Don’t let it surprise you, but college is just around the corner. Yes, even for those of you with middle schoolers!
Regardless of where your student is at in their educational journey, it’s never too early to begin the college planning process. From finding your student’s dream school to nailing the application, here’s a short list of what you should be thinking about.
College Planning Tips
Start the conversation early. Experts recommend starting the discussion while your student is in elementary school, beginning with your child’s strengths and interests. Consider the best, most realistic options and create a dialog. Students who choose three top schools typically end up attending one of those top three, so exploring multiple options is a helpful approach.
One caveat is to make sure that your child understands how important college is to their future without putting too much pressure on them. It’s a delicate balance, but knowing your student is invested in their future will help them get into the college that’s the best fit for them.
Take advantage of resources. Talk to your student’s guidance counselors. Take your child on college visits. Review college info packets together. Anything you can do to familiarize yourself and your child about a school that might be a good fit for them will aid you in the long run. Bear in mind your student’s aspirations to help create a sort of wish list of dream schools, but make sure it’s an open list—especially if you’ve started the college planning process early. Chamber of Commerce has created a great guide to help navigate the best college scholarships.
Help them to develop a unique background. This likely goes without saying, but college admissions departments are looking for the best students to fit with their mission. This goes beyond test scores, grade point averages, volunteer work, and extracurricular activities. These elements are all incredibly important to getting accepted to competitive schools, but a heavy imbalance likely won’t help your student get into their top pick.
Support your child’s development by nurturing activities they’re interested in, remembering that a myriad of scholarship opportunities exist for anything that captures your student’s attention.
Encourage a varied high school course load. University admission teams look for a variety of interests in a student’s activities and coursework, so try to encourage your student to take classes that will help round them out. For example, your student might be interested in becoming a physician, but having a well-rounded academic background in fine arts and music could help bolster their college application. Likewise, if they want to become a teacher, their application might stand out if they have a healthy variety of science and math courses, as well (this is particularly helpful with student loan debt forgiveness).
Listen to your student. Your child might change their mind an endless amount of times—especially if you aren’t far in the college planning process. But keep an open ear and mind as they explore options. One day they might be interested in becoming a lawyer, then the next they decide to run with electrical engineering. Your best bet is to help them through the process with thoughtful conversations and interactions.
Ask what attracts them to this career. Look through your personal and professional networks to figure out if you know anyone with said career, then consider letting them talk about the profession. Don’t be afraid to talk about salary and lifestyle, as you need to be able to balance their passions with the reality of paying for school and post-college life.
Keep it real. College is expensive, and your student will likely take on the majority—if not all—of what it costs to get a degree. Have candid conversations about incorporating realistic options into their top choices, and explore financial aid packages with your student for each option. Consider scholarship applications in addition to your student’s college applications, and help your student embrace their part in paying for their education.
In addition to federal student aid, many nonprofit and private organizations offer scholarships to help cover the high costs of attending college. As with college planning in general, it’s best to start early so you can apply for as many scholarships as possible. Once your student starts high school, they should start looking at scholarship options and begin applying. There’s a lot of free money out there—you have to take advantage of as many options as you’re able!
There are a lot of resources like Fastweb, Niche, and CollegeScholarships.org. Each of these (among others) is a directory of organizations that offer scholarships, including the application requirements and info about the sponsor.
Don’t dwell on standardized tests. The ACT and SAT are important, but they’re not the ultimate measure of a student’s success. Many colleges will offer scholarships that relate directly to a student’s ACT or SAT score, and that can be a compelling factor when ultimately deciding where to enroll. However, many students experience anxiety when it comes to taking standardized tests, and that should not interfere with their desire to attend college.
Help your student prepare for college entrance exams by creating study schedules and helping them create and run through flash cards. Encourage them to take advantage of study groups and courses, and establish a clear action plan before the test date. Above all, emphasize that their score—good or bad—is only one factor that contributes to their college application and admission.
Above all, be supportive of your student, and do as much as you can to help them create and explore a realistic college list. Starting the process early will give your student the greatest chance at getting into their dream school.
And don’t be afraid to rely on your resources like your school counselor and staff! We at Beacon Network Schools are here to help your student become active leaders in society through personalized learning, and we have lots of resources to help you through the college planning process.