Sixth, seventh and eighth grade is, naturally, when tweens focus on picking a high school. But it’s also a great time to prepare middle schoolers for college.
Early career exploration is one way most junior high kids start to earnestly think about where the future road will leave. There are also ways that parents help get their sons’ and daughters’ gears turning.
To dig a bit deeper into this topic, we turned to two experts here in metro Detroit.
Durand Miller is the counselor at Derby Middle School and therapist at/owner of Inner Circle Life Advisors – both in Birmingham. He’s also dad to Dylan, 8 and Lyla, 10.
And Laurie Kattuah-Snyder serves as associate dean of advising and partnerships at Schoolcraft College. She has two adult children of her own that she helped through this process.
Here’s what both had to say on the subject of how moms and dads can help prepare middle schoolers for college.
1. Talk about your own college experiences
Whether you or your partner went to college or not, talk to your child about your experiences.
“If parents have this experience, or even if they don’t, parents should be discussing their high school and college experiences with their kids – having that dialogue,” Miller says.
“We do this so once the kids get there, they remember these stories their parents shared with them, and it’s not foreign to them when they get to college.”
An example of this could be a crazy roommate story. “These types of narratives really help in that regard with young kids,” he says.
“My husband and I both went to college,” Kattuah-Snyder says. “We were both first-generation college students, so it wasn’t discussed at all. I didn’t even consider it until my friends started talking about it.”
She adds that her and her husband knew they should start talking to their kids about it when they got to middle school – even something as small as, “You know Aunt Cheryl when to the University of Michigan, and she loved it,” she says.
You are starting to plant that seed in your child’s head.
2. Help prepare their minds
“At this young age, preadolescents are trying to figure out how their social-emotional state actually works,” Miller says. “So, helping your son or daughter establish a set of boundaries is important.”
Miller also works with kids on matters like this at this practice. He stresses the importance of learning to manage their time so, by the time they get to college, they aren’t as overwhelmed.
“It’s also important to know if they are a morning or night person,” he adds, “so that way they know when to schedule their classes” or can factor that into their study habits.
Making sure your son or daughter is getting the help is another important way to prepare middle schoolers for college.
“Identify early your child’s weak links and address them early,” Miller says. “Whether it be with tutoring or counseling – go talk to the school about it.”
Parents should also try to work with their children at home on subjects they are struggling with. Don’t just expect them to work on their own at it.
“My favorite (tip) is read, read, read, read,” Kattuah-Snyder says. “I did it with my children, and it not only builds curiosity – it helps build verbal and written skills.” These skills are needed later on when they go to college.
3. Be aware of what classes they’re taking
Tweens and teens can tend to try to take certain classes just because their friends are in them. As a parent, you should be aware of and involved in setting that class schedule.
“It’s important that parents of middle schoolers get involved with course selection,” Kattuah-Snyder says. “Foreign language, math and natural science, especially – just to make sure that in middle school that exposure has started, so it isn’t going to be a challenge for them in high school and beyond.”
4. Use your network to help kids shadow
Many students change their major in college – even a few times – and they can wind up wasting a lot of time and money in the process. If kids have a better understanding of what their future careers will really be like, though, it can help prevent this phenomenon.
“Another thing parents can do is use their networks,” says Miller. If they want to be a veterinarian, “let them shadow in eighth grade with a vet, giving that kid a feel for what it’s actually like way before they get to that point later in high school and college.”
5. Check out colleges with them
If you’re already curious about colleges, most likely your kids will be, too. So why not pay one a visit? If a big university campus is too far away or feels overwhelming, start smaller.
“I’m a huge fan and advocate of starting at a community college,” Kattuah-Snyder says. “Students can get their feet wet with a college experience without too much risk.”
6. Let them help with college costs
“Parents need to start figuring out college costs and what they’re able to commit to,” says Kattuah-Snyder. “For my own children, they had to pay for all their books, all the extracurricular activities and any extra costs. We just took care of tuition.”
Parents shouldn’t feel bad if they can’t cover all of the cost, either.
“I want parents to relax just a little bit and let their children be a part of the money conversation,” she says.
“This is about being a good gardener and planting seeds at (ages) 11, 12 and 13 to increase the future growth,” Miller adds. “If we establish a good foundation now in eighth grade, 48 months from now when they’re a freshman in college, we should see some good growth.”