Getting started early, talking about college with your child will help prepare them for the process of finding the right college but also finding interests and passions that will lead them to an ultimate career path. It all starts with getting involved early – in academics, extracurriculars and college research.
Here are some tips of how to get started in middle school:
1. Talk about college
Set expectations that your child will go to college and that there are lots of colleges to choose from. Talk to your child about her interests and how they might translate into a college major and career.
2. Choose a high school (if you have a choice)
Many families have a choice where to send their children for high school: private, public, charter, or governor’s school. Explore the academic and non-academic programs that each offers, the different grading systems, average SAT or ACT scores of students, and the colleges that graduates attend. Find a high school that will support your child’s interests and dreams.
3. Understand the grading system
High schools have different policies for course selection and grading. Some schools do not ‘weight’ grades, so an “A” in the hardest course looks the same as an “A” in the easiest course. Colleges will not realize this, they see an “A” as an “A”. Some high schools limit which courses you can take depending on how you performed in that subject the prior year. Understand the high school’s system.
4. Help your child choose classes
Grades are the most crucial application element for admission decisions. Colleges consider the rigor of student course loads and want to see students taking increasingly difficult courses each year. Colleges expect students to take:
• Math: every year, and the more rigorous the better, as long as you can get a “B” or better.
• English: all four years
• History: all four years
• Science: every year and at least two years of a lab science.
• Foreign language: Many colleges require at least two years of a language for admission and many require a foreign language for college graduation.
Your child will need to satisfy more than these (the basic high school graduation requirements) in order to succeed in college.
5. Get savvy about college costs
College financial aid is based on the prior, prior year (for a high school senior, aid is based on the family’s tax returns from the child’s sophomore year), so developing a strategy now and managing your income and assets early can pay off. Look up the Cost of Attendance (tuition, fees, room, and board) for your state schools and any private schools your child would consider. Use the “net price calculator” on the college websites to get an estimate of what you will have to pay. If your family is not considered need-based, there are other sources of money. Type “scholarship” in the search box on each college website for merit money offered.
6. Encourage your student to read, read, and read some more
The best preparation for the SAT and ACT is reading.
7. Define your passion and make summers count
Help your child find her passions. Explore ways to get involved doing something she loves. Don’t let her waste her limited time. Summer experiences should be fun and meaningful, but serve a purpose: avoid “teen tours” or “mission trips” to other countries where students are more ‘tourists’ than active ‘participants.’ Many summer programs have deadlines in late fall or early in the spring semester, so get a head start on summer plans. Community service can also enhance your skill set or help you develop new skills.
8. Develop good study habits and don’t wait to get help
Nearly every child needs help with time management, organizational and study skills. Addressing these issues now is easier than when the work gets more challenging. Set up a quiet place for your child to do homework and help him get into a routine. If you or your child think they may need help in a class, find another high school student, a local college student, or a tutor to help. If you suspect your child has learning differences, get testing done now so that your child enters high school with a well-structured learning program that works.