Best ways to prepare for college during each year of high school.
As a parent, of course you want to give your child the best opportunity for future success, and for many, attending college is part of that opportunity. If you have a high school student, it's time to start preparing them for their college years. Ideally, you have been saving funds to pay for education, but, if not, now if the time to begin serious planning for how your family plans to cover college costs. Today, the average college graduate owes $37,731 in debt, while the average salary for a recent graduate is $49,785.1
Preparing for college means setting goals, staying focused, and tackling a few key milestones along the way — starting in the first year of high school.
Freshman Year. Begin talking with your student now about their post high school plans. There are many options for further education that you should explore together. Over the course of this year choose a few colleges that might be a good match for your child.
The high school years bring a lot of change & development for students, so remaining flexible, but do stay focused on the big picture goals for their future.
It's helpful to take advantage of any college planning meetings offered by your school's guidance department. And, it’s never a bad idea to encourage your child to choose challenging classes as they navigate high school. Many universities look for students who push themselves when it comes to learning. A balance between difficult coursework and excellent grades is the gold standard. Keeping an eye on grades should be a priority for you and your child as well.
Sophomore Year. During their sophomore year, some students may have the opportunity to take a practice SAT. Even though they won’t be required to take the actual SAT for roughly a year, a practice exam is a good way to get a feel for what the test entails.
If your student hasn't already, sophomore year is a good time to explore extracurricular activities. Encourage those who don't fall into a traditional "sports" or "band" mold to look for other clubs, teams, and activities that they might find interesting. Colleges are looking for the well-rounded student, so encouraging your child to explore their passions now may help their application later. Summer may also be a good time for sophomores to get a part-time job, secure an internship, or travel abroad to help bolster their experiences.
Junior Year. Your child’s junior year is all about standardized testing. Every October, third-year high-school students are able to take the Preliminary SAT (PSAT), also known as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT). Even if they won’t need to take the SAT for college, taking the PSAT/NMSQT is required for many scholarships, such as the National Merit Scholarship.2
This year you will want to narrow your college list and plan visits to your top choices. Many colleges offer visit days for this purpose, but it can be very helpful to visit during a "regular" week. This will give your student the opportunity to envision normal campus life.
Encourage your child to take a leadership role in an extracurricular activity. This doesn’t mean they have to be a drum major or captain of the football team. Leading may involve helping an organization with fundraising, marketing, or community outreach.
In the spring of their junior year, your child will want to take the SAT or ACT. An early test date may allow time for repeating test their senior year, if necessary. No matter how many times your child takes the test, most colleges will only look at the best score. This summer would be a great time to take a test prep course to prepare for the 2nd round of testing.
Senior Year. For many students, senior year is the most exciting time of high school. Seniors will finally begin to reap the benefits of their efforts during the last three years. Once you and your child have firmly decided on which schools apply, make sure you keep on top of deadlines. Many colleges waive application fees for early applicants, so it doesn't hurt to apply to their top 2 or 3 options.
This is also the time to apply for scholarships. Consulting your child’s guidance counselor can help you continue to identify scholarships within reach. Many school districts offer a variety of scholarships that are awarded to graduating seniors. Additionally, most colleges & universities have scholarship opportunities as well. Make sure your child has submitted their FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to avoid missing out on any financial assistance available.3
Help your child prepare for life as a young adult. Whether living at home or away at college, post high school life involves increased responsibility. Teach your child basic financial skills such as managing a checking account/debit card, paying bills on time, and the perils of accumulating debt. You may also want to talk to them about social pressures some college freshmen face for the first time when they move away from home.
For many people, college is an important part in preparing for adult life. As parents you have the privilege of working with your children to make goals and develop habits that will help them take the next steps on their life journey.
Creekmur Wealth Advisors may be reached at 866-358-4441 or Info@Creekmurwealth.com.
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1. The Federal Reserve, February 2020
2. The College Board, February 2020
3. StudentAid.gov, February 2020