Even though rising tuition is an incredibly important piece of the puzzle, there’s a lot more to preparing for college than figuring out how to pay for it. It’s an old cliché, but children really do seem to grow up in the blink of an eye. The elementary and middle school years fly by and before you know it, high school and college prep are on the horizon. How can you help your kids get ready? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Start talking about the importance of education at an early age. Kids learn by example. Joking about the fact that you hated going to school when you were a child or letting your kids stay home every now and then “because they just didn’t feel like going to school” can come back to haunt you when it’s time to start planning for college. Explain why school is important and that everyone has to learn new things throughout their entire lives.
2. Discuss potential careers. Even preschoolers love to tell everyone what they want to be when they grow up! While most four-year-olds eventually realize that the idea of becoming a Disney Princess probably isn’t going to work out, children that enjoy playing with plastic doctor’s kits, science sets, play kitchens and other “toys” just might be on to something! Once your kids are older, talk about potential careers. Mention what you do at work and talk about plenty of other jobs as well.
3. Research education and training requirements. Once your child has a few potential job ideas in mind, sit down together and research just what it takes to enter that field. The StateUniversity.com Career Library has detailed profiles on hundreds of careers.
4. Keep records of your child’s achievements. You won’t need any kindergarten macaroni art for college applications, but it’s a good idea to keep a file box of your child’s report cards, newspaper mentions, community service records, trophies, awards, recommendation letters from teachers, and similar items.
5. Go to parent-teacher conferences and meet the guidance counselor. You’re busy, but take the time to meet with your child’s teachers even once they’re in high school—yes, even if they’re doing well in their classes! Set up a meeting with the school guidance counselor, too. Find out what classes your child should be taking.
6. Three S’s: Stability, Study habits, and Sleep. Try your best to maintain a healthy home environment. Eat dinner as a family as often as possible and encourage exercise—which is known to help reduce stress—by doing it together. Make sure homework is getting done on time and remind your kids that going to bed at a reasonable hour is a good idea, even during high school. Lack of sleep means lack of concentration at school, which can affect grades.
7. Encourage extracurriculars. Whether your child enjoys music, art or sports, encourage them to get involved at school. Encourage community service—an asset to most college applications that’s often a scholarship requirement—by volunteering somewhere together.
8. Research potential colleges together. Finding the perfect college is a daunting task. All schools have their pros and cons, so discuss what is most important—cost, campus and size, location, programs offered? Make a list and determine which schools meet which criteria.
9. Take college campus tours. Once your child has a few colleges and universities in mind, visit the ones that seem like possibilities in person—in most cases, possibilities are simply the schools your family can actually afford. Take organized campus tours but make sure to wander around by yourselves, too. Tour guides and admissions representatives may only want to discuss the good things and none of the bad!
10. Look into financial aid and college savings plans. It’s never too early to start saving for college. Ask your bank or financial advisor for advice on the best college savings plans and start researching financial aid programs when your son or daughter is in high school. There are a lot of programs out there for eligible students, but the fewer student loans your child has to take out, the better!
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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