beyond. Development of these kinds of social-emotional skills, or “soft skills,” is associated with greater success in academics, work, and overall life satisfaction.[i] This way, students know how to manage and overcome the emotional insecurity, impulsiveness, or depressive or anxious feelings that can sabotage one’s academic performance and overall quality of life. 

Building a Well-Rounded Academic Life

Grades are critically important to college admissions, but colleges are also looking for well-rounded students outside the classroom. Participation in clubs, committees, and other school activities helps students develop organizational, communication, and leadership skills. When students are presented with opportunities to organize events, collaborate with other students and staff, and advocate for their interests, they learn how to work in a team and focus on values they care about. These kinds of activities make impressive additions to any college application. They also expose students to more potential interests, hobbies, and passions which can serve as powerful motivators for future growth. These passions can also help students decide what fields they may be interested in pursuing in college study.

Testing and the College Selection Process

When students have worked to build solid academic foundations, and have developed the emotional skills that help them live a more confident, well-rounded life, the final step in college preparation involves testing and college selection. Students need support in preparing for these tests, from studying tips to the logistics of how they will get to and take the tests. Because these tests and processes can be significant sources of stress for students, they may also need guidance or reassurance if they are particularly anxious or have had past difficulties in these kinds of scenarios.

In addition to testing, the college selection and application process is another key area where students need guidance. The right academic/therapeutic program will have an in-depth understanding of a student’s interests, strengths, and challenges. From there, a student’s academic advisor can help them consider their options and ask the right questions to make reasonable choices. The program should also help students in the actual application process, with teachers and staff providing referrals or recommendations, assistance in writing applications, and other kinds of logistical support.

Shortridge Academy builds college preparation into our approach from day one, with individualized academic and mental health treatment plans designed to give every student their best chance at success. Our academic advisors work as a team with students and their therapists to set goals, tackle challenges, and ensure a well-rounded, holistic education that prepares them for the demands of college and beyond. With an instructional approach based on student involvement and an environment that encourages student participation, we help students build the leadership and confidence they need to thrive in any environment.


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