by Shadra Bruce

Whether or not the next generation of kids will be attending college will probably depend a lot on the economy. Pell grants and other financial aid resources are on the chopping block, and if they do get cut, it will significantly affect many families. As well, academic institutions are being forced to increase their tuition by astronomical amounts to keep up with rising costs.

The earlier you start preparing your child for college, the better his or her chances of getting scholarships and other aid that can defray the cost of attendance and make a college education more likely. There are many things you can do as a parent to help your child succeed in college and in life:

  • Make homework a priority
  • Teach & encourage balance by allowing some activities but also some down time
  • Make books, reading, and literacy a high priority
  • Stay involved in your child’s education from the early years through high school

Preparing for College

Helping your teen get ready for college starts in youth by helping them identify their interests, allowing them to explore their passions, and encouraging them to try different things. Supporting extracurricular activities – sports, academic clubs, and community volunteering – can help your children discover what they love.

During the freshman year in high school, counselors will start helping them design schedules that have electives that meet their interests. They’ll be asked to think about potential career fields. Your teens will be under no pressure to make immediate decisions, and will have room to change their minds. It’s a great time to explore.

During the sophomore year, your teen should be taking a more hands-on approach to their future, actively seeking out activities and classes that interest them. Attending college fairs can help them narrow their search based on where they want to go and what they want to do, at least broadly. At college fairs, they can speak with representatives and get a better idea of the programs they have been looking into. There are many factors that go into choosing a college, such as location, price, and programs.

During the junior year, your teen is really going to have to make some decisions and begin to narrow down college choices. Campus visits can be important, because while the college might look great over the Internet it might not be what your teen is looking for. Make sure you and your teen are discussing all aspects of future colleges, ranging from the field of study to the surrounding area, as well as financial aid. By this time your teen should have a relatively clear idea of what their plans are after high school. If the cost of the school your teen wants to attend is too expensive, the university may have a partnership with a community college from which they will accept credits. During the junior year, most teens take the PSAT – the preliminary SAT. It is a free test. Top scorers earn National Merit Scholarships, but the real purpose of the test is to measure critical reading skills, math problem-solving skills, and writing skills to determine their strengths.

Before your teen has finished the first half of their senior year, college applications should be submitted and SAT and/or ACT tests should be scheduled – some schools only require one or the other, some require both, and some take the better of the two scores. After the new year, financial aid forms should be completed and include your income information as well as income from any teen jobs. The deadline for applying for financial aid is not typically until June in most states, but the sooner you have in completed and processed the better. The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) determines your child’s estimated family contribution (EFC).

At first glance the college application process seems daunting, but as long as you and your teen start plans well ahead of time there should be few problems.

A hint from a mom who knows: start encouraging your kids to read almost from the minute they are born (read to them in the womb, even). Read to them, teach them to read, encourage them to read anything they can get their hands on, and fill your house with a variety of books, newspapers, comics, and resources. Make regular trips to the library and make reading a lifelong love affair for your children. It is the most important skill your child can develop that will benefit them throughout their education and throughout life, whether or not they end up going to college.