10 Essential English Skills Your Students Need for College

ESL students study English for a purpose, and for many that purpose is higher education.

Men and women, young and old travel great distances to attend colleges and universities. Many of them, though, must improve their English skills before they are accepted to the programs they desire. As many schools are wrapping up their final days of class, it is the perfect time to start offering students more information about college preparation to utilize throughout the summer. To make sure your ESL students are ready for class before enrollment day, check this list of English skills your students will need in college.


  1. 1

    Reading Text Books

    One key to a successful college education is reading the texts that the professor assigns. This element can be even more important for ESL students than typical students since what they do not understand in lectures they will usually find in their texts. Your students will need to know how to read technical material and decipher unfamiliar vocabulary from context. Teach your students to notice clues to understanding important parts of the textbook like subheadings, bolded and italicized words and chapter summaries.

  2. 2

    Reading Scheduling Materials

    Before they can buy the right textbooks, though, they will need to know what classes they are taking. Reading is more than just prose on a page. ESL students will have to understand class scheduling and degree requirement information as it is written for the student body. Taking the right classes at the right time is key to graduating on time, so be sure your students are familiar with reading charts and graphs in addition to prose selection.

  3. 3

    Reading Electronic Communication

    In today’s world, face to face communication is a rarity. More often students and teachers communicate through email or text messages. Often, these written communications do not follow traditional grammatical rules, and your students will have to be flexible enough to understand loose grammar and cryptic abbreviations. Try looking at real life examples in class on a regular basis to give your students some foundation in the texting world.

  4. 4

    Reading for Online Courses

    Online courses may keep students out of the classroom, but they require even more reading than traditional classes. Your students will need to read online course material as well as students’ responses in almost every remote class they take. Make sure your students understand that even native speaker grammar is not always right, and challenge them to understand the meaning behind less than perfect syntactic structures.


  1. 5

    Papers and Essays

    Essays are prolific among college courses. Of course, the area of study in which the class falls will influence how many essays the professor expects as well as how long those papers will need to be. Make sure your students understand basic essay structureintroduction, body, conclusion – and know how to use different organizational strategies to articulate their thoughts on paper.

  2. 6

    Essay Based Exams

    Oh, the dreaded essay exam. Not only does the student have to have strong grammatical skills, he has to put down the correct ideas and all in the time frame of a typical class. Giving your students plenty of opportunities for timed writings on challenging subjects will give them the mental and linguistic preparation they will need for essay tests. Learning the content is up to them.

  3. 7

    Written Reactions to Work of Fellow Students

    Along with reading online material for remote classes, your students will be required to comment on postings from their fellow students. Make sure your students know how to type on a standard keyboard and can communicate their ideas without being too brash or too coddling. Finding the fine line to walk the truth and cordiality is the real skill with posting reactions to students’ work.


  1. 8

    Listening and Understanding Lectures

    Of course, your students will have to sit in lecture halls with hundreds of other students, particularly in their first years of classes. Give your students lots of opportunity to practice by inviting guest speakers to your classroom and then checking your students’ comprehension. Encourage them to ask questions of each speaker and give you feedback based on the lecture. If you are teaching remotely, you can do this through a video meeting.

  2. 9

    Understanding Fellow Students

    Study groups are helpful means of learning difficult material, so you will want your students to feel comfortable having a conversation with a typical native speaker. Conversation partners, guest speakers and real world listening and speaking practice will all help your students know what it is really like to talk to a native English speaker while helping them improve their study skills


  1. q

    Asking When They Need Help

    Though technically a language skill, asking a professor or fellow student for help takes more than skill of the tongue. Pride can keep some students from asking for help even when they are studying in their native language. Other students keep their mouths closed when they are confused because they are too embarrassed to admit that they need help. Before your students leave your ESL program to attend classes in English, make sure they know their professors are there to help. Every college educator will assist their students and help them succeed. Your students need to feel confident that they can approach their professors for help when they need it.

If you maintain relationships with your past students, they can tell you directly how they were best (and worst) prepared for the college scene by their English classes.

When they give feedback, listening will be of the greatest benefit for both you and them, so be open to their feedback. What have your students had to say after moving on to University studies in English?

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