As a parent of a middle school child, it’s highly likely that you haven’t given college a great deal of thought. However, while it is just a little too soon to be calling Harvard’s admissions office, the truth is that before you know it, college will be right around the corner.
Start to Make Gentle Plans
Middle school is a good time to start laying down some plans for the future. Although these don’t need to be as specific as choosing the college you’d like your child to attend, they should include discussing with your child what their interests are, and which direction they would like to head in, career-wise. This way, you will be able to research colleges that are a suitable fit for your child, and ascertain the college’s particular admission requirements and processes.
Middle school is also the perfect time to start planning financially, both from a parental and child’s perspective. The earlier you start researching ways to make college more affordable, such as scholarships, the easier it will be to manage. It is also a good idea to promote the importance of saving for college to your child, perhaps suggesting they take on a small, part-time job.
Practice Organizational Skills
Middle school is the perfect time to encourage your child to practice their organizational skills, especially with regards to study. Explain why it is important that homework is given adequate attention, and why it should be handed in on time. If your child is struggling with this, help devise time-management plans for studies at home; establishing routines early will help in high school, when homework, studies, and grades become crucial to the college admission process.
Encourage Extracurricular Activities
Your middle school child may already participate in a number of after-school activities; however, if they would rather hang around at home, now is the time to get them motivated! Some children have few interests, often with no clear likes and dislikes; this will never change unless they experiment. If this is something you recognize in your own child, sign them up for several extracurricular activities, and see which they like best.
Middle school is also the perfect time to start voluntary work, so look around for the ideal opportunity for your child to give back to their community. Not only is it personally rewarding, but looks great on a college application.
Identify Your Child’s Strengths and Areas for Development
The middle school years are the perfect time to assess the areas your child struggles in, and those where they excel. It is common for children to find certain subjects more difficult than others, and the sooner you identify where they are having problems, the quicker you can seek additional help and resources, such as a specialized tutor. Monitor your child’s grades, keeping an eye out for any drop in performance levels, and if you are concerned, speak to their teachers to see how best to deal with the situation. Any deficit in learning might be an uphill struggle to correct if you leave it until high school, and it is therefore, much better to address the problem early.
Some children are academic high-flyers, and it is equally important to watch grades to ensure that their learning doesn’t stagnate, and they are given work that challenges them. When bright children are not given the opportunity to push themselves, they can become complacent, and never reach their true potential. Again, speak to teachers to see what provisions they are making for your child, and ways in which they can be academically challenged, perhaps skipping grades or fast track routes, if they are available at your child’s school.
Avoid Pushing Too Hard
Although some preparation for college is undeniably beneficial, it is important to reflect that it is still a long way away. There’s a world of difference between encouraging, and pushing, your child. All the above are useful ideas to set your child on the right path, but if they become too bogged down with specifics, it can lead to stress and a feeling of being overwhelmed, especially if they repeatedly hear how important getting into a good college is, or feel they need to do well to please you.
The better approach to planning for your child’s future is to listen to what they’d like to do, offering help and advice, without being controlling. Look at ways in which they can improve their education and learning, and help open them up to new and exciting challenges, but without constantly stressing that college admission is the end goal. It is also important to remember that although working well in middle school helps set your child on the right path towards success at high school (and ultimately college), grades achieved at middle school are not routinely included in a college application.