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The Ideal College Prep Timeline: It Starts Earlier Than You Think

Every parent wants to help their child succeed through college and beyond, but some wait until their teen is about to graduate high school to start seriously discussing higher education. While high school performance does have the largest impact on their future academic opportunities, what they really need to succeed is a college-oriented mindset. Introducing the concept of a degree early in their school careers will help alleviate much of the stress, anxiety and even hesitance many young adults face when deciding what they want to study. This timeline will help you start talking to your child about college and guide them year by year through high school and into their degree program.

Sixth Grade: Learning Why College Matters

In their first year of middle school, kids are most likely just wondering how they’ll grow the next few years. There’s no need to pressure them with any serious discussions about college. Instead, just open up the conversation about what they’d like to be when they grow up and how a degree could help them get there. If they love computers, talk about different jobs that involve technology, like computer science, engineering and programming. This is a great time to also begin introducing them to new subject material that they can indulge as they get older.

Seventh and Eighth Grade: Advancing Education

Many students struggle to assimilate to the heavier course load thrust upon their shoulders when they transition from middle to high school. You can help your pre-teen develop stronger study skills now by exploring whether they’re eligible to take some high school classes. Pursuing their interests through academic achievement will allow them to recognize the importance of time management, goal planning and self-discipline.

You can also start talking about ways to pay for college, like opening a savings account. They can start contributing some of their allowance and money they receive to gain a sense of accountability for their own tuition. If you are worried about how your child can afford college, explore loan options as early as possible. Parents can cosign private student loans to give their children the best financial start toward their education. The interest rates and payback timelines tend to be more flexible than federal Parent Plus loans, and you’ll have the ability to sign off as a cosigner later if your child refinances.

Ninth and 10th Grade: Advance Placement

Encourage your child to take as many AP classes as they can comfortably handle. They should also look into potentially earning college credits through their AP programs. In 10th grade, many students also become eligible for internships and apprenticeships that look great on their applications. In their junior and senior years of high school, your child will take the PSAT and SAT. Start preparing ahead of time by introducing them to more difficult learning material and encouraging good study habits. Working with a tutor or taking summer enrichment programs can ensure they’re able to perform as well as they need to during exams.

11th and 12th Grade: Exploring Opportunity

During their junior year of high school, your child should have at least three potential degree options to consider. They may not be settled on a particular path, but it’s wise to encourage them to investigate different schools, programs and career profiles with you and on their own. Rather than creating a sense of pressure to decide their entire future right away, address the subject with a sense of excitement and curiosity. They aren’t picking a degree to impress you; they’re doing it to make themselves happy. Show interest in what they like and what they’d like to do. Asking questions about who they want to become as an adult can help them work through their own doubts and insecurities.

During their senior year, it will be time to explore schools and go on tours. They can retake their ACT or SAT to improve their score and start sending out applications. Remember to offer plenty of emotional support during this time. As eager as your student may be to get into a good school, teenagers also tend to take everything personally. Getting a lower score than they hoped or being rejected can destroy their self-esteem. Assure them that there is always opportunity to continue learning and achieve what they want, even if it takes more than a few tries.

 
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