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Preparing for College
It’s never too early and never too late to start thinking about college. Still, early is always better.
What are you and your child doing to prepare for college?
THE EARLY YEARS
Start college preparation in kindergarten, young students are receptive to thinking about college. Spend the early years researching learning methods, reading and experiencing life, finding opportunities that increase curiosity and open minds to creative and organized thought processes. Develop goal-oriented thinking and time management skills in your child, so that in the future he will have the means to stay on task.
Young students are particularly successful in learning languages and music, a four- or five-year-old child can start piano or keyboard lessons. If you have the means to expose them to a second language through travel or tutoring, try it, children learn a second language much faster than adults.
Of course, it’s never too early to open a college savings account.
By high school, students should have a good understanding of math and be able to write logical, grammatically correct essays.
Set up a college savings fund or other fund specifically designed for higher education if you haven’t already. This is a good time to start. Check with your local bank or credit union to find the account with the best interest rate. Parents should discuss investments and deposits into a college fund with their child, it is important that they understand the reality of how much college and living away from home costs.
Children at this age can visualize their future independently of their parents and strive for a decisive role in their lives. Recognize and respect uniqueness, support interests and allow them to evaluate opportunities. Of course, teenagers may think they know everything, so before making a choice, ask them carefully thought-out questions that will guide them to a logical and informed decision.
In high school, curriculum, grade point average, and extracurricular activities become important factors in college admissions requirements and scholarship opportunities.
In general, most colleges want a student to successfully complete the following majors in high school:
College Guidance Counselor: Students should begin meeting with an advisor at the beginning of 9th grade to ensure all correct coursework is completed and to maintain the relationship throughout high school. Often, a counselor can provide information about college entrance exams and scholarships.
A note on mathematics: Since many students struggle to maintain their math skills, it is not wise to skip math in the senior year. Forgetting valuable information before taking practice exams, Advanced Placement Tests, the SAT, or the ACT can prevent a student from getting a high score or require a math remedial class in college.
Quite often, parents have forgotten their advanced math coursework and lack the skills to help with homework, so investing in a tutor can be beneficial. A knowledgeable and affordable tutor can usually be found at a local university or college.
One way to sharpen your math skills instead of taking four years of math is to take a year of trigonometry, algebra, or computational physics. Many undergraduate programs only require statistics or intermediate college algebra, so even if a student doesn’t pass calculus in high school, they will be adequately prepared with intermediate algebra, geometry, and trigonometry for most programs.
Essay: Learning how to write essays well can help students succeed in college, and most scholarship applications require some type of essay. Even math or microbiology majors write essays, so learning how to write a good essay is of utmost importance.
Honors classes: Colleges don’t just look at grades, they look at coursework as well, quite often a B in an advanced or honors class carries more weight than an A in a regular class. So even if the curriculum is more challenging, enroll in an honors class or advanced classes if possible.
Extracurricular: Colleges are looking for well-rounded students who will contribute to their community. Extracurricular activities, whether in sports, student government, the arts, or volunteering, enrich school and life experiences, provide opportunities to learn teamwork, and connect students to the community in which they live.
Sometimes the competition to make high school sports teams precludes students from participating, if that’s the case, look for other activities like karate, dance, or intramural teams. Often students as young as 16 can enroll in courses at local universities/junior colleges in subjects such as rock climbing, kayaking or racquetball.
Student government offers leadership skills, colleges look for students who have served as a student officer, class representative, or participated in campus clubs.
Some students enjoy participating in local theater productions or art classes.
The volunteer opportunities are endless, look around the community and find something interesting. Better yet, if there is an unmet need in the community, create a solution.
Employment: Consider a summer job opportunity to help pay for college and learn valuable job skills and responsibilities. Universities give priority to young entrepreneurs.
Mentoring/job shadowing: It’s never too early to explore real-world work situations. If a student thinks they want to become an accountant, find a ready accountant in the community who can answer questions about the day-to-day realities of their job and the training they need to do the job. Too much time is often spent silently thinking about the dream job without examining the reality. Halfway through college or after graduation is too late to start exploring career options. So before wasting valuable time and money, evaluate your career options thoroughly.
Letters of recommendation: At a younger age, after building good relationships with teachers and community leaders, ask for letters of recommendation to accompany college and job applications.
Most colleges and universities require either SAT or ACT scores, and the PSAT qualifies students for a National Merit Scholarship. Contact the universities of your choice and find out what exam they require. But do not limit the possibility of studying at another university, take both exams so that all options are available. Don’t let financial hardship prevent a student from taking these tests, but talk to your instructor about a fee waiver. All exams may offer accommodations for students with documented disabilities.
Grades: Each school has different grades and GPA requirements. But it’s usually a combination of the two, for example an exceptionally high exam score can give you some wiggle room on your GPA and vice versa.
PSAT / National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test: assesses critical reading, math problem solving, and writing skills.
SAT: tests critical reading, math problem solving and writing skills.
ACTION: Contains multiple-choice sections covering English, Maths, Reading and Science. The test also offers a written test that evaluates a short essay.
How to Prepare for College Admission Tests:
Advanced Placement Tests: these tests may earn credit in college-level courses and toward the AP Scholar Award. The tests are single subject exams offered in 35 different subjects, from art history to physics to world history. These tests can be taken annually, but contact the AP Coordinator or call AP Services at 888-225-5427 to find your local AP Coordinator and testing schedule.
Financial aid and scholarships: Federal Pell Grants are available to students with financial need; eligibility is based on parents’ income. To apply for a Pell grant, call 1-800-4FED-AID or apply online at http://www.fasfa.com. Consult the University Financial Aid Office to inquire about other funds, grants, scholarships and student loans. Tuition can be expensive, but don’t forget living expenses, which in some cases require more money than tuition and books.
College application: The summer before your senior year, complete your final college selection research and check their website for freshman application dates. Be sure to find out what other items they need, such as test scores, transcripts, letters of recommendation, or other documents such as proof of disability or military status.
TO LEAVE HOME
Many children leave their parents’ home to enter university. Learning to balance life, schoolwork, and work is a difficult task for many students. So preparing for these issues before you leave home can greatly increase your chances of a smooth transition from high school, home to college, and living on your own.
Life skills: Knowing how to write an essay or memorizing the quadratic formula won’t help you cope in everyday life, useful skills to learn before you leave home include:
Proper preparation helps ensure success and a smooth transition to independence. Preparing for college and preparing for adulthood should not be left to chance or expected to come naturally during the high school years. Above all, it is important not to limit the possibilities and choice with poor preparation.
College Board – [http://www.collegeboard.com/splash-]
Rigoglioso, Marguerite. Stanford Business School: Poor preparation puts community college students at risk. – [http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/news/research/socialinnovation_kirst_collegestudents.shtml]
US Department of Education, Office of the Under Secretary for College Preparation – http://www.ed.gov/pubs/Prepare/pt5.html
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