When should I start planning for college with my child?

By Sylvan Learning

High School

If you have a child in middle school or even the early years of high school, sending him or her off to college most likely seems an eternity away. However, every year a new report comes out detailing just how selective colleges are becoming – and for students heading to campus in fall 2014, it was no different. Stanford had the lowest admission rate in the country for the class of 2018, accepting just five percent of applicants, and many other universities are following this trend of accepting a smaller percentage of students than they would have even a decade ago.


So when should you start planning for college with your child? The answer may surprise you – it’s never too early to begin thinking about the future. In fact, it’s a good idea to start preparing for college while kids are still in middle school.


Here are some ways that you and your child can start planning for college today:


6th – 8th Grade


– Talk about the future. Seed the idea of going to college with kids early and let them know your academic expectations for them. Talk to kids about where they see themselves after high school – a large state school? A small private school? Of course, kids may change their minds over the years but this can help you steer them in the right direction.


– Encourage kids to get involved. Not only do colleges take into account grades and scores on college admissions exams but they also note extra curricular activities as well. Finding a perfect balance is important here as well. Rather than joining 10 clubs to pad an application, encourage kids to get involved in a few meaningful activities and take on leadership positions.


– Explore interests. Your child may love coding but if he or she never tries it out, how will you ever know? Middle school is a great time to test out many different subjects to hone in on specific interests. From there, you and your child can research potential college majors and careers that may expand on these areas.


– Develop good study skills and habits. Colleges will typically look at grades starting with freshman year of high school and you will want to make sure that your child has strong study skills well before then. Knowing these strategies can have big impact on a student’s performance. Sylvan offers Study Skills programs that give students a consistent process to succeed with every academic challenge.


9th – 10th Grade


– Make a list of possible schools and note their admissions requirements. Your child has 3,901 options for college, meaning there’s a fit for everyone. Not sure where to start? Use the College Board’s College Search to identify schools based on a number of factors including test scores & selectivity, type of school, location and sports & activities. From there, you can see what the schools will require for admission and your child can set goals for his or her GPA and test scores.


– Identify the courses your child needs to take. By high school, your child will have any number of tracks to embark on in school, including honors and AP courses. If your child is interested in a STEM career, he or she should take advanced biology, physics and math classes now to be better prepared for rigorous college coursework in the future.


– Enroll your child in SAT/ACT prep class. Yes, most students take these exams in their junior or senior year but now is the time to get a jump-start on preparations. Sylvan Learning offers SAT and ACT prep courses that cover test-taking strategies & skills, refresh math & verbal skills and boost college-level vocabulary. You and your child can also check out these study tips.


– Speak with the school counselor. He or she has most likely helped hundreds of students that have been in the same position as your child. The counselor can help with everything from academic advising and college planning to paying for college. If your child happens to hit an academic “bump in the road,” the counselor can help come up with a plan to course-correct as well.


11th – 12th Grade


– Get organized. By now, your child should have a pretty good idea of schools for their reach, match and safety schools. Create a chart with all of the important admissions deadlines. Pay particular attention to early action, early decision and preferred application deadlines as well as schools with rolling admissions deadlines. It’s also a good idea to ask for letters of recommendation early – the longer you wait, the greater the chances are of that teacher or coach getting bogged down with requests from other students.


– Go on campus tours. There’s only so much you can learn about a school from a brochure and your child will benefit from experiencing the campus in person. Students will be able to get a sense of a school’s culture and atmosphere from seeing it firsthand, if only for a few hours. Current students typically give campus tours, so it’s a great time to get questions answered in a real way and gain insight about the school from someone who is experiencing it on a daily basis.


– Explore financial options. College is expensive but there are many options out there for students. Start off by having your child complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Financial Aid) and ask him or her to search for local scholarship opportunities. Even $500 scholarships can add up to be a tremendous help when paying for college.


How are you helping your child prepare for college? Let us know in the comments!