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College Planning for Parents of 7th-10th Graders

Posted on 12/14/2022, by Dr. Ellen Fithian (0 comments)

In the best of circumstances, by the time students become seniors they've taken rigorous courses, prepared for and succeeded on college admission tests, built a record of extracurricular and service accomplishments, and thoughtfully compiled a college list. All that’s left for such students to do is to clearly document their achievements on their college applications.

Each year, however, I encounter a few students who are just beginning to think about college in November or December of their senior year. Some have happened to compile a record of grades, test scores, and extracurricular accomplishments appropriate to the colleges they aspire to attend, so there’s no harm done. But others have made significant mistakes that can't be fixed so late in the game. They've made unwise choices of courses or extracurricular activities 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 7th through 10th graders, you and your child are starting with a clean slate. You have the opportunity to help him or her make the most of the high school years and succeed in college. Seize it.

Start Now

Just a few years from now, your child will be a college freshman - 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, he's got a lot of growing up to do before leaving the nest. 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. Also, help him prepare for the rigor of college work by encouraging him to take challenging courses; college preparatory ones in the early years and some actual college level courses when he's ready for them.

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 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 reach 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 change their ways, the damage to their GPA and class rank could seriously diminish their college admissions prospects. I recommend taking a training wheels approach to deciding 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 it 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 disastrous grade in calculus, you do it - and pray that maturation will eventually kick in. 

Get Informed About College

Like fashion, television shows, computers, and just about everything else, college admissions have changed tremendously over the past quarter century since parents were high school students. 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 don’t make the mistake of giving your teenager college planning advice that’s outdated. Start now to learn about the landscape of college admissions and financial aid today.

It’s a daunting task, and as a parent today your plate is already pretty full. But if you start when your child is in 7th to 10th grade, you have time on your side. Begin spending some time on informational websites, like this one. Check out the Roadmap section for a succinct guide to all aspects of the process. If you begin now, by senior year you’ll have learned a lot 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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