How can students prepare for college?

Most of the time we’ve been parents, almost seventeen and a half years, Mod Squad Dad and I have looked to parents of children older than ours to see what they’ve been dealing with and for help on what we’ll be going through next.

The first lady poses with HS students following a discussion about college. Photo by Jenna Johnson

That’s been true from dealing with toddlers outgrowing naps, choosing preschools, starting team sports or music lessons, and so much more. More recently, I’ve asked parents of college students about the transitions our household will face next summer and fall.

And the reverse is true:  with a middle schooler in the house (hey, Mod Squad Linc, that’s you), we hear questions from middle school parents about how Pete is doing with his applications, where he wants to go,  how tough the process is, and how to prepare for college.

Meanwhile, I’ve run into a few articles about preparing high school and middle school students for college.

Sam Coren writes at The Student Advisor blog: Starting the College Discussion With Your Child? Here’s What to Cover.

If you have a child who just started high school, one thing is for sure: college is the last thing on their minds. As they start acclimating to high school life, it can be easy for them to forget that preparing for college starts in 9th grade. While it’s not necessary to be a “Tiger Mom” and stress them out about every little detail, it is important to begin the discussion about college early. When both you and your child are on the same page about expectations, there will be less drama when application time rolls around.

Michelle Obama spoke with DC high school students attending a ‘college immersion day’ at Georgetown University last week. Covered by Jenna Johnson on the Washington Post‘s Campus Overload blog, Mrs. Obama’s tips for applying to college included:

6.  All along the way, “work your butts off.” Yes, that’s really what the first lady said. She told the students that when she enrolled at Princeton, it was a “culture shock.” She worried that she couldn’t keep up with her wealthy classmates who graduated from private high schools. But once she started attending classes and working hard, Obama said, “I found out that I could do just as well, if not better.”

For Class Struggle, the Washington Post‘s blog on education, Jay Matthews wrote a post last February that could be required reading for all parents:  8 subtle ways to prepare middle schoolers for college. Not that all students should go to college, but his recommendations will serve all students to be ready for college or life. As he wrote, “Some of the ideas don’t sound like college prep at all, but they are. If you help a preteen get ready for life, there will be some preparation for college in there somewhere.” Here a just a couple of his suggestions:

2. Make sure your child knows that B’s are fine in middle school and that fun is important. Denise Pope, senior lecturer at the Stanford University School of Education and an expert on student stress, said each student needs a somewhat different message. The overachiever should be told, “You don’t need to do three different extracurricular activities in middle school to get into college,” she said. The less-motivated child needs to hear, “Yes, you can go to college, but first that means passing your courses in middle school.”

6. Encourage children who are curious about the world to take a foreign language. This can be with CDs or at school. Most middle schools do not require a foreign language but nearly all offer some classes.“Chinese or Arabic would be two to consider,” Bloomquist said. “Colleges are increasingly international in nature. Twenty years ago, Yale had one in 50 international students. Today it is one in 11.”

And some of the very best advice:  Zac Bissonnette ‘advises middle-school parents not to “let yourself or your kid get caught up in the rat race of mindless achievement. Take time to think, and take time to play.”’

That last bit — taking time to think, taking time to play — is just as important for the high school senior, who is watching his favorite football team as I write this. Go, Patriots!

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4 Comments

Filed under Getting In, High School

4 responses to “How can students prepare for college?

  1. Thanks for the mention, Jane! Hope Pete’s finding time to enjoy what’s left of high school during this crazy time. On the note about starting the college prep process rolling in middle school, I think it’s important for parents to start encouraging their kids to focus their energies on what they truly care about by the time they get to high school. While I do think it’s important for students to keep an open mind and try new things – dedication is better than dabbling….that’s where I think Bissonnett’s also coming from with getting caught up in the “rat race of mindless achievement.” Too often students have to put off what they actually love doing because parents and peers are encouraging them to spread themselves thin with so many different activities on top of being academic all-stars. Best of luck!

    • Thanks for your comments, Sam. I agree: I’m all for students figuring out what interests them most and going after it, rather than attempting to fill in all the different extracurricular categories. Thanks for the info we get from Student Advisor.

  2. Jen

    Our middle schooler is already thinking about college, which is par for the course for her. We figure that when she gets to high school, we won’t have to push her hard to get her thinking where it needs to be. As for her younger sister, she’ll likely be less focused, but we’re hoping that by simply being around her sister, she’ll hear our conversations and start to pay attention.

    • That soaking it in seemed to work for our younger two, Jen. When we visited three campuses on a family trip, Mod Squad Julie and Linc toured all three of them while walking-and-reading. But at the last campus, Julie commented on the higher quality of information we received from the student guide who was trying to convey clear information rather than sell us on her school. Huh? She was actually listening while walking-and-reading? I’ll bet your younger daughter will watch and learn while the older goes through it. Thanks for the comment!

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