College is no longer considered merely an optional choice. A college education often means the difference between a satisfying career and a job. A college degree also translates to higher earnings and better benefits than does a high school diploma. According to statistics released by the Pew Research Center in February of 2014, people aged 25 to 32 with a bachelor’s degree earned $17,500 more than those with just high school diplomas. Clearly, the value of a college education cannot be denied.
How to Start?
Planning for college begins in elementary school. A child’s thoughts and feelings about learning are molded from kindergarten on. Parents and teachers need to foster an environment where learning is fun, but also challenging. Building reading skills and instilling a love of the written word is essential for academic success later on.
Parents need to be heavily involved in their children’s educations by encouraging strong study habits at an early age, working closely with teachers and actively addressing issues that arise. What happens in elementary school can set the tone for the rest of the child’s academic life.
The Middle School Strategy:
As children get older and enter middle school, they begin to take more control over their educational choices. Taking challenging courses now prepares students to do well in high school and college. Parents, students and counselors should work together to develop a curriculum that both fits and challenges the student. Students should strive to do their best in school and on standardized tests.
Middle school is a great time for students to begin exploring and expanding their interests by becoming involved in extracurricular special interest and charitable activities, both in school and within the community.
Making High School Count:
By the time students enter high school, they have a pretty good idea about where they want to go academically. Before signing up for high school classes, students and parents should research potential college choices and learn about the minimum admittance requirements.
Requirements vary and some majors require additional course work before admittance. ACT, Inc., the administrators of one of the two major college readiness standardized tests, recommends a basic program of four years of English, three years of Science, including Biology, Physics and Chemistry, three years of math, including Algebra I and II and Geometry, and three years of social studies, with added coursework depending on the expected major.
The College Board, administrator of the SAT, the other major college readiness test, suggests that students take a basic program of English every year, three years of math, three years of science, two and a half years of social studies and two years of a foreign language. Parents and students should meet with high school guidance counselors. Counselors are experts at planning a basic college prep program for each child and augmenting it with valuable supplemental course work.
Strong study habits and class involvement have never been more important than they are in high school. Students should ask questions if something is unclear, keep up with assignments and get help when needed so they don’t fall behind. College admission boards look beyond grades and test scores when making admission decisions.
Volunteering with charitable organizations and engaging in school-sponsored activities is viewed as a plus. Personal Facebook and other social media networks are subject to review by admission officials. Students and their parents should ensure that online information is suitable for viewing by admission officers.
High school is also when students take one or both of the standardized college readiness entrance exams. Most colleges require a minimum ACT or SAT score, but the higher the score the greater the chance for college admission and more choices when it comes to scholarship and grant availability.
Many students choose to take the test twice, once as a junior and again as a senior. The junior test score highlights areas that need work and gives students the opportunity to take supplemental courses and score higher the second time.
Paying for College:
Academic performance is important as students prepare for college, but so is paying for it. The earlier parents begin saving for their children;s higher education, the more financially prepared they’ll be. There are a variety of ways to begin saving and investing in a child’s future, including stocks, mutual funds and 529 savings plans.
The 529 savings plans have no income or age limitations and offer significant tax breaks. Grants and scholarships are available as students reach the college level and help bridge the gap between savings and actual cost. Many students qualify for student loans as well.
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