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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Is Middle School too Early for College Planning?

College Campus: Alvernia in Reading PA
The flip side of "is middle school too early to start college planning" is, of course, is middle school too late to start?

“Start preparing for college at grade six [age 11],” says UC San Diego Assistant Vice Chancellor and Director of Admissions Mae Brown in an April 2012 Forbes magazine article, "Why to Start Preparing for College in Sixth Grade".

Oh, say it isn't so! We expect students to know how to read when they enter kindergarten and first graders to know their times tables. Is it any wonder that we want 6th graders to begin college planning?

Let's break this down into more manageable pieces, though. It is true that colleges begin considering extra-curricular activities from the summer before 9th grade through high school. Colleges want to see consistency in those activities, as well as increasing leadership responsibilities. It is also true that colleges look at rigor of courses and grades beginning in the 9th grade. That necessitates some careful planning in middle school to make sure college-bound students are positioned to take those challenging classes.

We also don't want a bunch of stressed-out middle school students. Here are some suggestions for preparing middle-schoolers for college:

  • Use "college lingo" in front of your kids. Use words like "undergraduate", "professor" and "campus" to help tweens and young teens grasp the language of college.
  • Stop by college campuses when traveling to a vacation destination or visiting relatives. Find colleges along your route and take a break from the car by stretching your legs and walking around a campus.
  • Use websites like College Click TV, YouUniversity TV and CampusTours to introduce middle-schoolers to physical college campuses. These virtual tours also give students a glimpse into college life.
  • Share KnowHow2Go: Middle Schoolers, which talks directly to middle school students and encourages them to begin thinking about life beyond high school.
  • Parents should check out Big Future: Parent Action Plan for Middle School for a checklist for middle school parents and students to create a foundation for success in high school and beyond.
  • Read GoCollege: College Prep for Children in Grades K-8  for tips on how parents can start conversations about college early.
  • Complete the FAFSA4caster, a financial aid estimator that parents can use to get an early estimate of eligibility for federal student aid. Use this tool to begin to have conversations with teenagers about the costs of college and your family's affordability.
These tips will begin to give your middle-schooler a feel for your philosophy about college and will expose them to the differences between their current school and higher education. The investment in time now will better prepare your student when it really is time to do some focused college planning.