Getting a college degree is one of the best goals a teen can have. It is, however, also one of the hardest goals to achieve. Here are the steps you can take, as a parent of a teen, that will help your teen achieve the goal of going to college:
Step #1: Make the Decision:
While the decision to attend college belongs to your teenager, your role plays a huge part in whether or not this is the path he will take. You guide your teenager through his childhood into his adulthood making suggestions and helping with decisions along the way. If you want your teen to go to college, chances are he’s going to college.
Because this is a major decision, start by taking some reflection time, then talk to your teen. You may also want to take our Is Your Teen Ready for College? quiz. It will give you an overview of what your teenager will need to be able to do by the time he attends college.
Since it will be your teenager that is attending college, the first ten important questions to ask will be to him. Keep this question and answer session conversational and light, but let him know that the answers are important and he has time to think about it. Actually, the best time to have this conversation is when your teenager is just starting high school, so that he can have years to form his answers.
- Why do you want to go to college?
- Do you want to go to school for two years or four years?
- What do you want to be? What job do you want to have?
- What majors are you considering? How will this major get you to what you want to be?
- Are there other careers you have considered?
- What high school grades will you need to get into college? Do you have a plan on how to obtain those grades?
- What high school classes will you need to go to college? Does your high school have those?
- Have you considered the cost of college? Have you considered how we are going to pay for it?
- Do you want to live at school or do you want to live at home?
- What do you want the school to offer besides your major? What extracurricular activities are you interested in?
Talk to Your Teen About a Future Career
Thinking about a future career can bring a lot of stress. Figuring out what he is going to do with this ‘future’ is such a vast undertaking that wrapping his brain around it can seem too daunting. Parents need to learn to help their teen conquer this hefty question by dropping seeds of conversation as time goes by and watch them grow into ideas. This chops up the question into workable issues that you and your teen can enjoy dealing with throughout their teen years.
- In your child’s life there are times when they are given the opportunity to see and/or discuss a certain career. Schools have Career Day, an aunt or uncle talk about what they do for a living or your teen’s youth group goes on a trip to a hospital and talks to the staff there. Each of these times is an opportunity for you to ask your teen what he thought of those jobs or that field of work.
- When your teen shows interest in a certain career, you should do some research. Then, you can offer your teen some information on that job and related jobs. The Occupational Outlook Handbook put out by the Department of Labor gives you what schooling is needed, how much someone can make and other information about almost every career out there today. It’s a wonderful free online resource.
- Help your teen weight the pros and cons for his different career interests. Encourage your teen to narrow the choices down to five at the most. He can always change his mind after he sees the specifics for these choices.
- Figure out the path your teen would have to take in order to obtain the schooling for his career choices. This is a good time to begin ordering in college and technical school catalogs. Use the catalogs and any other information you have found as an ice breaker for more conversations with your teen.
- The ultimate decision lies with your teenager, but you do have the right to have input. Make this a clear message. Teach your teen that part of being independent is knowing when and who to lean on, trust and respect.
- Be sure not to push your teen in any specific direction that may be on your agenda. While you may need to push him forward, you want to guide him towards his future, not the one you may be dreaming about.
- Every time you talk to your teen about his future you will need to give him time to digest the conversation. Try not to pick his brain too much while he is doing this. Simply ask if he is ready to talk more about it and abide by his answer.
- Do you feel you have open communication with your teen?
Getting Into College Step #2: Taking the Right Courses for College
It is very important for your teenager to be taking the right courses in high school. He will need four years of math, science, history and English. He will also need to take a 2nd language for 2 or 3 years - depending on the college he wishes to attend. You'll need to work with your teenager's school to be sure he is getting all of the right courses offered to him for college preparation.
Your teen should take a look at extracurricular activities such as being involved with a community organization, in sports or being involved in a student club. These are all things colleges will look for on the application.
Build a Winning Academic and Personal Record
Teenagers who are planning to attend college need to become serious about the cost as early as their freshman year in high school. The first step in obtaining scholarships is keeping an organized record of your accomplishments during high school.
- Start with having a place to keep all of your teen's records of achievements. An accordion folder works well for this purpose. Section off by school year and special areas, for instance: community service, teacher recommendations, etc.
- Have your teen create realistic academic goals. Work with the school guidance office on which classes are needed throughout their four years of high school. Place the information in the sections concerning the year involved.
- Look for areas in your community that your teen wants to participate by doing community service. Have your teen take notes on each service he performs. Include the community organization name, the names of the people in charge, phone numbers, etc. Place it in the community service section of the accordion folder.
- Let your teen participate in school clubs, sports and other organizations. Have your teen keep notes on the teacher advisors and what your teen was able to accomplish in the organization.
- Your teen will need to receive good grades and keep his grade point average above a 3.6. Grades are the most important factor when applying for private scholarships. Although, it's a catch-22. A 4.0 student with no experience in sports or community service does not look as good a candidate as a student with a 3.8 and who was on the school yearbook committee and basketball team. The key is balance.
- Building the teacher recommendation section can be tough. Start by saving the comments from your teens report card. When your teen receives a positive comment, write the teacher's name, grade, class name and the comment down. Place this in the teacher recommendation section of the folder. When your teen is a senior, he can go back and tap into these for recommendations.
- Continue to step through this process during your teen's four years of high school. If you are able to do this, it will keep it in the forefront of your teen's mind and he will do better. It will also mean a lot less running around looking for information when your teen is applying for scholarships.
- You will need to partner with your teenager in this process. It will be a give and take as you are the adult and have more worldly experience than your teen. There may even be a time when your teen seems to give up. Remember that he needs you most at these times and don't give up on him.
- How many school nights a week is your teen allowed out?(leisure time only)
Getting Into College Step #3: Making the Grade
Education needs to be a priority in your teen's life. Colleges pay very close attention not only to your teen's grades in school, but also to the attitude your teenager has about school. Promoting a positive school experience in high school benefits your teen. They will have a great attitude about learning and it will show through on their college application and in the college interview. So remember, while good grades help, an A+ attitude toward learning will get your teen into the college of his choice.
Teens need supportive surroundings when they are faced with the challenges of school. You can help your teen get better grades on his tests by using these tips.
- Make a quiet space available to your teen to study.
- Have supplies ready for studying. Sharpened pencils, index cards and highlighters should all be accessible to your teenager.
- Try not to worry about the test in front of your teen. Keep your tone of voice upbeat and positive.
- Be available to help your teen if they need someone to quiz them or look over sample problems.
- Encourage your teen to keep their healthy habits at this time. Let you teenager know that eating too much junk food while studying or not getting enough sleep before a test is not a good idea.
- How many school nights a week is your teen allowed out?(leisure time only)
Getting Into College Step #4: Choose Which Colleges to Apply
Never apply to just one college; you'll be wasting your teen's time. Be sure to apply to at least two if not more. This will give your teen not only a back up plan should he not get into the first college of his choice, but it will also give him some wiggle room should he change his mind about where he wants to attend.
- Step #1: Don’t get alarmed if your teen isn’t sure about what he/she wants to do. It is an awful tall order. It takes some time and a lot of thought. Know that your teen should actively start looking into a major as soon as he/she has decided to go to a college, but can wait until sophomore year to make a final decision. So, there is time.
- Step #2: Get ideas of which field of study that has caught your teen’s interest. What classes did your teen talk most about? What activities with clubs did your teen enjoy? In what courses did your teen do well with his/her grades?
You can let the power of the internet help here too. Have your teen take a interest assessment test.
- Step #3: Look at what careers are available in that field of study. Specific research is needed to find what jobs are available. This step is often missed by parents and students – or it is seen as something to do at the end of schooling. I tend to differ with this opinion. Having a specific goal helps someone do what needs to be done to obtain it.
The Occupational Outlook Handbook put out by the Department of Labor gives you what schooling is needed for a specific career, how much income you can earn and other important information about almost every career out there today. It’s a wonderful free online resource.
- Step #4: See what it takes to get your teen to where he wants to be. Here is where having some college catalogs will help. Find out which colleges have the majors your teen is interested in looking into further.
Call the admissions offices and inquire about the majors. Be sure to ask if your teen can hold off on choosing a specific major. For instance, if your teen’s interested in Computers, but doesn’t know if he/she wants to do Computers/Business or Computers/Programming, ask how long your teen will have to make that decision. Most colleges give freshman generic course loads and specific major courses aren’t given until the second year. So, your teen could get a whole year of college – and maturity – under his/her belt before having to make a decision.
Getting Into College Step #5: Acing the SAT and SAT II
There is only one way to ace these tests – prepare, prepare, prepare! Enroll your teen into an SAT preparatory class. Buy books and host study groups – complete with pizza. Allow your teen to take the test more than once. While a lower grade on these test will not keep your teen from attending college completely, a higher grade will get him into the college of his choice and can help with scholarship funding.
Question: When should my teen take the PSAT?
Answer: The PSAT - the Preliminary SAT - is taken so that your teen can gain the experience of taking a college admissions test, the SAT I. It is not used for college applications or in any other way. Therefore, your teen should take it in the spring of his sophomore year or in the fall of his junior year, depending on when he plans to take his SAT I.
Question: When should my teen take the SATII Subject Tests?
The SAT II Subject Tests are required by some colleges so that they are better able to measure your teenagers ability in a certain area. They are curriculum-based and easier to study for than the SAT I.
Answer: The best time for your teen to take an SAT II Subject Test is when he has completed the class on that subject. For example, if he has World History in his junior year of high school, your teen will do his best on the SAT II World History Test directly after he has taken the final exam in his class. Otherwise, your teen may not retain as much of the information. You can schedule the different SAT tests separately.
Generally, the SAT II is given in the afternoon of the SAT I testing day. Most colleges who ask for an SAT II Subject Test usually only ask for 1 to 3 of them, which is another 1 to 3 hours of testing.
Test Taking Do's and Don'ts for Parents
You can be a great help to your children if you will observe these do's and don't's about tests and testing:
- Don't be too anxious about a child's test scores. If you put too much emphasis on test scores, this can upset a child.
- Do encourage children. Praise them for the things they do well. If they feel good about themselves, they will do their best. Children who are afraid of failing are more likely to become anxious when taking tests and more likely to make mistakes.
- Don't judge a child on the basis of a single test score. Test scores are not perfect measures of what a child can do. There are many other things that might influence a test score. For example, a child can be affected by the way he or she is feeling, the setting in the classroom, and the attitude of the teacher. Remember, also, that one test is simply one test.
- Meet with your child's teacher as often as possible to discuss his/her progress. Ask the teacher to suggest activities for you and your child to do at home to help prepare for tests and improve your child's understanding of schoolwork. Parents and teachers should work together to benefit students.
- Make sure your child attends school regularly. Remember, tests do reflect children's overall achievement. The more effort and energy a child puts into learning, the more likely he/she will do well on tests.
- Provide a quiet, comfortable place for studying at home.
- Make sure that your child is well rested on school days and especially the day of a test. Children who are tired are less able to pay attention in class or to handle the demands of a test.
- Give your child a well rounded diet. A healthy body leads to a healthy, active mind. Most schools provide free breakfast and lunch for economically disadvantaged students. If you believe your child qualifies, talk to the school principal.
- Provide books and magazines for your youngster to read at home. By reading new materials, a child will learn new words that might appear on a test. Ask your child's school about a suggested outside reading list or get suggestions from the public library.
Getting Into College Step #6: Filling Out a Successful Application
When your teen receives an application to one of the colleges of his choice, he’ll need to do some preliminary work before filling it. Encourage him to read the entire application over and take notes on what he needs to gather up in order to answer all of the questions. He may need to ask for teacher recommendations, make copies of awards or class certificates, etc. Have him answer the entire set of questions on a separate piece of paper first, so that he can go over his answers and make any changes he feels is necessary without ruining the application paper.
Possibly an Interview Too:
Your teen may also have to attend a college interview as part of the application process. If he does, role-play the interview until your teen feels confident that he can answer any question that may be asked.
Question: What do colleges look for when deciding whether or not to accept a student?
Answer: Colleges have basic standards for students to apply to their school. These can be found in the college’s handbook. The two main standards are your teen’s grade point average and their SAT scores. If your teenager matches the college’s standards in these two areas, they are welcome to fill out an application.
Colleges then look for memberships in organizations, community service, sports participation, job history, etc. There is often a written essay on debatable topics that will not only tell the college about your teen’s writing skills, but also a little about your teenager’s values and beliefs. Colleges do not want students who will have their nose in a book 100% of the time. In order for the college to be successful they need students that will be active in clubs and events. They want students who will be involved in the campus community. Colleges actively look for these students and accept them into their school.
Getting Into College Step #7: Paying for a College Degree
A college education costs quite a bit of money and is often one of the biggest expenses parents and college students have to incur. You can, however, receive help for college costs. This help comes in the form of grants, scholarships and student loans. While, it may take some time paying off a college degree, it is the finest investment anyone can make.
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