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It’s Never Too Early to Plan for College

By Claudine Vainrub, MBA and Principal of EduPlan

Many of us consider that starting to think about a college education is something to be looked at when students are in their senior years of high school. However, this is a myth, and it is most certainly not correct. It’s actually better to start plans and preparations for college much earlier. Actually the right time to being thinking about college is around the sixth or the seventh grade. Why?

This is the time when a student’s skills and abilities start getting shaped up. They are given opportunities to enhance their talents and skills, as this is the time for joining extracurricular activities. This is also the time when students start to discover likes and dislikes for disciplines and areas of study. It is an important time in the life of a student regarding self-discovery and assessment.

When starting to plan about how to get best prepared for college,we become more focused, sharp and develop life skills sooner. Some of us are even able to establish short, mid-term and long-term goals that will help us keep our center and not fall into bad habits. With a goal in our mind, we are more likely to keep on track and not divert to the many dangers high school peer pressure brings. All this helps when the time comes for us not only to begin vigorous preparations for college but also to succeed throughout the process.

Planning early for college needs considerable thought. Here is a look at how you need to prepare yourself throughout your high school years, so that you come out with the best grades and enroll into a college of your choice.

Preparations in the Sixth Grade

Freshman year in middle school is the time to get organized about studies and prepare yourself mentally for what’s ahead for you. Your study time must be well organized, as such habits set in clearly now and become high useful in later years. You also need to:

* Enroll in extracurricular activities that will be helpful for later, and especially when you apply for college. The sixth and the seventh grade is the time to think and get started in this.

* Enroll in school programs that help to enhance academic skills. Some subjects are easy, while some take time to understand. A strong foundation is very important to get good grades throughout high school. So, check out academic programs that enhance your skills and abilities equally in all subjects of study.

* Take a career assessment to learn more about your skills, likes and dislikes. There are many free online assessments, simple enough for students in the sixth and seventh grade, that will also support this goal. One of these can be found in the skills area of O*Net – http://online.onetcenter.org

* Start reviewing career choices with the student, understanding what is available, what careers are in demand and how the interests of the students can apply to the many professional fields and choices. For example, a student that enjoys writing can end up being a fiction novel writer, a journalist or also a screenwriter, or a myriad of professions that fit that interest. We need to research what the options are so as to broaden the perspective of that student.

Preparations in Eighth Grade

In the eighth grade it’s time to think about taking challenging academic courses. At this point it is important to consult with the school counselors so that you can take the right decision. A 4-year plan will make all the difference in the world between achieving admission in a top school or not. If you are aiming to demanding universities and colleges, planning ahead the curriculum of the four years of high school is not only important, it is imperative. Often times, we see students not satisfying minimum curriculum requirements to enter colleges, thus not being able to even apply. Eight grade is the moment to start reviewing all requirements for the type of schools we are aiming for. When having this information, we can team up with our guidance counselor in our high school and ensure that we are doing everything possible to satisfy requirements and meet the needs of the college curriculum through our high school curriculum completion. For example, some students need to by mindful of taking Algebra I as early as in eight grade, to open as many opportunities as possible. When not doing so, they are unknowingly closing some doors.

Eight grade is also the time to start to consider taking AP courses and figuring out when in high school we will want to do so, to enhance college admissions results. AP courses also save us money that we pay at a lower fee for college credit, something to think about when tuition costs are rising.

Preparations in Middle/Junior High School

Junior high is the time to study and prepare for PSAT and sometimes even the SAT and ACT admissions exams. We will need to start thinking about extracurricular work, community work, specialization areas and leadership opportunities. It is of the essence to prepare ourselves to achieve top grades, and focus on working hard at school. Challenging ourselves with tough courses and getting the best possible GPA. Taking easy courses and getting all A’s might not favor us – what helps in entering top schools is to take tough courses and get A’s. But as we know, this is easier said than done. However, it is the moment to engage help if needed and take your education to the next level, gaining solid study skills and habits. Here what you also need to look into:

* If you are a member in a club, consider taking on leadership roles here. This will help to bring out your personality and help you to understand how to plan and be well-organized. Junior high school is the time to take on such roles and responsibilities.

* Junior high is the time to concentrate more in academics and personality development. Doing voluntary work is a good thing at this time, as this gets you across to different social situations and people.
When beginning the college admissions process early, we take care of one essential part of the whole process – the stress factor. We feel stress for the unknown, as we drive through the unchartered territory of what it is like to apply for college. When starting early, we give time to ourselves to research and learn about all details of the process, and the stress factor should shrink. We also start preparing ourselves financially for going to college, thinking ahead of ways to save ourselves from ending up with too many loans and too little scholarship money. In our sophomore and junior years, we can already begin applying for merit scholarships. Starting early is not only important for our mind, it is also beneficial for our pocket!

If children plan to attend college, it is never too early to investigate.  Parents should be encouraged to take their children, while they are on vacation, to look at colleges, order college catalogues, and speak to people who have attended college.

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