Preparing Your Child for College-life

1. Start early.
2. Learn and practice college level study habits.
3. Learn and practice college level writing skills.
4. Learn money and time management skills.
5. Selecting a school.
6. Financial aid and financing a college education.

1. Start early

Most students that will be entering college this year will not be prepared for the personal and academic responsibilities that college life requires. In order to help prepare your child for college-life, and to help ensure that they are able to finish their higher education you need to start preparing them for their transition from high school to college early in their high school career. Preparation should even begin as early as their Freshman year of high school.

Class selection during high school should be chosen to expose your child a wide variety of subjects, and they also need to meet and/or exceed the entry requirements for college. I would highly recommend the following core course selections:

1. 4 years of Math
2. 4 years of English (Especially any AP classes that are available)
3. American History
4. World History
5. 2 years of foreign language
6. 4 years of sciences including: Chemistry, Biology, Earth Science, and Physics

Extracurricular activities should also be participated in to demonstrate to the college admissions board that the student is well rounded and able to manage their time effectively to meet the requirements of both the extracurricular activities and their academic responsibilities. Extracurricular activities that colleges look at favorably are:

1. Sports
2. Service organizations
3. Part-time employment
4. Language clubs
5. Religious clubs
6. Volunteering
7. School paper
8. Student government

Other things for students to do throughout high school career that will impress college admission board are to enter, win, or place in an essay contest, and to enter, win, or place in a national scholarship or merit program. Essay contests have a number of benefits. First they help develop the student’s writing abilities and critical thinking skills, they can add money to your student’s college fund, and they are great for impressing college admission boards. Also, smaller or less known competitions have relatively few entrants so your student will have less competition, and a greater chance of walking away with a cash award or scholarship. So it is a good idea to enter as many of these contests as possible throughout the student’s high school career. Another impressive accolade is to win and/or to participate in merit and scholarship programs like Odyssey of the Mind, Scholastic Competitions, and the Hugh O’Brien Leadership Award (sophomore year).

2. Learn and practice college level study habits.

One of the greatest stumbling blocks that new college students encounter is the great difference in the amount of studying that is required in college. In high school a couple of hours of studying the night before the exam is probably enough to pass with flying colors, however, in college the depth of material covered in a term is more then can be adequately reviewed in one night. In order to meet the challenges that college study requirements impose, students should start developing college level study skills in high school. The following study tools should be added gradually into the high schoolers’ study regime:

1. note cards for terminology review
2. chapter outlines and summaries
3. lecture notes and/or audio recording of lectures
4. incremental study sessions
5. anticipate what will be on the exam
6. memory tools like clustering, mnemonic devices, and repetition

3. Learn and practice college level writing skills.

The second inadequacy that new college students seem to share is insufficient writing abilities. Students that received A’s and B’s in high school are often bewildered, disappointed, and discouraged when they get their first essays back with D’s and F’s. This problem stems for high school English courses that fail to prepare students to write at a college level, or that fail to teach these skills to students early enough for the students to gain proficiency and experience utilizing these skills. To give your child a competitive edge, purchase or check out books on college level writing, especially books that cover expressive writing and research writing. Have your child start practicing the skills outlined in these books in their high school writing projects. This will nor only help to prepare them for college, but it will also improve their performance in high school.

The difference between high school and college writing is based on the expectations of the student’s teacher or professor. In high school the teacher is basically just looking for a summarization of facts and general information on a topic. As long as the topic is well covered and adequately referenced the paper receives a good grade. However, if this type of paper were handed in to a college professor, the paper would probably not receive a passing grade. This is because the professor expects the student to “analyze” the topics and not simply repeat facts. Learning the difference between presenting facts and opinion and presenting an analysis of a topic is therefore something that should be done as son as possible. The transition from fact reporting to analysis should also be done early in the student’s high school career to allow them enough time to acquire the skills needed, and to provide them with enough time to practice and gain proficiency in utilizing these skills.

4. Money and time management skills.

Independence training is also important for students to learn well before they enter college. Money management skills like budgeting, balancing a check book, paying bills, and learning how to responsibly use credit cards are all critical to your child’s successful transition to their independent living in college. These skills can be attained through opening a checking account for your student and by encouraging them to save and manage their money and purchases with this account. In order to buy items that they want they will have to manage their funds through proper documentation in their checkbooks, getting a part-time job, and or by looking for sales and bargains. Encourage your student to help manage the household budget, and give them more responsibilities for the household’s management like: giving them a shopping list and a specific amount of money to buy groceries, and having them make out the monthly bills for the household. These activities will expose them to how much it costs to live independently and why it is important to stay within a budget.

Time management is another skill that needs to be learned and implemented early. Students need to realize: that studying throughout the term is better than trying to cram the night before the exam, that doing homework when they first get home from school is better than doing homework at midnight, and completing projects incrementally throughout the given time period and not at he last minute is better. If your child makes these realizations early in their high school career, or sooner if possible, they will be able to develop time management skills that will help them be more successful in high school, be more successful in college, and be more successful in the workplace.

5. Selecting a school.

Choosing a college should also begin early. Start by making a list of qualities that your child wants, or needs, in a college including the field of study, academic program, sports program, recreation, and cost of tuition parameters. How much a college costs may greatly impact what schools your child will be able to go to. If money is an issue you might want to keep in mind that if your child goes to a state college based in your state of residency you will save almost 50% compared to sending your child to a school out-of-state.

6. Financial aid and funding a college education.

There are many ways to pay for college (1) financial aid, (2) scholarships, (3) work-study, (4) family assistance, (5) private grants, and (6) savings. While it is great if you are one of the few families that can pay directly for your student’s college education, most families need at least partial assistance with paying for college. The first step is to fill out and submit the FAFSA form. This is the federal form that will determine if your child will qualify for federal assistance and federally subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford student loans. This form should be filled out and submitted as soon after January 1 of the student’s junior year as possible. You will need your tax information from the previous tax year, as well as an idea of where your child will be attending college. If you don’t know exactly where your child will be going for college, you can submit several different college codes on the FAFSA form. These codes will indicate what schools need to receive the results of your federal financial aid and assistance information results. Once submitted it will take a couple of weeks to get the results mailed back to you. You will be sent a letter stating how much federal grant money your student can get, and how much money they can borrow from subsidized and unsubsidized student loan programs. This information will also be sent to the colleges that you selected.

While you are waiting for acceptance letters from specific colleges you should also consider applying for private scholarships and grants to cover living expenses, buying computer, books, materials, and for tuition and fees not covered by financial aid or private savings. There are several sites online that have lists of scholarships available. However, don’t use fee-based services unless you know for sure that they are not scams. Most of the information on these sites can be found for free with a little searching online.

Once you know where your child will be going to college you can have them apply for the college’s scholarship and grant programs. In most cases, students that will be using any kind of financial aid will also need to fill out a college financial aid packet. This will include questionnaires on what types of financial aid the student is interested in, and if they are interested in a work-study program. They will also include information and applications for college based scholarship programs and payment options.

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