What is the fundamental difference between high school and college? I would say it is the independence and freedom in learning. High school students gear their efforts toward exams and transcripts. They don’t focus their time on processing large volumes of reading, picking apart flaws in an author’s argument, and generating their own ideas. But this is the beauty of college if students know how to handle it well. So giving them tools and relationships they need to succeed in colleges is critically important.

Based on my experience mentoring high-caliber high school students in a rigorous research process through The Pioneer Research Program, here are five ways that educators can connect with students and help them prepare for the next stage of their academic careers.

1. Engage with students closely
For the past few years, I’ve served as an online research mentor to groups of high school students through Pioneer Academics. I work with only three or four students at a time, and these small classes help foster a real connection. I can really get to know everything about students on a deeper level.

5 ways to connect high schoolers with higher ed

While mentoring these students, I spend quite a bit of time interacting with them about politics via the program’s learning management system, but I also help field their questions about college applications and personal statements. I couldn’t do that with a class of 20, but I can do that with a class of four. I can devote time to them and offer them a perspective on their work and their college applications that they may not be getting elsewhere.

2. Challenge high schoolers to work with undergraduate materials
The material I deliver to my high school students is exactly the same as in my college classes. For example, we use Arend Lijphart’s Patterns of Democracy, the same text I use in my comparable upper-division Rice seminar. I take a subset of the modules from my Rice course for juniors and seniors and use it with my high schoolers.

About the Author:

Mark P. Jones is the Joseph D. Jamail Chair in Latin American studies, a professor of political science, the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy’s Fellow in Political Science, and the director of the Master of Global Affairs Program at Rice University.


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