If you’re a parent who has ever wondered When is it a good time to start planning my child’s future for college? You’re not alone! The answer is simple – it’s never too early. Too many parents fall victim in the “last minute” chaos that’s sure to happen when they are trying to figure out every aspect of preparing their child for college. Prepping a student for college can be especially unnerving to parents who have never attended college themselves – sometimes they may not even know where to begin.
Right now, your child may be in middle school or high school and you may be starting to think about the college process for your child. It’s never too early to plant the seeds about “college” into a student’s mind and create excitement during any discussions with the student about college, so the topic is familiar and interesting throughout their school years. That being said – it’s a good idea to begin the college planning process by the time a student has reached 8th Grade. 8th Grade is a good time because the student may be mature enough to understand options provided to them about their future, the student may already be showing a high aptitude for a particular area of study and, best of all, as a parent – you will still have time to calmly create a plan.
College can be affordable, there are venues available that will assist with funding, but the earlier parents can tuck some money away towards college, the better. There are Grants, Scholarships, Work-Study Jobs and Loans available to you for assistance in funding college. Federal Financial Aid and Department of Education– www.studentaid.ed.gov
Here are eight key things for parents to know and critical steps that every parent should take in order to successfully prepare themselves and their child for college.
Creating the Plan
It is never too early to create a college plan; however 8th grade is the ideal time to begin. Making a list of the child’s interests, skills and aptitude for specific academic areas is a great start. If the child shows a deep interest in one particular academic area, then check with the school counselor to ensure the child’s classes are working in unison with the plan. Research what classes will be needed in order to reach the next level in the plan for college. Extracurricular activities, independent reading (for a higher aptitude) and volunteer or paid work experience will also aid in your child’s success.
Executing the Plan
During high school years, keep track of all courses needed to achieve the college goal, and keep your child motivated towards excellent grades throughout. How a student performs in high school will dictate the road to college. During the high school years, there are additional courses that the student can take called Advanced Placement (AP) courses. If the student excels at their AP courses, the course credit can be used for college credits. This is a way to save money on college tuition because the student may be completing lower level college courses during high school. AP Courses are different from the courses that you will take in high school. Some AP Courses are: Art History, Biology, Calculus, Chemistry, Computer Science, English Literature, Environmental Science, Alternative Language & Culture, Government & Politics, Human Geography, Music Theory, Physics, Psychology, World History, just to name a few.
Choosing the Right College
This is one of the most important steps. It is imperative that the type of college you choose is right for your child. There are the traditional 4-year colleges, but there are also Junior Colleges, Universities, Technical Colleges and Community Colleges. Junior college and Community college are 2-year colleges; these courses allow you to enter the work force upon graduation and are geared to careers that do not require a Bachelor’s Degree. Universities are 4-year courses that provide the Bachelor’s Degree upon completion; Technical College can be 4-year or 2-year, depending on the courses required for the chosen profession.
Paying for College
Besides the money that you and your child have saved to go towards their college education, there are other financial institutions, which will provide assistance financially. Obtaining scholarships at graduation is a great first step in achieving and overcoming the costs of college (www.dosomething.org/scholarships). Scholarships are awarded to students that participate in additional activities throughout their graduating year. Financial Aid is also available to students who have demonstrated the aptitude and desire to attend college but whose families are struggling financially. Options include Federal Financial Aid, which provides Grants, Work Study and Loans (www.studentaid.ed.gov). A Grant is money that is awarded which does not have to be paid back, provided the student carries a high grade average. Work Study offers a student the ability to work for pay to use towards college in conjunction with their financial aid. A Loan is money that is available to a student, but it must be paid back after college. Other institutions that is available for aid, the Department of Education, State Finance Aid (www.mhec.state.md.us/financialaid/descriptions.asp) and Private Scholarships (www.educationgrant.com/scholarships/private-scholarships/) & Loans (www.salliemae.com).
The Admissions Process
It is always a wise decision to apply to more then one college; it increases the student’s chances at acceptance. Research the colleges available and choose the ones that offer a wide variety of courses (www.usaeducationguides.com). To ensure your admissions process goes more smoothly, apply early to each college or university that you have researched and wish to attend. Waiting too long, or applying too late, may cause you to miss out on a seat due to full capacity. Find out if your potential college/university requires a standard test and if so, arrange for your test scores early, this will help in the process going smoothly. Keep track of your applications, deadline dates and submissions; you do not want anything to slip through the cracks.
Preparing All Items Needed for College
If your child is going away to college, you will want to ensure that they have all the comforts of home available to them, to take along with them. A cold dorm room with no familiar things can actually heighten a student’s anxiety. Some good things to include are bedding, lamps, laundry basket, pictures of family, plants, and dishes, these items will give the student a sense of familiarity and of home (making the transition easier).
Preparing a Student Mentally and Physically for College
Going off to college is a major stepping-stone for any student, and although they may be excited at the appeal of going to college, there is additional preparation needed. Ensuring that student is mature enough and is able to organize him or herself is important. Creating and maintaining a manageable schedule, eating properly and knowing when to relax are key factors.
How to Say Goodbye to Your Child
More often then not, most parents experience separation anxiety when their child leaves for college, unless the college is close-by. Parents sometimes have a difficult time letting go of their child, but it may help to remember that a college-aged child is no longer a “child.” A college-aged child has become a young adult. It is difficult to see your child as an adult, no matter how hard you try. Letting go, watching your child go off into the distance, waving good-bye with a big, excited smile on their face is usually one of the most difficult moments for a parent. Learning to cope with letting go of your child is within the same circle, as the one your child has had to learn as they are walking away from you. It is a part of life, and the next chapter in your child’s life. As a parent, you need to pat yourself on the back and say aloud “I did my job well” and appreciate all that you had to endure as a parent to assist your child in getting to this milestone in their lives.
Image Credit: Sakeeb Sabakka