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College Planning for Parents of 8th and 9th Graders: For Best Results Start Now

Posted on 07/22/2017, by Dr. Ellen Fithian (0 comments)


In my line of work, spring and fall are the busy seasons; I’m working with juniors to finalize their list of colleges in the spring and then helping them polish their applications and essays in the fall of their senior year.

In the best of circumstances, I’ve been advising these same students on course selections, extracurricular and service activities, standardized testing, and the college search process since 8th or 9th grade, so by senior year they’ve already done the heavy lifting involved in becoming a competitive college applicant. All that’s left is to clearly document their accomplishments.

Each November or even December, however, I also meet a few families of seniors for the first time - families who envision college planning as being limited to deciding where to apply and filling out the applications. If a student has compiled a record of grades, test scores, and extracurricular accomplishments appropriate to the colleges she aspires to attend, there’s no harm done. But families of students applying to very selective schools often underestimate the competition, setting their teen up for disappointment. 

Worse, some students have made serious mistakes that can't be fixed so late in the game. They've made unwise choices of courses or extracurricular activities, failed to prepare adequately for standardized testing, or missed early deadlines for merit aid and scholarships.Sadly, many end up scrambling to put together a haphazard list of colleges to apply to at the last minute.

This approach rarely results in as favorable a choice of colleges and financial aid offers as would have been available if college planning had begun earlier and been more systematic.  What I often wish most for these kids is that I could turn back the clock so that they could start over.

As parents of a rising 8th or 9th grader, you and your child are starting with a clean slate. You have the opportunity to help your son or daughter make the most of his or her high school years and succeed in college. Seize it.

Start Now

Just three or four years from now, your teen will be a senior, months away from heading off to college, where he’ll be completely on his own. There'll be no one to tell him to go to bed at a reasonable time or wake up for class the next morning, no one to make sure he’s keeping up with assigned readings or getting started on at least one of the three papers that are all due the same week.

In short, your child has a lot of growing up to do in a few short years. Don’t leave it to chance and just hope for the best.

Instead, use the time you have left together to help him develop organizational, time management, and study skills. Help him learn how to plan his time and break large assignments down into smaller pieces.

Second, help him prepare for the rigor of college work by encouraging him to take challenging courses; college preparatory courses in the early years and some actual college level courses in 11th and 12th grades. (For more specific information on which courses are important, see the article on Courses).

Stay Involved

You’re a long way from the days when you brought cupcakes to school on your child's birthday or helped chaperone the second grade class trip to the zoo. As kids progress from elementary to middle and then high school, there’s a tendency for parents to feel less and less engaged with school – and with their kids’ schooling.

This is appropriate – to a point. Ideally, as your daughter matures you get to a point where you no longer have to sit at the kitchen table with her each evening to keep her focused on her homework. However, that generally doesn't happen overnight.

Indeed, for some teens it doesn’t happen at all. Even as sophomores or juniors, they can be relied on to start surfing the Internet or texting their friends the minute they’re left alone with a book. Opinion is divided about how to deal with such students. Some people believe that allowing them to experience the bad grades that are the logical consequence of their negligence will teach them a valuable lesson, and there is undoubtedly some merit to this argument.

However, my concern with this strategy is that even though students might learn from their mistakes - and possibly even change their ways, the damage to their GPA and class rank could significantly diminish their college admissions prospects. I recommend taking a training wheels approach to determining how much to supervise your teen's school work. While nobody ever learned to ride a bike without taking a few tumbles, you don't remove the training wheels if doing so might result in your child hurtling off the edge of a cliff.

Bottom line: my personal opinion is that if you need to sit at the kitchen table with your senior to keep her from getting a damaging grade in calculus, you do it and pray that maturation will eventually kick in.  

Get Informed About College

Back when many parents were high school students, women's fashions showcased legwarmers and neon colors. Sitcoms like Full House, Cheers, and The Cosby Show reigned supreme on television, blissfully unaware that one day they'd be vying with reality TV dramas like the one starring real people dropped into the wilderness "Naked and Afraid."

Like just about everything else, college admissions have changed over the past quarter century. It’s more difficult to get in to college now and more expensive to attend. Furthermore, the profile of the ideal applicant has changed. So if you wouldn’t advise your daughter to don parachute pants and a jacket with large shoulder pads, don’t make the mistake of giving her college planning advice that’s equally outdated. Start now to learn about the landscape of college today.

It’s a daunting task, and as the parent of a modern teen your plate is already pretty full. But if you start when your child is an 8th or 9th grader, you have time on your side. Invest a little time each week and over the course of the next few years you’ll have learned a great deal about preparing for college, choosing schools that are a good match, estimating the costs of specific colleges for your family, and preparing applications and scholarships.

Best of luck!

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Posted on 07/22/2017, by Dr. Ellen Fithian (0 comments) « Previous Entry

 

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