We occasionally get calls from parents of 6th, 7th or 8th graders hoping to enroll their students in a college counseling program. They’ve heard how difficult college admissions has become and they don’t want to make any mistakes.
But we don’t offer programs for students still in junior high school. I think junior high is too early to start tying decisions to college admissions. It’s too early to mold a 12 year-old’s love of computers into an activity that will help him get into college. Parents shouldn’t panic that 13 year-old’s consistent B’s in math won’t be good enough for the Ivy League schools. And it is much, much too early to begin any kind of preparation for the SAT because, well, that’s just crazy.
But it’s not too early for junior high students to develop habits that will help them be successful once they get to high school (which will help them get into college). Here are five ways parents can help.
1. Help your kids to be independent.
You don’t want to raise a high school kid who depends on you to wake him up in the morning. Kids need their parents, but when Mom or Dad makes all the decisions, you raise a student that is too dependent on his parents and ultimately not well-prepared for college. I’m not suggesting you need your 13-year-old to open and maintain a checking account, but you can have them get themselves up in the morning, organize their own school assignments, and maybe even assume some responsibilities for helping around the house.
2. Encourage kids to approach their teachers with questions or concerns.
If your junior high school student has questions or is struggling in a class, don’t contact the teacher for him to seek help. Encourage your student to approach his teacher himself. This is a good time for kids to start taking some responsibility for their own educations. They need to learn how to advocate for themselves, and how to seek help when they need it.
3. Encourage kids to follow their passions.
Colleges love students who are passionate about what they do, whether that’s doing scientific research or riding dirt bikes. Teach your kids that interest is a good thing. Don’t assign value to the interest based on how you think it will translate into an admission to college someday. Kids who have the capacity to enjoy something tend to seek out that enjoyment even when their interests change. That’s a good trait. I don’t care if your student likes making jewelry, walking dogs in the neighborhood or just playing basketball with his friends. As long as it isn’t covered by the criminal code, it’s probably an interest you want to encourage.
4. Help kids find a love of learning.
When you ask a successful college applicant what her favorite class, subject or teacher is, she’s got an answer. Grades are important, but they are not the only measure of a student’s academic potential. A sincere interest in learning goes a long way with teachers and with colleges. So if your student thrives in her math class and even joined the math club, tell her how wonderful it is that she loves math. Encourage the enjoyment. If your daughter is fascinated with birds, ask her how she might be able to learn more and decide together whether to buy some books, take a class, or maybe just do some birdwatching. If your son raves about his history teacher, let him know how lucky he is and ask him to tell you more. Don’t tie academic enjoyment to grades alone. Curious learners are always appealing to colleges, and that intellectual love of learning is something you can foster in your kids.
A lot of the information you hear about seemingly perfect kids being rejected from college is exaggerated. There are over 2,000 colleges in the country and all but about 100 of them have plenty of room. Nice kids who work hard (even if they aren’t “A” students) still get into plenty of colleges. So let your kids be kids. They don’t need to spend all their time maximizing strengths, fixing weaknesses and molding themselves into future college students. Let them play and hang out with their friends and maybe even goof off a little. When your kid is 12, 13 or 14, you’re not going to make a mistake that will keep your child out of college someday. So relax, and encourage your kids to do the same.