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Personal and Business Banking

Preparing for College

StreetWise Parents' Guide

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Preparing for College

In this high-tech, globalized world, education beyond high school is more and more important. The more education your children have, the more career options they have. Pursuing a higher education doesn't have to mean going to a four-year college or university. Other options include two-year community or junior colleges, business schools, and vocational technical schools. Also included are courses of study that result in a license or certification. Throughout children's elementary and secondary school years, parents can help lay the foundation for successful advanced education.

How soon should children start preparing for college?

Although doing well in elementary school prepares a student to excel in high school and college, specific academic preparation for higher education begins in middle school. For example, to be able to take chemistry or physics in high school (courses that are often required in a college prep curriculum), a student may need to take Algebra I in the 8th grade. Whatever their current career goals and dreams – even if they don't have anything specific in mind yet, your children should take all of the core high school courses in English, math, science, history and geography. This broad educational base gives them basic skills for whatever path they take after high school.

For students who plan to pursue a college bachelor's degree, educational advisors recommend that a student's high school electives (non-core courses) include 2 or 3 years of a foreign language and classes in music, art, dance, or theater. Again, even if your child doesn't know what they want to do after high school graduation or just knows they want to go to college somewhere, this broad background provides flexibility and opens up almost any option.

How can I help my middle schooler begin to think about the importance of higher education?

Many young teens don't want to think about high school much less college, do they? StreetWise recommends the website "Think College Early", prepared by the U.S. Department of Education. The site has been written specifically to help middle and junior high school students understand why it is important to start preparing for college before you get to high school.

How important are high school grades in college admission?

Grades are one of the major criteria that colleges and universities consider in granting admission. College applications usually require that the applicant's complete high school transcript be sent. The transcript contains the grades for the courses taken in all years of high school. As a consequence, every year of high school is important, not just the last two. Colleges will also look at "grade point average," which is the average of all grades received during high school. Although different colleges have different requirements for grades and grade point averages, admission to most colleges doesn't require a straight A average. A good record of A's and B's can win admission to a college that's a good match for a student's needs and talents.

What about SAT, ACT, PSAT and other standardized test scores?

Although many colleges and universities say they are putting less emphasis now on "college aptitude" standardized test scores, most still require them, and most still have minimum requirements for acceptable test scores. The SAT or ACT should be taken at least twice, but usually no more than three times. Keep in mind that test scores are only one part of the admissions package. Most schools use them in conjunction with the prospective student's grades and courses taken. Good preparation for the test is needed to develop confidence. This can be done through practice tests. The availability of practice tests range from books under $20 to full fledged cram courses that cost $500 or more.

How important are extra-curricular activities?

Preparing for college isn't only about schoolwork. Athletics, community service and other extracurricular activities can help children learn discipline, responsibility, teamwork, and other skills. Encouraging children to read a newspaper every day helps broaden their horizons. You don't have to subscribe to one – read it online. Additional reading (fiction and non-fiction) and study outside of course requirements can help expand vocabulary and reading comprehension skills. Extracurricular and community volunteer activities even help some teens find their future careers.

Online resources for more college preparation information for parents

StreetWise recommends these two free, downloadable guides:

  • U.S. Department of Education – This companion to the student area provides resources for parents to help their children prepare for future success.

  • – Information and resources for parents – This section of the site provides resources to help parents save for college, learn about financial aid, and understand the application process.