A Parent’s Guide to Preparing for College

7 ways you can ready your child for post-high school education.

Your child will have a much better chance at success in a fulfilling career if they continue their education beyond high school. Whether they’re headed to a four-year university, a two-year college or a trade school, they will need support, guidance and encouragement to get there.

And that’s where parents can help.

“Before the age of social media and technology, students learned about college in school,” says Barry Hall II, manager of Charter Through College at Grand Valley State University Charter Schools Office. “They were told their guidance counselor would provide them all the information they needed about how and when to get ready for college. But it’s way different now.”

You don’t have to be a college grad yourself to be your child’s best advocate for continued education. Here, Hall shares seven top parent tips for helping your child prepare for college – or the post-secondary educational path they choose.

Be informed and start early

“The most important advice I can give is for parents to learn as much as they can about college and start talking to their kids by sixth grade. Don’t wait until 11th grade!” Hall says. The best way to learn about the world of college is to reach out to your middle school or high school counselors, or go straight to your closest community college. “They are designed to serve people in their community, so they have more knowledge and can provide more resources and tools to help you and your child get ready for that transition,” he says.

Involve yourself in your child’s education

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Know your child’s teacher, principal and counselor. Attend college informational meetings, scholarship meetings and financial aid information nights at school. Rather than expecting the school to shepherd your child from elementary school to college, join in and be part of the journey. Hall suggests exposing your child to experiences that will help them see themselves as part of the future working world. “There are tons of things that happen in metro Detroit that parents can take their kids to for free,” he says. “Ask your child if they could wake up each morning and do exactly what they want to do, what would it be? Then build off of this passion.”

Start a “me” file

Once you’ve finished displaying your child’s fifth grade perfect attendance award on the refrigerator, tuck it into a “ME” file, along with every honor roll certificate, good citizen award and dean’s list recognition your child gets. These are points of pride your child can use when applying for college, Hall says.

Challenge your child to the most rigorous classes available

“Students can sometimes be afraid of being challenged and opt for introductory-level math rather than trigonometry. But research shows that students who are successful in math and science classes in high school have a better chance at getting a higher SAT score and at doing well in college courses,” Hall says.

Seek a mentor

“Find someone in your community or at your child’s school who can talk about what college is like and can explain the differences between a four-year and two-year college. A lot of people don’t know the difference,” Hall says. An older cousin or neighbor can share a wealth of knowledge about what it means to be a college student today.

Encourage your child to reach for the stars – and stay focused on their path

As a program manager for college-preparation workshops, Hall talks with students who share their dreams for the future. “They say they want to play in the NBA or NFL, they want to be a musician, a singer or a rapper,” he says. “I tell every last one of them that this is awesome and whatever they want to do, they can do. And then I ask them how they plan to get there from here. What action steps will they take?” Sound familiar? Use this opportunity to encourage your child’s dreams and explore the education path they’ll need to take to make their plan happen.

Build internal motivation by setting small goals

It may be daunting for a child who is not thrilled by school in seventh grade to learn about even more school after high school graduation. “Celebrate the small successes, day by day,” Hall suggests. “If they struggle to get up in the morning, challenge them to be up and ready three out of five days this week. If they can do it, BAM! It’s a start. Celebrate this and challenge them to four days the next week. Then reward them with a favorite meal, a sleepover or a favorite activity.” The trick, Hall says, is to get them engaged.

To find out more about Grand Valley State University, visit gvsu.edu.

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