Preparing for College
Even as Early as Middle School
Do your research first by going on their website.
Do they offer the degree(s) your student is potentially interested in?
Where is the school located? If it is far away, do you have family or friends reasonably nearby in the event of an emergency?
What is the mission of the school? What is their focus? If the website shows them to be all about sports and your student is more focused on arts and academics, that may not be the best school for your child, and vice versa.
Do they offer advanced degrees in your student's field of interest?
Do they offer ROTC, if your student is interested in going into the military reserves after college? If so, which branch of the military sponsors the ROTC on that campus.
Look at their affiliations. Are they a state school, a religious school (and if so, which relgion / denomination), etc.?
Find out what accreditations they have. Some universities will only accept credits from schools with certain accreditations. If you don't see that on their list, ask when you call.
Look at their approved organizations. This can tell you a great deal about the makeup of the college or university.
Do they accept federal grants, loans, etc.? If so, they will be required by federal law to comply with certain terms. If not, they won't. A college that does not that we found to be an outstanding university is Grove City University in Grove City, Pennsylvania, about an hour from Pittsburgh.
Beyond these questions ask the following:
Do they accept credits from a community college for students who take dual credit classes there?
Do they accept CLEP or AP credits? (You can also find this out at https://www.collegeboard.org, and how many hours of each will transfer, but it is always good to ask the admissions department directly to confirm this.)
Will students who graduate from high school with dual credit hours, even with an associate's degree received by the time they graduate, be able to enter as a beginning freshman in order to receive freshman scholarships? How many credit hours are allowed to transfer in?
Whom can you contact about checking for transferability of classes and how they align with the university's degree plan?
2. Beginning in 8th grade, high school level classes can be put on the high school transcript. These classes include:
Note: Some elite colleges, in our case we contacted Rice University, may not accept any or perhaps just a few college credits from community colleges, even if the student earned an associate's degree before graduating high school. However, the plus side of this is that that elite university can see that the student is college-ready, has experience doing team projects, and these things may give your student a competitive edge for one of the top schools of his or her choice.
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- At the end of your student's 8th grade year, your local community college may allow your student to take a college entrance exam. If you live in Texas, they can take practice tests at https://www.hccs.edu/. Look for the TSI practice tests. Unless your student is going to Houston Community College, do not take the actual test online or send the credit to them. You want to go to your local community college for your student to take the test. Call and ask to speak with the testing center there to register for the exam. If your student has not completed Algebra II, just ask for the student to take the reading and essay portion of the exam at the time. They will need to take the math portion later. Talk with the dual credit / early enrollment department of your school to get your child enrolled as early as their freshman year in 3 to 6 credit hours per semester. You will need to fill in paperwork and submit how the college classes will count on their high school transcript.
- In September of your student's freshman year, call and see if your local public school offers the PSAT-9. Some schools do. If so, register them with the school go to the school on the designated date to take the exam. This date is set by College Board (https://www.collegeboard.org) and the school does not get to choose which date. If your child did not take the TSI (in Texas), but takes the PSAT and passes, those scores can be used in lieu of the TSI.
- In September of your student's sophomore and junior years, call and ask about registering your student to take the PSAT-10 and PSAT-NMSQT, respectively. These not only prepare your student for the SAT and allow the collegeboard.org site to create custom practice tests for your student for the SAT, they also will allow colleges to communicate with your student by mail and even potentially provide scholarship opportunities.
Note: If your student is a dual credit student, they may have to miss a college class to take the exam. They will need to work with their professors about this ahead of time to make sure all work is turned in. Ask other students that they trust to take good notes to share notes with them. If there is an exam, ask if the exam can be taken early or perhaps later that same day.
- Their junior year, sign your student up to take the SAT and ACT exams. They have different formats, so your student may perform better on one than the other. They can take each exam multiple times and some colleges and scholarship opportunities take the best portions of each test for enrollment or scholarship purposes.
Make sure your student has taken or at least begun trigonometry for the SAT and for the ACT that your student has taken physical science (physics and chemistry combined) and biology, as well as math and reading.
Put the scores your student receives on any of these college entrance exams on his or her transcript. Use the best scores and note the date taken.
4. Be responsible. If you sign your student up for dual credit college classes, do not decide that the middle of a semester that is not a break is time for a family vacation. I've seen this happen. This does not set a good tone or precedent for your student. It can adversely affect your student's GPA early.
5. AP and CLEP exams: You can use https://www.collegeboard.org to identify how many college credits will be accepted via AP and CLEP exams for your student's prospective college. For AP exams, select a college textbook for the desired AP subject that was published in the last 10 years. You may find these at half-price bookstores, online book sellers, or through a friend whose student took a class at college. Get it approved by https://www.collegeboard.org. You can also find AP prep materials to supplement the class through College Board, though I have found those same books cheaper on Amazon.com.
For CLEP tests, make sure the material is at a college level and purchase the CLEP supplemental books through College Board's web site or purchase the same books from Amazon.com.
6. Look at the NCAA division requirements to help determine what classes should be on your student's transcript when he or she graduates: NCAA Eligibility Requirements and Academic Eligibility Rules (ncsasports.org) The different divisions are for various college and university sizes.
7. If your state has a state education agency, look on their website for high school graduation requirements for public school students. If your student is going to college, they need to be competitive in academics with their public school peers. If your state education agency notes special accolades that can be noted on a transcript and your student is doing one or more of those things, put it on the transcript.
8. If your student participates in community service, put the community service year, item, and hours on the transcript. There are some universities that offer scholarships based on the number of community service hours performed during high school. Also, it shows that the student is well-rounded in more than academics. If your student is a leader in a community service project, add that to the notation.
9. Beginning at least in 8th grade, if not earlier, if you have a county 4-H program near you, enroll your student so that your student has an avenue to provide educational presentations. This teaches your student to create PowerPoint presentations, to research, how to organize information, to practice public speaking, and to deal with problems in a live scenario. They will need these skills for college, including dual credit classes.
If taking dual credit or other college classes with a group project, make sure your student understands that some people may not participate. It is important to not do all the work on his or her own. Have your student coordinate meeting times with the group as soon as groups are defined and the project selected. This will help identify who knows what material, how to do what, and who may honestly bow out. Have your student continue to ask to meet on a schedule that works with all the students. If one or more students does not communicate or participate, notify the professor so the professor can work with those students. Your student may even need to mentor the other students in using PowerPoint. My daughter had to teach her high school graduate peers to do so in her first class.
10. Beginning in 6th grade: look up the Veterans of Foreign Wars essay contests. They put the topics up in late spring / early summer. The Daughters of the American Revolution also offer essay contests. These both have financial benefits, but more than that, they help students learn to research, write creative essays based on the research, and prepare for collegiate level writing with word limits. For the VFW essays, the middle school essay is written only and the high school essays are written and a recording of the student reading the essay is submitted along with the written essay. For the Daughters of the American Revolution essays, all are written exclusively. These papers will be due in October, so beginning early is beneficial.
10. If your student is interested in a trade, contact your local trade school for a visit. Those may also offer dual credit programs in culinary school, auto mechanics, computer technology, cosmetology, and so much more. Often they offer options for associate's degrees or certificates. These may cost more than community colleges and will require the student to purchase the tools required through the school, even if they already own them. If your child earns a trade degree by the time he or she graduates high school, put it on his or her diploma.
11. If your child is interested in dual credit or early enrollment classes, he or she may be able to graduate with an associate's degree at the same time as or prior to graduating from high school. Once your student receives 12 credit hours, if they have a sufficiently high GPA, he or she may receive a notice that the student is eligible for the Phi Theta Kappa honor society that also has scholarship opportunities. Make sure that your student goes to the meetings because the PTK will often provide the graduation cord for your student so you don't have to purchase it on his or her behalf.
12. It is especially important to know that if your student even thinks that he or she may be interested in graduate school that the GPA is critically important. It needs to be a 3.5 or higher for most schools. In graduate school, the lowest grade is a 3.0 (a B), anything below that is considered failing. Use the following rule to help determine the number of classes to take at most in college:
64 - number of hours driving to campus or work - 4*number of credit hours taken - number of hours working.
The resulting number should be 0 or a positive number greater than 0. If not, reevaluate. Also, some fine arts classes may be a "1 hour credit class" but require considerably more than 4 hours of work. If so, adjust for those classes. For example, ensemble is a 1-hour credit course. It requires 9 hours of practice in person, plus practice outside of class. Other traditional classes may be 3 hours of in-class time - usually lecture. The other 3 hours per credit hour is attributed to reading and homework time expected for each class. Don't skimp on this.
If your student has any learning challenges, account for those. Also, make sure your local community college offers help for students with special needs and counseling - college, career, and personal counseling. These can be tremendous helps.
By taking dual credit / early enrollment classes at a local community college, you may find your student can receive a significant discount in tuition even compared to just going straight after high school. There are caveats:
- If you don't live in the county where the community college is, you may not qualify for the discounted rates unless your student takes classes in person, and perhaps not even then.
- Your student will not qualify for federal financial aid like PELL grants.
- Your student may not qualify for scholarships, but may not is not the same as "won't." My daughter received $4000 in scholarships for the 2020-2021 school year and has been awarded $1000 for the 2021-2022 school year already. This is due to the fact that she is specializing in a field rather than going for general studies and this field has funds availble to award.
Please feel free to ask questions and I'll help get them answered for you.