A lot of parents ask me when is a good time to start planning for college, and my response is that it is never too early to start. If you think of today’s rather competitive college admissions process, where a student must be placed in Pre-Algebra in 7th grade, Algebra 1 in 8th grade, Geometry in 9th grade, Algebra 2 in 10th grade, Pre-Calculus in 11th, and finally in Calculus in 12th grade so that s/he can have a competitive advantage if s/he wants to be an engineer, for instance, college planning should start as early as elementary school . Therefore, it is crucial to start early and instill a “college-going culture” in students as early as elementary school years. One way you as parents can do that is by bringing up the topic of college at the dinner table or during a daily chat with your children. If you have graduated from college, it is best to talk about your college experiences, the friendships you made in college, something cool that makes your college experience memorable for you, or just about anything to engage your kids in the college conversation and give them something to look forward to. Even if they do not like to admit it, kids usually follow in the footsteps of their parents, so as parents when you make it a habit of having the college talk regularly, the “college-going culture” will be established in the family. This way, the kids will see college as the next step after high school, without even questioning it. Just like elementary school is followed by middle school, which is followed by high school, the next step for them will be college.
A good thing to keep in mind is that the student’s middle school activities are not taken into consideration for college applications, so whatever your child does in middle school will not appear on her/his college applications. Simply put, 9th grade is when everything goes on record, so make sure your high schooler takes advantage of all the great things offered at her/his high school. When it comes to building a list of activities, I always have three rules of thumb: passion, leadership, and impact… Those should be the governing themes of your high schooler’s activities. For example, playing a sport at the varsity level, serving as the Student Body President at the high school, and volunteering in the community would reflect each of these themes and would add value to your student’s activity list.
Image: Courtesy of Common App
Going back to the question of when to start college planning, 9th grade would be the official kick off to the college admissions process. I would encourage your high schooler to take some career aptitude tests and identify her/his interests during 9th and 10th grades, get involved in community work, and spend summers in a meaningful way. 11th grade will be the most intense of all, so brace yourself. In between taking the SATs and the ACTs and establishing a very good GPA as well as building a good resume, your high schooler will be busier than ever. The summer of 11th grade is the most important summer since many selective colleges will ask for a supplemental essay asking about how your 11th grader spent her/his last summer. Also, your rising senior should start writing her/his essays and fill out the activity list on Common Application during summer. The fall of senior year will be very hectic with applications, maintaining a very good GPA, activities, more testing (if needed), etc…, so get ready for the worst possible times ahead until about January 1st, the deadline by which most college applications will have been submitted.
My advice for parents is to make college an exciting topic; not an intimidating one so that the already stressed college-bound high school students can take on the challenge with the hopeful anticipation of happy college days to come! At EdMission Possible, we understand how stressful communication can get between parents and students during the college admissions process, so we are here to help you every step of the way. Let us work with your high school student, so you can enjoy being a parent – again!
Burcak Deniz Cakir, M.A., M.B.A.
Founder and President | EdMission Possible