Preparing for College: Beyond Academics – Nurturing Self-Awareness, Advocacy, Motivation, Resilience, and Regulation Skills

Kids go to college to continue their education. Sure, that’s true. But the reality of going to college involves so much more than academics. 

As students engage in college research and begin to formulate an idea of what they are looking for in a school, they should also check in with themselves to ensure that they are ready – beyond academic preparation – for this enormous transition. For students with learning differences, this is even more true.

Characteristics Critical to Success

As we begin to reflect on students’ preparedness for living independently of their parents for the first time in their lives, we should take a moment to assess the personal qualities, characteristics, and skills that are critical to post-secondary success. 

Once a student begins college, the responsibility of communicating with the school, meeting requirements and deadlines, and ensuring that they get the help they need falls entirely on the shoulders of the student. 

How can we expect students to shift from the team-based approach of high school learning where parents and teachers drive communication, to a student-centered approach where students are suddenly responsible for every aspect of their lives? 

We must begin preparing students for transition early on by helping them internalize critical skills and demonstrate the characteristics that will ensure their ability to succeed in college. This includes a careful assessment of the student’s personal characteristics. Any areas that need refining should be targeted during the high school years in order to make sure that the student has obtained the requisite level of independence for post-secondary education. 

The fewer novel skills students have to learn when they get to college, the better. There are numerous things students need to learn and adapt to once they leave home. Taking away some of the burdens prior can make all the difference for a successful transition.


One of the fundamental characteristics necessary for success is that of self-awareness. 

In order for a student to take responsibility for their own learning, they need to understand their learning profile, their diagnoses, and how these aspects impact their functioning academically, socially, and with activities of daily living. 

Additionally, they need to enter college knowing their rights and responsibilities as a student with a learning disability. They should know which accommodations would be helpful to them and why. 

Importantly, they need to be able to independently identify and apply strategies to support learning. In terms of their daily lives, they need to know if they benefit from structure or exercise, how much rest they need, and which teaching modalities and classroom structures work best for their learning profile. 


Strong self-advocacy skills are a must as students transition to a post-secondary setting, which further illustrates the importance of well-developed self-awareness. 

Students are required to become their own advocates in college, making their parents obsolete. They have to be able to identify when they need help or to seek clarification. They also need to know who to ask, as well as determine the means to get the help they need. 

College representatives won’t contact parents if students start falling behind, and formal meetings and updates are generally not provided. 

Additionally, students are responsible for requesting accommodations, which requires them to be able to discuss their learning profile and need for the requested accommodations. In order to do this, they have to initiate a request, feel comfortable disclosing their disability to the school, and subsequently provide each professor with the accommodation letter in which the approved accommodations are outlined. 

Motivation and Resilience

Furthermore, students have to be intrinsically motivated. 

They have to want to go to college and to continue learning. This can sometimes be a tall order for students who have struggled with learning through their K-12 experience. They will experience difficulty with their studies and their ability to balance their personal lives and academics if their motivation to continue their education is linked to their parent’s desire or an inclination to follow their peers. 

Motivation is strengthened further by resilience. Resilient students are able to bounce back from setbacks and not allow challenges to deter them. They can view difficult situations as opportunities to learn and to apply lessons learned to future obstacles.


It is important for students to demonstrate strong self-regulation skills as they make the transition to college. 

They have to be able to manage their feelings and employ strategies to stay calm. They have to manage difficult feelings effectively and are expected to control their impulses. 

Self-regulation can also mean ensuring that they are getting proper sleep hygiene, balanced nutrition, regular exercise, and performing self-care.

In sum

College readiness extends beyond academics. Students need self-awareness, self-advocacy, motivation, resilience, and self-regulation. They must understand their learning profile, rights, and accommodations. Self-advocacy skills are crucial for seeking help and requesting accommodations. Intrinsic motivation and resilience drive success. Strong self-regulation involves managing emotions, self-care, and healthy habits. Preparing students early ensures smoother transitions and greater independence.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog when Stephanie will continue to provide insight into the characteristics and skills needed for success in college.

About the author of this post
From time to time, we invite experts to share valuable insights and expertise in their respective areas.

As students will soon be packing to leave for college, we have invited Stephanie Mitchell, owner of Grapevine Educational Consulting, to provide some key skills college-bound students will need to successfully transition to college.

In this exclusive two-part guest post, Stephanie outlines key characteristics and skills students need to successfully transition to college.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog next week.

Did you miss these articles?

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A Guide to Surviving College for Students with ADD/ADHD: Part 2. How to Develop Executive Functions

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Making the Transition to College: Characteristics and Skills That Are Critical to Success, part 1