Don’t Wait For Senior Year! These Tips Will Help Families Prepare for College Now

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Beside the easy access to Fair Squares, one of the best things about Iowa College Aid having a presence at the Iowa State Fair (find us in the Varied Industries Building) is the opportunity to help families answer their questions about preparing for college. While many parents will come with questions as their student enters their senior year of high school, other parents will ask what they can do to get their younger students prepared for college now.

Having a long view of college importance is a great gift for both a student and their family. Families can take many early steps toward financial preparedness for college (saving money, opening a 529 account, looking into the cost of schools), but families can also lay a groundwork that keeps college at the front of their student’s mind as they move through school. Even middle school students can benefit from these tips to better build a college-going culture and see the benefit for their future career, and life as an adult, college offers.

Start with strengths
Helping students explore their interests and think about what they do best is one of the easiest ways to get students to start thinking about careers and higher education. Make sure that when building strengths, families and students hold high expectations for those strengths and also discuss the areas where students can improve in an even-handed way. Students who can develop self-assessment skills of their strengths and weaknesses (and find the tools to improve those areas) will be ready to take on the challenges of college with a greater chance of success.

Connect aspirations to education
Students benefit from seeing the big picture. Finding a way to connect a student’s aspiration or interest to their education helps show the importance of continuing their education as a tool for future success. That doesn’t mean that parents should put their students on a particular road for a predetermined goal. But helping students see challenging courses as opportunities rather than requirements will help them become more engaged in school. Viewing school as an opportunity to build for the future will help students, even as early as middle school, see how education (both now and in high school) helps achieve their goals in life.

It isn’t just about test scores
The ACT and SAT are vitally important to colleges, but test scores are not the only indicators of a student’s potential, or even of their current learning. More and more, schools are recognizing the value of non-cognitive skills. It’s important that families adjust to this idea, as well. Doing well on tests will always be important, but a student’s success or future doesn’t have to hang in the balance. Helping students understand that idea will help remove some of the pressure from test-taking and develop a more well-rounded student.

Go beyond the classroom
Volunteering is one of the easiest ways for students to not only explore their interests and gain experience which will look good on college resumes, but give them the feeling of engaging with their community in a positive way. Start with organizations that reflect a student’s interest or might be in a career area in which they are interested. Getting a real-world taste of what might await them in a career will either encourage them to work even harder toward their goals or adjust their plans toward another career. Don’t wait until late in high school before volunteering. A history of involvement not only shows dedication, but also creates the kind of well-rounded, multi-tasking student that attracts college admissions officers.

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