How to Prepare Your Child for College – Your Child’s College Journey From Elementary to Senior Year

How do you prepare your child for college? What can you do right now? Whether your child is a toddler or a teenager in high school here are some steps you can take to maximize your child’s college application before high school and our top tips for what to focus on in high school.

  1. Elementary – Read Early, Read Often, Set the Example
  2. 9th Grade – A rigorous curriculum is key to a competitive college application
  3. 10th Grade – Grades and coursework still matter, but now it’s time to think about the depth of involvement in extracurricular activities.
  4. 11th Grade – Self-directed leadership project.
  5. 12th Grade – Early in the summer before the senior year, develop concepts, topics, and strategies for your college essays.

We commonly think of the rising senior year in high school as the beginning of the college admissions process. But is that so? While the rising senior is indeed about completing applications and writing essays, this is not the beginning of that journey. The coursework evaluated for the college application begins with all high school courses taken, including those in middle school. We might think that this is the beginning, but that is not quite so either. When is the right time to begin your college journey? Sooner than you think! Before a child enters formal schooling, parents are the teachers, and reading is the most powerful tool at hand. 

Reading With Your Child

1. Prepare Your Child For College in Elementary: Read Early, Read Often, Set the Example

The best preparation for a successful primary school experience is to read to and with your child.

Reading to and with your child establishes a strong bond, and lets your child know that reading is an activity that you value. With fond memories of the time you spend with your child reading, you inspire your child to read not only for pleasure but for information. In Julie Alley’s “The Impact of Reading Achievement on Standardized Testing,” we learn that reading assessments can predict performance on standardized tests.

“…it can be determined that reading is a fundamental and essential skill that can predict successful scores on standardized tests. For students to be able to achieve proficiently on standardized tests, they need to be able to read and comprehend test material fluently. Students that read often and read a wide range of text will have acquired an extensive amount of background knowledge that will help students better comprehend test questions.”

– Julie Alley, “The Impact of Reading Achievement On Standardized Testing”

Children Reading Infographic

Regular reading with your child helps to build their ability to focus and to develop their imagination. Not only will you contribute to a toddler’s cognitive development, but you are setting the foundation for academic success. In a 2016 study, researchers confirmed the impact of reading on academic achievement.

The authors concluded that students who read for pleasure averaged higher scores than their non-reading counterparts in the subject areas measured. The authors further found that educators were aware of the link between pleasure reading and academic success but felt limited by state curriculums and mandated tests.

– Christy Witten, “The Impact of Pleasure on Academic Success”

After Primary School, Comes Secondary School

Primary school, typically grades 1 – 6, are followed by secondary school, grades 7 – 12. Middle school marks the beginning of a high school transcript for students taking high school courses such as Algebra I, Physical Science. In the middle school years, students often begin to explore interests in music, academic subjects, athletics, and community service. Each of these offers an expression of interest, an opportunity to develop leadership, contribute to the community, and demonstrate a depth of involvement.

2. Ninth Grade – A Rigorous Curriculum is Key to a Competitive College Application

A competitive college application at a selective school is not the same as a competitive college application at all colleges.

Can you help your child build a “congruent” college application as early as the ninth grade? A “congruent” college application reflects the student’s interests and intellectual curiosity through their coursework, extracurricular activities, work experience, leadership, and community service. Here are some ways you guide your student.

Success in challenging academic courses provides the college admissions officers with the best evidence of a student’s ability to succeed in college. Many families mistakenly believe that the weighted GPA on the student’s transcript is what colleges evaluate.  But, admissions officers will only consider academic core classes – Mathematics, English, Sciences, History, Social Sciences, and World Language – and courses taught at a rigorous level such as Advanced Placement Music Theory when they calculating a high school grade point average (GPA). A GPA calculator will determine your college application GPA.

Course Studies

Choose the right courses to work toward your goal. Seek guidance to select coursework which challenges the student and works toward a competitive college application. A competitive college application at a selective school is not the same as a competitive college application at all colleges.

High school graduation requirements are not the same as college entrance requirements. Research colleges your child may be interested in to determine what they consider a competitive high school transcript. In Florida, for students entering the ninth grade in 2014-2015, the graduation requirements for a 24-credit standard diploma are not equal to the minimum requirements for admission to one of Florida’s state universities. Click here for more details.

3. Tenth Grade – Choosing Extracurricular Activities

Grades and coursework still matter, but now it’s time to think about the depth of involvement in extracurricular activities.

Begin to focus more on the activities that have become the most meaningful to you, but do not be afraid to try something new. Get a jump start on completing community service hour requirements for the Bright Futures Scholarship Program, but don’t think of it in terms of accumulating hours, instead think about the depth of involvement and opportunities to demonstrate leadership and a desire to make a difference in your community.  Need a resource for some of the volunteer opportunities in our community?

Middle School Jazz

Colleges are evaluating the congruence of the college application and the depths of involvement.  Let’s say your student is a member of the school band, orchestra or choir. The student demonstrates congruence and depth of involvement in these ways:

  • Take lessons in their instrument
  • Compete for all county or all-state
  • Contribute to the community by volunteering to entertain residents at a local senior center
  • Attend summer camps to develop their skill
  • Attend concerts or performances to hear others play or sing

4. Eleventh Grade – Self-Directed Leadership Project

Now is the time where your child’s college preparation should focus on their leadership qualities.

Leadership comes in many forms.  Some students may have natural opportunities if, for example, they participate in scouting, are involved in student government, or a section leader in the band, orchestra, or choir.  What if that is not your student? A self-directed leadership project is an answer.

A self-directed leadership project reflects a student’s interest in adding to their depth of involvement, desire to give back to their community, and builds a congruent application.  The project is not measured by the greatest impact or recognition. Rather, it is measured by the effort of the student and the impact on those served.

Bass Guitar

Here’s an example of a self-directed leadership project by a student with a passion for music and a desire to share that gift.  Our student approached a local senior assisted living facility to ask if he could perform for the residents, regularly and with an ensemble.  The contribution to the senior community was immeasurable. For the student, it was an opportunity to give back to the community, demonstrate leadership by organizing fellow student musicians and inspiring other musicians, and, to premiere his first composition before a live audience. 

Need inspiration?  Click here for more ideas.

5. Twelfth Grade – Developing Concepts and Topics for Applications

Think strategically about the essays required on college applications by developing concepts and topics.

Set your fear of writer’s block aside and get started.

First drafts begin early in the summer of the rising senior year. With a preliminary college list in mind examine the primary essay prompts and each supplemental prompt on your working college list.  Does one college’s 250 – 300 word essay response work for another college’s supplemental essay prompt? Possibly.

Here are prompts from two different colleges for which one essay might work:

  • Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it.
  • How has your family history, culture or environment influenced who you are?

After exploring the prompts for each of the colleges on a developing college list, begin the process of brainstorming topics and concepts.  Good writing is a process; the excellent college essay is a process with many drafts. Check your spelling, ask a trusted advisor to review the writing. And, if the essay landed on the floor without a name on it, would it be apparent to whom the essay belonged because it is so reflective of the writer?  If the answer is yes, then the essay may be a unique representation of the applicant.

While these are favorite tips for how you can help your child prepare for a successful college application, we recommend our more comprehensive checklist for freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior high school students.

Want to know even more to prepare your child for their college application in grades 9, 10, and 11?  Here’s what research shows the top twelve things colleges are looking for in an applicant.

Leave a Comment