One of the toughest questions parents are faced with is when to start having the college conversation with their children to get them prepared for college. There is no right or wrong answer, but the best response is when they feel their children are ready. Middle school is not too early to start considering college and having those critical dialogues about it. In fact, nationally there is a push for schools to start incorporating more information about college in the curriculum for middle schoolers such as in family and consumer science courses, many schools have created career exploration courses, and some have even incorporated STEM courses and provide information on college and career within these classes. However, it is not solely the school’s responsibility to expose kids to college and the importance of it as a way to start preparing them. Parents do play a significant role in the college decision-making process. Nevertheless, many parents may feel apprehensive about starting, let alone, having those conversations. Many do no know when to start or even how to start.
Parents should not feel confused about how and when to start those important conversations concerning college. There are many ways that they can do so. In fact, three ways are to simply have those conversations, allow the child to shadow a college student, and go on college visits.
1. Have the conversation. If you don’t know where to start, a good place is to simply ask the child where he or she may want to attend college and why. This may lead to a surprising discussion about college. Don’t bash the child’s idea or thoughts, just listen. If the child does not know a college or university, throw out some suggestions. These suggestions can include the local community college or even the name of the college basketball team that played a game on TV last night. Another way to start is to ask the age old question of what he wants to be when he grows up. This can lead to so many directions. However, if they mention a career that requires a college degree, this could lead to a great conversation about what he might need to major in, how long the schooling could take. It is vital to be supportive and encouraging. If the child names a career field that someone in the family holds, it could be a great idea to ask if your child could shadow that person. This leads to the next point, which is to allow your child to do this when trying to prepare your middle schooler for college.
2. Allow the child to shadow a college student or person in their chosen field. For instance, if there is someone in the family or a close friend who is in the field the child is considering, ask if the child can shadow them once or twice to see if this career sparks more interest. Often, students say they want to be in a chosen field, but never get the experience of seeing what it's like before college or even before their first internship. For instance, if the child wants to be a teacher, ask a teacher you know if the student can visit their classroom for one hour. Or if they can help grade one weekend or afternoon. If there is a college student in the family, it could be a great idea to allow the middle schooler to spend time this person. Let the middle schooler see what kind of assignments college students have to complete. Let them shadow them to the library when they are conducting research for a research paper. Maybe even allow the child to visit this person on campus to simply see what the college campus looks like. This leads to the next point about visiting campuses.
3.The last thing for parents to do is to visit campuses. Parents may feel they do not have the time to set aside for this. This is true. Many people don’t live with a college campus in close proximity; therefore, it takes planning. However, college visits do not have to be full campus tours. A college visit can simply take place while on vacation with the parent and student just stopping to view the campus. Also, parents can encourage students to visit schools' websites and view the programs they offer. Many schools offer virtual campus tours at a website called www.youvisit.com.
When to start preparing kids for college is a question parents must face one day. The timing of the start of this preparation is just as important as the actual academic preparation for college. Parents must not wait for the schools to expose their children to the possibility of college. There are simple things which can be done to enforce the idea of college for even middle schoolers. Parents must have the conversation, regardless of how uncomfortable it may be, they can allow their children to shadow a current college student or even a current professional in the field the child is interested in, and lastly, they can do simple college visits with students by seeing the campus or virtual visits. Middle school is a perfect age group to do these mentioned ideas because middle school is only about four-six years away from high school completion. Although this sounds like a long time to start thinking about and preparing for college, time waits for no one and too often time gets away before we can lay a solid foundation within our children concerning concepts that matter such as college. Let’s start now, regardless of how tough it may be!