College Prep Starts Now!
As the school year starts, I’ve already started seeing more media coverage of “college” stories – students moving off to college, how high tuition is and how there’s not enough financial aid, football season starting, safety on campus, etc. I think the media, and people in general, are now tuned in to school and college more than they are at other times during the year. I’d like to take advantage of that attention a little bit, and make the pitch that college preparation (really good college preparation) is something that takes more than just the Senior year to accomplish. Just like any other major activity or life event, hours of planning and preparation over a number of years are needed to put a student in the best possible position where college is concerned. When the contestants on American Idol or athletes at the Olympics are profiled on television, we hear about the tremendous commitment it took by their entire family, and the sacrifices made to allow and help them get to where they are. Preparing for college shouldn’t be any different (though maybe not to the degree necessary for Olympians) – except more families should be doing more of it. Families need to be more willing to spend more time, money and effort on this endeavor.
Okay, so that’s what I think. And if you’re still reading, you probably either agree with me and are looking for suggestions, or are already doing some of this and want to either get some additional ideas or see if I’m as smart as you and suggest the things you are already doing. If you have any, I would be happy to receive other suggestions in this area, and will add them to one of my college preparation web sites. Please use the e-mail address listed at the end of this column.
So here are a few of my suggestions:
Young children should grow up hearing about college, what family members went to college, and where, plus who does what for a living and what education is necessary to do that (probably just family and close family friends to start). They should be taken to events on college campuses, whether educational programs, sporting events, concerts and other arts presentations, or political and leadership activities (they need to have images into which they can place themselves, at college). They need to hear about their college account, and about money being deposited in it (I think this sends a pretty powerful message about the importance of education, that it has a cost, and about the child’s importance). It’s probably best to have another discussion about limiting discussion of the college account to only within the family.
Kids in grades 6 through 8 or 9 can start to build their self-esteem, confidence and maturity by involving themselves in some of these activities: volunteering in the community, learning to play a musical instrument or tackle an art medium, sing in a choir or act in a play, or participate in competitive or recreational sports. Often, they won’t be able to get a traditional job, but mowing lawns, shoveling snow, raking leaves, babysitting and dog-walking are excellent ways to make a few bucks and learn/show some responsibility.
High School students have tons of things they need to be doing. You could write a book on all the things they need to do. Wait, I DID write a book on that – College Prep 101, and it’s available on Amazon.com and at www.collegeprep101.com! The most critical things these students need to do include: taking the ACT and/or SAT and their preliminaries, getting a job, saving some money of their own for college, thinking and talking about college and careers with their friends and respected adults in their lives, joining and building involvement in extracurricular activities, doing Internet research on colleges and careers, and visiting/touring as many college campuses as possible.
Taking school seriously, working hard at it, and doing well in school at ALL levels should go without saying, but I’ll “say” it anyway.
Parents MUST do at least the following two things: 1. Save money for their college. Even a little bit, saved regularly can turn into something significant. No amount is too small, and you should probably set up for your bank to take it out of your account automatically. 2. Encourage, support, and be involved in their academic work. Make it your business to know what they’re supposed to be doing, know if they’ve done it, and how well they did it.
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