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Executive Function Skills for Successful Transitions: College Readiness and PreventingThe Summer Slide


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Preparing our students for the transition to college is a significant milestone that brings a mix of excitement and apprehension for parents. While we focus on academic achievement, it’s essential to recognize the critical role of executive function skills in college readiness. These skills, encompassing time management, task initiation, problem-solving, attention, and impulse control, are often overlooked but are vital for success in higher education. A study by the University of Chicago found that students with strong executive function skills were more likely to enroll in college and earn a degree than those with weaker skills, regardless of their IQ or family background. Furthermore, a report by the National Center for Learning Disabilities revealed that 94% of students with learning disabilities who had strong executive function skills graduated from college, compared to only 41% of those with weaker skills. By understanding the importance of executive function skills and actively working to foster their development, parents can help their children prepare for the transition to college.

What Are Executive Function Skills?

Executive function skills are a set of cognitive processes that enable individuals to plan, organize, prioritize, and manage their time effectively. These skills, which include time management, task initiation, problem-solving, attention, and impulse control, are needed to navigate college life’s demands.

Students with strong executive function skills are better equipped to balance coursework, extracurricular activities, and personal responsibilities, leading to greater academic success and overall well-being. Developing and strengthening these skills during the formative years can lay the foundation for a smooth transition.

Getting College Ready This Summer

Transitioning from the structured environment of high school to the autonomy of college can be daunting. In college, students must manage their time effectively, balance coursework with extracurricular activities, and seek assistance when needed. Strong executive function skills become indispensable during this transition, helping students navigate the demands of academic and personal responsibilities.

Moreover, the “summer slide” poses a particular challenge, especially for students with executive function deficits. Without the structure of the school year, academic and organizational skills can regress. Research suggests that students with executive function challenges can regress nearly twice as much as their peers during the summer months.

However, there are effective strategies parents can employ to mitigate this slide.

Common Summer Challenges and Our Suggestions for Addressing Them

Challenge: The Summer Slump. With the freedom of summer, college-bound students may find it challenging to maintain productivity and structure.

Solution: Create a balanced schedule that includes regular wake-up times, dedicated reading hours, and structured activities. This routine can help with time management and provide a sense of structure, essential for maintaining and improving executive function skills. However, be mindful not to over schedule, to improve problem-solving skills, children also need the freedom to explore. Striking the right balance between structure and free time is crucial for fostering the growth of executive function skills.

Challenge: Procrastination. Too much time, lack of urgency, and being overwhelmed by any tasks over the summer.

Solution: Break down big goals into smaller, manageable tasks to combat procrastination. Encourage students to set realistic and achievable goals, such as reading a chapter of a textbook or working on a research project for a set amount of time each day. Implementing daily routines that encompass productive activities, such as exercise in the morning and reflective journaling before bed, can help students establish a rhythm and overcome procrastination tendencies.

Challenge: Out of sight and mind. Forgetting the important tasks needed to reach summer goals.

Solution: To keep important tasks a priority, make them visible using tools like whiteboards, sticky notes, and phone reminders. Keeping these tasks at the forefront of your student’s mind can help them stay on track and avoid losing sight of their goals amidst the summer’s more relaxed atmosphere.


Encouraging activities that incorporate movement, goal-setting, adherence to routines, and problem-solving can help maintain and even improve executive function skills over the summer break. Creating a balanced schedule, breaking down goals into manageable actions, making tasks visible, and allowing freedom for exploration and problem-solving are essential strategies. By proactively addressing executive function skills before college and implementing strategies to prevent the summer slide, parents can empower their children to succeed academically and transition smoothly into higher education.

Every student’s journey is unique, and progress may not always follow a linear path. It’s essential to celebrate small victories and provide support as children develop and strengthen their executive function skills, both during the summer and throughout their academic journey. Visit www.untappedlearning.com for more resources!