Saturday, May 24, 2014

Preparing for College: Be Smart, Not Scared


do not be afraid

I stumbled across a 'college planning' website recently that is written by a mom who is scared.  A mom who started researching college scholarships when her daughter was just a few months old!.  Wondering how she is going to put her kids through college keeps her up at night.

To that mom, and any like her, I say, "Stop.  Stop being scared.  Stop wasting your time."

I have been sending children off to college for ten years.  The scholarship opportunities and admission process has changed quite a bit in that time.  I have two students left at home- one will be a senior in the fall and the other will be a senior the following year.  

Did I start planning and researching college for any of my children when they were toddlers?  No.

Did I start researching possible scholarships for my children when they were babies?  No.  

Why?  

Many of the scholarships that were available to my oldest child are not available any more.  I would have been wasting my time to research scholarships 10-12 years before she was eligible for them.  

What did I do to prepare my children for college before they were in high school?  What can you do?

First, let them be kids.  Let them explore and learn and discover what interests them.  Don't find a subject matter that offers a fabulous scholarship and push them in that direction.

When my oldest child was in first grade she said she wanted to be a Pediatrician.  Did I take that thought and run with it and push her to follow up with that comment?  No.  

Guess what?  A couple years later we were discussing the annual music theory test and the possibility of getting a scholarship if she took the test every year until she graduated.  She asked me if she had to go to college.  Maybe the thought of taking that test every year just to get a scholarship was too much pressure.  I told her, 'no' she didn't have to go, knowing full well that there were plenty of years before that decision would be made.

Children's interests change rapidly.  Let them explore a variety of interests.  Late middle school or early high school is a good time to focus on one or two interests.  

Many high school students, and even college students, don't really know what they want to do with their life.  Truthfully, many college graduates don't know either.  Please don't push your elementary student to have a focus.  Children have enough stress without thinking they might not go to college because they don't understand math as a first grader (or even a ninth grader).

Encourage your children to do their best.  
Don't settle for mediocrity.

BUT, don't fret that their chances for college are ruined if they flunk a first grade math quiz.

The way to raise college ready kids is to read to them and teach them to read.

Then, make sure they are reading good books.
 Reading good books will improve their vocabulary.
Limit their screen time (TV, computer, phone).
Encourage their math skills with practical applications.  Some examples would be cooking, sewing, woodworking, robotics, or crafts at age appropriate levels.
 
Involve them in community service projects and extra -curricular activities that interest them.
Teach them to be responsible persons as well as independent learners.

While your children are enjoying all these activities, they are growing as a person.

When they reach high school (or maybe a year before), you can encourage them to start researching colleges that interest them and scholarships that may be available.

Just be aware:  a scholarship they find their freshman year of high school may not still be offered their senior year of high school.  

While the author of the website that triggered this rant blog post says that Junior year is too late, I say, for some things, it is just right.  Pre-school is too early!

The author of the blog does have some helpful information on her website for students who are in high school.  I don't know the current age of her children, but to her I say:  Be smart, not scared.

Are you scared about college planning?  When do you think is a good time to start planning?
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