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7 Ways to Prep Kids for College

May 17, 2017 11:28AM ● By David Norby
Article by Linda Holderness

When should your child begin planning for college? Earlier than you may think, experts say. Delaying past middle school may cause missed opportunities. Most parents want their children to go to college, and most high school students do go. In 2014, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 68 percent of high school graduates—20 million of them—began college the next fall. Getting there, however, can be a confusing and even grueling process. To some youngsters, choosing a college mimics sorority rush—hoping the school they want picks them and feeling crushed if it doesn’t. As parents, you can help smooth the path to your child’s higher education. Here are seven tips gleaned from education experts.

1. Read, read, read. Reading to your children and encouraging them to read is simply the best preparation for school and testing success, urges the online nonprofit GreatSchools. 

2. Value your child’s education. Develop a relationship with the school, her teachers and, most important, the academic counselors, so you can be involved in how her education takes shape. Then follow through by helping her learn good study skills and habits, including a time and quiet place for homework. If your child has learning impediments, such as vision or hearing issues, make sure they’re addressed. 

3. Be selective about your child’s high school. Colleges do consider high school rankings when evaluating applications. If your assigned school lacks subjects your child needs, and you can’t transfer her, start early to supplement her learning with extracurricular programs that fill the gaps. Even better, initiate or join efforts for positive changes.

4. Choose the right courses. Getting into the college of choice may require completing a specific high school curriculum—but your child can’t do that if she doesn’t have the prerequisites. That’s where middle school is so important. Starting in sixth grade, discuss with counselors which classes will lead to the program your child needs, especially advanced placement classes. Some colleges give credit for the more rigorous AP courses, saving both costs and time.

5. Help your child find her own special interests. Expose her to music, art, science, drama and community service—anything that might interest her, to see if she catches a passion. This discovery process accomplishes two purposes: rounding out her college application to supplement her academics, and perhaps revealing a career path that excites her. Students who are focused on a goal generally have a more successful college experience.

6. Start saving—early. College is expensive, but advance planning can put it within reach. First, save wisely. One option is a federal 529 plan (, which lets you use the earnings tax-free to pay for college. Your financial adviser or an Internet search will turn up others. If money’s an issue, don’t dismiss community college or your public university. Future achievement doesn’t depend on an Ivy League diploma. Many successful people graduated from public schools. For a good perspective on school choice, read Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be by Frank Bruni.

7. On the other hand, don’t write off private colleges. High-powered schools routinely offer generous financial aid packages that rival the lower cost of public education. Start early to research these opportunities. 

College is a good bet. On, columnist Troy Onink cites a 2014 report that calculates college grads earn an average of $830,000 more than high school graduates over their lifetimes. And the experience of learning? That’s priceless.