Childhood preparation for college (‘college prep’)

Today’s children [“generation Z”] have plenty of choices in careers and colleges.  There are pre-college and 2-year colleges as well the traditional 4-year colleges and graduate schools.  Trade schools are an option to liberal arts programs.  Online colleges offer courses taught in virtual classrooms.

Roughly half of college students complete their studies and graduate.  Those who dropped out early were either unprepared for the classroom, overwhelmed by stress, or couldn’t pay the bills.  Maybe the drop-out rate can be reduced by childhood preparation for college [‘college prep’] (ref 1, 2).  

COLLEGE PREP

Parents have considerable influence on fostering their children’s dreams and attitudes toward college.  High school and college students can receive help from their own ‘college team’ of parents, counselors, and trusted adults.  Here are the important milestones. 

before high school :

Save money for college.  College is expensive.  It’s cheaper to pay the cost by saving money beforehand than to pay interest on a student loan afterwards.  Parents: consider starting a “529 Savings” plan for your newborn child (ref 3, 4).  Later on, your growing child and other family members can help with additional contributions.

Dream about the future.  Pre-schoolers dream about being a grown-up.  It’s the perfect time for parents to discuss the jobs, trades, and professional careers of friends and family members.  School children can benefit from attending career presentations and visiting job sites.  Encourage your middle schoolers to read My Future My Way (ref 5).

Learn, Learn, Learn.  Every child should learn to manage money wisely.  Their training can begin by age 3 and continue throughout life (ref 6, 7, 8).  Every child should also learn to read well and perform homework assignments.  Tutor them, if necessary, and help them form good study habits (ref 9).

Enrichment.  Help your child participate in summer programs, after-school activities, community service, travel, clubs, teams, fellowships, and other enrichment programs (ref 10).      

Go to college?  College is optional, not mandatory.  Ask your child what they want to do after high school.  If they are strongly opposed to college, do they want to get a job or start a business?  There are job fairs and entrepreneurial training programs available to teens.  If they are either undecided or interested in college, help them explore college opportunities with the aid of campus visits.  Also encourage them to read My Future My Way if they haven’t already done so (ref 5).

during high school :

Shop for colleges.  Every college has a unique set of characteristics and opportunities.  College fairs allow students to discuss those features with a large selection of college representatives (ref 11).  Virtual and actual campus tours of interesting colleges help students prepare for college.

Assemble a College Team.  High school students should place more effort into college prep than parttime jobs.  They need a ‘team’ of parents, school faculty members, and other trusted adults to help with college prep.  Parents can facilitate the college selection, application, and enrollment processes.  For one reason, the required Free Application for Student Financial Aid (FASFA) requires timely parental input (ref 12).  Furthermore, parents can monitor their student’s adjustment to the transition year of college (ref 13).  School guidance counselors have valuable experience and information to share with the student.  Teachers and community leaders are wonderful sources of information and recommendation letters.  Grandparents can lend help, funds, and wisdom to the college prep process.

Use a checklist.  Here are some suggestions:

  • develop good study habits
  • decide what kind of college you want to attend and what you want to study
  • during the freshman year of high school, consult your school teacher and guidance counselor about; 
    • earning college credits in high school (ref 14)
    • taking college placement tests
    • applying for scholarships (ref 15)
    • choosing colleges
    • preparing for FAFSA (ref 12)
  • seek frequent advice and take early action!
  • select your preferred colleges
  • take care of financial matters
    • choose an affordable safety school 
    • compare college acceptance letters
    • re-visit acceptable schools and negotiate their offers of financial aid
    • minimize college expenses (ref 16).

during college :

Survive the transition year.  The first year of college [“transition year”] will likely be academically and emotionally stressful; that’s when dropping out of college is most likely to occur (ref 13).  Emotional issues may prevent graduation unless college students learn to manage the stress or parents intervene for signs of unusual behavior (ref 17).   

CONCLUSIONS

Parents have considerable influence on fostering children’s dreams and attitudes toward college.  Those with K-12 children might benefit from consulting a comprehensive checklist published by the U.S. Department of Education (ref 18). 

Middle school students can find helpful information in the pamphlet My Future, My Way by downloading it from the U.S. Department of Education (ref 5).  High school students must take charge of their college prep to have the best chance of success.  There is much to gain by an aggressive pursuit of scholarships, advanced placement courses, campus visits, and timely submission of the applications recommended by guidance counselors.  Students and parents may also benefit from consulting the “right fit” worksheet published by the Jed Foundation (ref 13).  

REFERENCES

1. Improving college graduation rates: a closer look at California State University. Jacob Jackson and Kevin Cook, Public Policy Institute of California, 2018. http://www.ppic.org/publication/improving-college-graduation-rates-a-closer-look-at-california-state-university/ . 

2. 10 ideas for improving community college completion rates.  Grace Chen, 2/14/2018, Community College Review.  https://www.communitycollegereview.com/blog/10-ideas-for-improving-community-college-completion-rates .

3.  Saving Early = Saving Smart!  Federal Student Aid, February 2018.  https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/sites/default/files/saving-early.pdf  

4.  FAMILY GUIDE TO COLLEGE SAVINGS. Joseph F. Hurley and Brian Boswell.  www.savingforcollege.com .  2016.

5. MY FUTURE, MY WAY.  FIRST STEPS TOWARD COLLEGE; A Workbook for Middle and Junior High School Students. Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education.  StudentAid.gov. July, 2017. 

6. How to teach kids money smarts from as young as three.  SBS com/au, 7/15/16.  https://www.sbs.com.au/topics/life/culture/article/2016/07/13/how-teach-kids-money-smarts-young-three 

7. The Money Tree Myth: A Parents’ Guide to Helping Kids Unravel The Mysteries of Money.  Gail Vaz-Oxlade, Stoddart Publishing, Toronto, 1996.

8.  Teaching Kids about money.  ASIC’s MoneySmart Financial Guidance You Can Trust. 5/29/18.  https://www.moneysmart.gov.au/life-events-and-you/families/teaching-kids-about-money 

9.  Helping Your Child. U.S. Department of Education, 9/17/2008.  www.ed.gov/parents/academic/help/hyc.html

10.   The value of out-of-school time programs.  Jennifer Mcombs, Anamarie Whitaker, and Paul Yoo.  2017, Rand Corporation.  http://www.wallacefoundation.org/knowledge-center/Documents/The-Value-of-Out-of-School-Time-Programs.pdf 

11.  NACAC national college fairs.  https://www.nacacfairs.org 

12.  Overview of the Financial Aid Process. www.YouTube.com/FederalStudentAid  

13.  EMOTIONAL HEALTH & YOUR COLLEGE STUDENT.  A GUIDE FOR PARENTS.  Alan A. Axelson and Donna Satow, Jed Foundation, www.TransitionYear.org .

14.  AP Students. https://apstudent.collegeboard.org/home 

15.  Finding and applying for scholarships.  StudentAid.gov/scholarships 

16.  Managing college costs. https://www.mycollegeoptions.org/Core/SiteContent/Students/Advice/College-Resource-Center/For-Parents/Paying-For-College/Managing-College-Costs.aspx 

17. 3 Attending College in Transition Year, Student Edition. 2012, The Jed Foundation.  http://www.transitionyear.org/student/intro.php

18. COLLEGE PREPARATION CHECKLIST.  Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education.  July, 2016.  https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/sites/default/files/college-prep-checklist.pdf

Copyright © 2018 Douglas R. Knight 

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