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Is your teen ready for college?

Parents share insights on preparing their high schoolers for their next step

Parents share insights on preparing their high schoolers for their next step

Sarah Shuttleworth completed advanced and college-level courses during high school, allowing her to enter Dutchess Community College as a sophomore.

As a school guidance counselor at Kingston High School in Kingston, Michelle Drewnowski knew how to prepare her son, a 2019 freshman studying engineering at the University of Delaware, for college. But that didn't mean it wasn't stressful. 

"It's a tough process," Drewnowski said, and not easy to do on your own, including narrowing the teen's interests, taking college assessment tests, focusing on potential schools and filling out college applications.

But preparing teens for college helps set them up for success at school, a bonus for what comes next: entering the job market and working toward a satisfying career.

"I don't' think it's ever too early to start thinking about college," said Drewnowski. "I encourage our students to take as many electives as they can to get an idea of what's out there-our biggest trick is to help kids figure out what they want to do."


College prep starts in high school

Alex Digilio of Kingston is helping her son, Andrew Digilio, a 9th grader at Kingston High School, prepare for college by ensuring that he does well throughout his high school years.

"There isn't one year or quarter, per se, that's going to change things for college," she said. "He needs to work hard all four years, all eight semesters, because everything comes into play. He needs to focus on good grades from day one." 

For now, Digilio's son is focusing on adjusting to high school and his academic workload, especially that of honor-level classes. Next year he'll concentrate on college assessment tests, at first, the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT), and when he's a junior, the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).

"No matter what he chooses as a major or career or what job he wants to apply for, having a college diploma puts you that much further ahead of someone else who doesn't have one," said Digilio. 

As he moves into his sophomore and junior years, Digilio said it'll be important for her son to carefully think about colleges that interest him and what he wants to study. They'll also attend the high school's college night for information on potential schools and visit his top choices during and after his junior years. The idea is to narrow his options, including costs involved and available financial aid, so they won't be starting from square one when final decisions need to be made.

"College kinds of gets him ready for that living on your own; not relying on Mom and Dad as much for things," said Digilio. "Yes, financial support, but not day-to-day living. College is a good part of that transition of being a child to being an adult."


A degree can widen job opportunities

Antoine Barrington of the City of Poughkeepsie has been talking with his 16-year-old son, Qualique Barrington, an 11th grader at Poughkeepsie High School, and daughter, Nevaeh Barrington, 14, a 9th grader at the school, about college for the past few years. His son isn't sure whether he wants to go to college but his daughter plans on it. 

"I do want something on their resumes out of college; some type of degree," said Barrington, to broaden work opportunities once they've completed school. The thinking follows his family's emphasis on education. His mother holds a master's in psychology and several family members are teachers at Poughkeepsie High School. As well, an aunt is a former superintendent for the district. Yet Barrington isn't going to push college on his son if he's not interested in pursuing it.

"I've drilled into (my daughter) to take early courses," said Barrington, such as math, English and other general education classes typically required by colleges. As is stands, she's a straight-A student who's been recognized for her academic excellence and has attended the Summer Pre-College Program at Marist College. She also dances and has participated in performances at the Changepoint Theater in the City of Poughkeepsie, among other activities. 

If needed, Barrington will help his daughter choose a college major and school. Once she's accepted into a college, he'll be on hand to help her plan her coursework.

"She surprises me every day," Barrington said.

Good news! According to the National Center for Education Statistics, registration in postsecondary schools is up. In fact, between 2000 and 2017, total undergraduate enrollment in degree programs at postsecendary institutions went from 13.2 million to 16.8 million students. And, by 2028, total undergraduate enrollment is expected to increase upwards to 17.2 million students.

To support kids' postsecondary education, the guidance department at Kingston High School in Kingston outlines college preparation steps for 9th through 12th graders, including college assessment tests and related scholarships. It also provides links to college fairs, financial aid, government programs, scholarship programs and other resources,

School guidance counselor, Michelle Drewnowski works with college-bound students at Kingston High School by first introducing them to Naviance,, an online program that coordinates documents for college, such as transcripts, resumes, letters of recommendation and such. It also provides suggestions on colleges based on a student's interests and links to the Common App, which allows students to fill out one application for use at different colleges.

Additionally, Drewnowski recommends that students attend the high school's college night events, where representatives of more than 100 colleges provide students with information about their offerings, costs and application processes. She also encourages college-bound students to prepare for and take PSAT, SAT and ACT tests, as well as visit colleges of interest, investigate available scholarships and complete financial aid packages, as needed.

"We talk about getting to school, what to expect from teachers, classes and being away from home," Drewnowski said.

Visit the New York State Department of Education for information on college and career planning,



Life skills are part of the college experience

Carmela Alicea of Poughkeepsie helped her older son, Marcello, 20, prepare for college. Now she's doing the same for her twin 16-year-olds, Annalisa and Massimo Alicea, both 11th graders currently at Arlington High School.

"They're going to be on their own," said Alicea. "They need to learn how to take care of themselves and not just changing the bar of soap."

Things like knowing how to eat well, wash their clothes and manage money are important, she said. She's also spoken with them about alcohol, drugs and sex, and how one action can lead to another.

"It's like teaching them to be smart," she said. "It's okay to drink. It's okay to go to a party but be in control of your body."

They're also preparing for the SAT and American College Test (ACT) college assessment tests and have scheduled college planning meetings with the kids' high school counselors. And, they've talked about different school environments, like the size of the school, whether it's in city or quiet area and the local weather.

"It's going to be their home," said Alicea. "You want to be sure they're happy with everything. Just because it's a good school and they're going to get a good degree, doesn't mean that's going to keep them there."


Beyond all that, college tours have been scheduled to learn more about schools of interest. Alicea's son wants to study political science in city school. Her daughter is looking at colleges where she can study psychology, play volleyball and cheer during football games.

"I try to look at, what do we have to do next?" Alicea said. "They always know what's going on. I'm like their secretary, guiding them."


High school students advise parents


I asked six high school seniors to share their advice to parents about supporting their kids as they leave high school.

All the students are members of the Turtle Tracker program at Arlington High School in LaGrangeville in Dutchess County. This research team conducts projects to preserve the local population of the Blanding's turtles, which is federally classified as an endangered species.

1. Parents should support their kids based on what their kids want to do. Parents can voice their opinions, but they shouldn't be rude about it. Your kids probably know what they want. Lots of times parents voice their opinions and their kids do just the opposite, so support your kids but don't push them.

2. Through school work and extra-curricular activities kids can figure out what they want. Parents should support their kid's efforts both in school and through their kid's outside activities.

3. Parents can help by introducing their kids to people who are involved in areas that their kids are interested in. That way these outside contacts can give advice based on personal experiences.

4. When their kids are first entering high school, parents should encourage them to try different things, especially if they dont have an area of major interest. Don't force things on them. Just encourage them to broaden their experiences so they can figure out what they like.

5. Parents should encourage their kids to build relationships with their teachers. These teachers can become their closest allies and friends by time they graduate.

6. Parents shouldn't be the decision-makers for their kid but rather the person their kids go to for advice. Hear students talk about moving on to college visit Thanks to Turtle Tracker advisor Tricia Muraco.



Outside activities round-out athletics

Jim Shuttleworth of LaGrange has always encouraged his daughters, Amanda and Sarah Shuttleworth, to do their best and develop a love of learning. His eldest will finish her degree program in December, completing it a semester early. His younger daughter began her first year at Dutchess Community College in September, entering the school as a sophomore thanks to advanced and college-level courses she took at Our Lady of Lourdes High School in Poughkeepsie.

"I didn't push early graduation; that was their choice," said Shuttleworth. "I encouraged them to do their best and not slack off. I would suggest that if you do this, this might happen. If you take advanced classes, you might finish early." 

He also had them pursue their non-academic interests in theater and soccer, and often talked with them about what they wanted to do and how they planned on reacing their goals. 

"My job is to give them the tools to build a better life," Shuttleworth said. "What they do with them is up to them."

Both girls attended their high school's college nights to get a sense of what was available, and the costs involved, took the SAT and ACT exams and scheduled college visits at favorite schools to experience the campus cultures.

"If everyone (likes) blue and you like red, you're not going to fit in," Shuttleworth said. "It's not just grades. It's a life-enriching experience."

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