Do you remember your first months of college? I do. I was quite nervous, not knowing how I would fit in. Was I smart enough? Was I pretty enough? I went to a small high school where I stood out as one of the smart ones, a good dancer, and always well-dressed. But who would I be at a big college?
I knew it was going to take a lot of effort to make friends, learn how to do well in a college course, and feel like I really belonged. I thought I was up to the challenge. But my first few months were anything but smooth, because I ran into some challenges I didn’t expect.
After guiding three daughters through college, I know that unexpected challenges are the norm. Everyone experiences them.
But some students handle challenges well, while others become overwhelmed and stressed.
What Do Students Need?
As a parent, you want your children to be happy and successful at whatever they choose to do. Thankfully, you have the opportunity to guide your children, while they are under your roof, for at least 18 years.
How can you make the best use of that time so they’re actually prepared to take the next step after graduating from high school? There are many skills, habits, and ways of thinking that you can impart to your children throughout high school that will make the transition to college much smoother and a more positive experience. Preparing for college is the key to success.
What Are Colleges Looking for?
The first thing that all parents want to know is how to help their children actually get accepted to the colleges on their list.
While there’s no magic formula, there are certain factors that colleges look for, and those factors contribute to deciding not only who gets in, but who is offered merit aid.
Merit aid scholarships are significant because they lower the cost of attending college. Whereas financial aid is based on proven need, merit aid is awarded based on academic, athletic, artistic, or a special-interest ability. (USNews.com, Dec 9, 2019) Those factors are the same ones that are looked at for general admission, whether or not merit aid is being considered.
If you’re interested in having your child receive merit aid, the first step is to focus on their particular strengths so they will stand out in the application pool. Are they talented in math and head the math team? Have they been playing piano since they were 4 years old? Do they love film making and spent a semester doing a film internship? Whatever strong passions and abilities they have should be continually developed during high school.
The second step is to find colleges that are likely to give your child merit aid. Finding those colleges requires talking to admissions staff and researching colleges using “College Search” in collegedata.com. On this site, you can determine whether a college offers merit aid; the average size of merit aid awards; whether your student would be considered a top student based on their GPA and test scores; and whether the college might value your student’s special talents. (CollegeData.com, Nov. 19, 2020)
It’s important to note that Ivy League Schools and other very selective schools, like Stanford and MIT, don’t award merit aid scholarships. But they do offer generous financial aid packages to exceptional students they want on their campuses.
Merit aid is often used by colleges, with high tuition, to lower the cost for qualified students who couldn’t otherwise afford the full cost. In addition, public colleges use merit aid to attract out-of-state students to their school, which adds more out-of-state students and increases diversity.
If a student receives merit aid, they may be required to maintain a certain GPA or take particular courses, to maintain the award on an annual basis. You should always read the contract carefully and make sure you and your child understand the requirements.
Other ways of obtaining merit aid include: receiving a National Merit Scholarship based on a PSAT score; attending the Honors College of some universities, which add merit aid to their package; finding local community organizations that award scholarship aid based on applications; and searching college scholarship sites which list private merit awards that focus on particular strengths like leadership or community involvement.
We all know college is expensive. Merit aid can make it more affordable. It’s up to you to help position your child to qualify for the merit aid that colleges award every year.
What Are The Ways to Get Ready for College?
The four years of high school are filled with so many activities that the time passes very fast. Even freshmen start talking about taking AP classes, studying for the ACT and SAT, and worrying about what colleges they will get into.
Here are some tips for preparing for college starting from freshman year of high school:
Tip 1: All grades count and will affect your child’s GPA. Don’t think that the art class isn’t important and it’s ok if your child gets a “D”. Sure, it’s not as important as Math, but a “D” says to a college that your child didn’t do the work or didn’t show up for class. That’s an indication that your child may not be ready for college.
Tip 2: Set your child up for success with remote learning. Many students struggle with online learning because it requires taking on more responsibility. Help your child set up a distraction free workspace and insist that they turn off their phone while working. Make sure you child knows their class schedule, has assignments written down, and shows up when the teacher has office hours to answer questions.
Tip 3: Analyze your child’s eighth grade experience. How well your child did in eighth grade will affect how they feel about starting high school. If your child’s study habits, organization or mindset about school could have been better, work on those issues in freshman year. Look at high school as a new beginning, and make sure your child is prepared for the next four years.
How To Prepare Your Child for Freshman Year of College
Unfortunately, many college freshman feel unprepared when they start college. That may seem strange since college is seen as a natural next step after graduating from high school. The issue is that most students haven’t learned the “soft” skills, the skills that relate to functioning independently, like an adult.
What can you do to help you child learn those “soft” skills and be prepared for college while they’re still in high school?
First, let your child be in charge of their own schedule. Your child should decide when they’re going to study; when they’re going to go to sleep and wake up; when they’re going to take breaks and what they’ll do to relax. You won’t be at college to oversee how they’re using their time, and whether they’re prioritizing the right tasks. If you give them control now, they will learn from their experiences and will be better prepared to manage their time in college.
Second, don’t remind your child about assignments, deadlines, and appointments. Your child should keep a planner with all of their class assignments, due dates, meetings, and appointments related to school and non-school activities. If they think that you will be reminding them, there’s no incentive for them to remember and keep track of their obligations. College life is very busy and it’s impossible to succeed without a system for knowing what needs to be done at all times.
Third, have your child contact teachers and coaches themselves. Your child is old enough to handle their own issues. For instance, if they think a teacher graded them unfairly, it should be up to them to contact the teacher and explain their point of view. It’s important for your child to become accustomed to having conversations with adults and advocating for themselves now, and as a college student.
Fourth, teach your child to follow their own values and not give in to peer pressure. Many parents worry about the choices their child might make because of peer pressure. The way to prevent that scenario is to make sure you talk about the importance of standing up to peers and being able to say “no” when something isn’t aligned with their values. Help them feel confident about making their own decisions and not feeling obligated to fit in with the crowd. (NBCnews.com Feb. 25, 2018)
Fifth, encourage your child to take advantage of any opportunities in high school for public speaking. College students need to be able to speak confidently in class, with professors, and in future internships. The ability to communicate well verbally will give your child an edge in college. Therefore, when your child raises their hand and speaks in a high school class; participates in debate; campaigns for a position in the school’s government, or puts themselves in front of a crowd in another context, they are getting valuable experience in public speaking.
Sixth, allow your child to solve their own problems. As parents, we want our children to be happy and we often intervene to solve a problem if that will bring a smile to our child’s face. High school is the time to let your child work through their own problems with you as a listener. Have them come up with different solutions, explain them to you, and then decide for themselves which course of action to take.
Seventh, teach your child to do their own laundry. It may seem unnecessary, but many students arrive on a college campus with no idea about how to sort laundry or even use a washer and dryer. Like riding a bike, doing laundry isn’t something that comes naturally, it needs to be taught. Once your child learns you can have them practice by actually doing their own laundry while in high school. It will be one less new thing for them to learn when they get to college.
Eighth, expose your child to a wide range of cultures and points of view. One of the benefits of college is the opportunity to be exposed to students from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, and even countries. Courses offered by colleges also expose students to different ways of thinking. Your child will be more open to taking advantage of what their college has to offer, in terms of broadening their view of the world, if they’ve had some exposure during high school.
Ninth, help your child develop a growth mindset. Although no parent wants to see their child fail at anything, it’s important for your child to realize that every failure can lead to growth when you learn from the experience and try again.
Anytime your child is learning something new there’s a chance they may fail, or, at least not do it as well as they would like. That’s not a reason to avoid trying new things. With a growth mindset, your child will be excited about learning new things, and that’s so important in college.
Tenth, talk to your child about their goals. Your child doesn’t need to know their exact career goals in high school, but having them set some short term goals is a good idea. Having goals will help your child stay motivated, focus on what’s important, and manage their time better. For instance, a goal could be to do well in a certain math class that’s a prerequisite for taking a science class that interests them. Goal setting is also critical for success in college; practicing in high school will make it easier.
Eleventh, help your child improve their study skills. High schools may or may not focus on best practices for studying. Even if your child did well in eighth grade, the rigor of classes will be different in high school and their old ways of studying may not work as well. If you don’t feel capable of teaching your child how to take notes, study for tests, or write papers, have them ask a teacher for guidance or hire an appropriate tutor. You want them to have good study skills in place before starting college.
Twelfth, involve your child in meal preparation. At a minimum, your high school child should understand the difference between healthy food and less healthy choices. If you talk to them about how you plan meals and why you buy certain items at the grocery store, they will start thinking about what they choose to eat. Poor eating habits are common on college campuses, and can affect a student’s academic performance as well as overall health. Make sure your child understands the relationship between the food they eat, and how they feel physically and mentally.
Thirteenth, talk to your child about how to manage their money. High school is a good time to start giving your child an allowance and having them use it for their own expenses. You can also open a checking account for them to give them practice writing checks and balancing a checkbook. If you allow your child to use your credit card, now is the time to make them responsible for keeping track of what they spend and not going over the limit that you set. Learning how to be responsible with money now will prevent issues when they go to college.
Help Your Child Get Ready for College
You now have a long list of suggestions for preparing your child for college. How should you proceed? I recommend that you review the list, put the items in order starting with what you think your child needs to work on most, and then begin from the top and move through the list one by one.
You have time.