How Early Should I Start Thinking About College?
College and career readiness has rightly become a focus in many states. While it seems to make people feel that preparing for college practically starts in Kindergarten, that's not what we are talking about here. Children should have playtime, opportunities for socialization, and an appreciation for things that truly interest them.
However, as a matter of reality today, a child taking his or her first steps through the high school entrance needs to start planning for the day he or she last enters that building at the end of four years.****
In other words, high school matters, beginning at day one. Classes one takes and--more importantly--the effort exerted therein, are part of the larger picture to a college admissions department. Whether the child is looking to attend an Ivy League or its comparable institution OR is seeking to attend a state school, taking the most challenging courses FOR THAT CHILD and also getting the best grades possible will lead to the most acceptances.
Aside from academics, the high school years are when children should be exploring their interests. Participating in extracurricular activities helps with socialization and also helps create a base for possible areas of study or club participation in college.
If your child has any interest in research, please encourage this. Students truly learn important skills working on research projects, completing research papers, and presenting their findings. If it is possible to participate in research competitions, that is even better.
Additionally, if your child shows potential to play athletics in college, or pursue a path in the arts, there are numerous steps that need to be taken way in advance of submitting the college application.
***College, particularly at a 4 year institution, is not for everyone. Many children find greater success after high school graduation through military training, trade school, or employment. This website does NOT minimize the accomplishments via such paths, but rather, chooses solely to focus upon the 2 or 4 year private and public institutions located within the United States.
There are several types of interviews that may be involved in the application process.
On-campus informational interview: In this type, the applicant typically meets with someone during an on-campus visit. This may be with an upperclass student, not necessarily with an admissions representative. While participation demonstrates the applicant's interest in the school, and notes on this interview will be submitted to the admissions department, this exists primarily for the applicant to ask questions.
On-campus admissions interview: The applicant meets with a representative of the admissions department. While the student may learn new information about the institution, the interview's purpose is to get a different perspective of the applicant than the written application, resume and test scores can indicate.
Local admissions interview: The applicant typically meets with an individual from an alumni panel. As with the on-campus admissions interview, the interviewer is taking note of the conversation and information is added to the admissions file.
Regardless of the type or location of the interview, students need to be prepared to present themselves in the best light possible. Applicants should not be asking factual questions when the answers are readily apparent on the school website ("what are your average SAT scores?" "can I major in Psychology?"). But students should be prepared to ask questions, as well as answer questions about themselves.
Some areas to consider:
What are my strengths and weaknesses
What activities am I most passionate about
What skills and talents can I bring to this institution
Where do I see myself in 2 years, 5 years, 10 years
What do I expect to gain from attending this institution
Interview skills can be learned and practiced. Consider working with a specialist to hone your skills and present your best self.
Connections with the Guidance Counselor
Whether your school schedules regular meetings between the child and his or her counselor, it is important to utilize the resources that are available.
Meetings beginning during Freshman year help ensure your child is on the correct path towards graduation, and allows for dialogue to begin regarding any special talents and interests, advanced classes or specialized exams.
Further meetings during Sophomore and especially Junior year allow for better targets for college visits, as well as course selection for possible advance college credit.
Counselors can suggest activities both within and outside the school, including summer programs.
Software such as Naviance may be available, and this is an excellent source of information on college trends, acceptances, and further links for scholarship opportunities.
Standardized Test Prep
Not every child is a good test taker. And while numerous articles discuss how unreliable such tests are as predictors of college success and accordingly, how some colleges and universities no longer require applicants to take them, you STILL should consider having your child sit for these exams.
Whether you are considering the SAT Exam or the ACT Exam, preparation is key. Some children are better learners in a group environment, where they can hear questions being raised by others in the room. Alternatively, some children grasp concepts better with private tutoring, where they are more comfortable asking something without fear of being judged by their peers.
Regardless of the manner of preparation, the more practice exams one takes the more comfortable one will be on the actual exam day. And the goal here is to do as well as humanly possible. Even if your child isn't looking to go to a "competitive" school, test scores are used by many institutions to determine eligibility for merit-based scholarships.
What if your child isn't ready?
Not every child is emotionally, academically or socially ready to attend college--or to attend a school away from home.
Often, a "gap year" or possible deferment of admission may better suit your child. Remember, this may be the first time your child is navigating class schedules, homework, or exams without your gentle "nagging" or your constant monitoring of grades via school portals. In an ideal world, you will be more "hands off" during the junior and senior year of high school. After all, it is better for your child to feel the consequences while in high school--and when you are physically present to comfort him or her or suggest possible remedies.
If you suspect that your child may not be ready, discuss your child's readiness with your counselor. Also remember that it is very common for students to begin college and decide that the particular school or program is not a good fit. That's when it is time to think about transferring, or taking time off to figure out your child's particular need. But is not a "failure" or "defeat" to acknowledge that college choice may have been wrong. Just help your child to figure out his or her next step.