Belinda M. Gonzalez-Leon, Ed.D., MBA
Summer is over and children are back in school. For many high school seniors, the race to college has begun in earnest. The Common Application, an online application used by almost 700 colleges, opened on August 1st, 2016. Before classes even started, high school seniors should have already logged in and started entering in their basic information as well as working on their essays. Another important date for college bound high school students is October 1st when the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opens three months earlier than usual.
This year, the application will have the ability to pull parents’ income tax return information for 2015 as filed in April of 2016. Information reported from 2015 will be used to determine student financial aid funding eligibility for the 2017-2018 college academic year. On this same date, October 1st, the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) used for college entrance exam purposes, is also offered. Needless to say, high school seniors start the school year on full throttle and don’t slow down until sometime in May where they have to make a final decision of which college to attend in the fall.
Many times parents will ask me when to start the college preparation process. Most believe it is when the student enters their senior year of high school. Other parents will insist that you should start early in the junior year of high school. However, the correct answer is that the college process starts as soon the student is born.
The college preparation process consists of three key areas – financial, academic, and social. The financial aspect involves saving for college. There are numerous was to prepare for college tuition – such as the Florida Prepaid College Plan, 529 College Savings Plans, or other types of investments. They key is starting early so that you have plenty of time to save through small contributions and also allowing market recovery time. There are also a myriad of actions one can take in regards to financial decisions over time that will affect how your family will qualify for financial aid. Most importantly, become more educated on what student financial aid funding options are available to you as the time for college draws near.
The second area, academics, refers to not just being a good student and earning high grades, but also strategically planning out the courses to take before and during high school. As early as fifth grade, students may be assessed to determine placement into Algebra. What grade the student takes Algebra could in turn determine the level of advanced math available to take in high school.
In high school, students who excel academically should be taking as many honors or Advance Placement courses that they qualify for. Advanced coursework improves their chances of getting into a good college and also the possibility of earning college credit early (which saves on tuition!). Even if your child is not at the top of the class, they should still be carefully choosing classes and reading voraciously from a young age to help them with college.
Finally, the social aspect can be started early and easily. From a young age, always promote the idea of going to college to your child. Tell them how exciting college will be; explain how college is not just about academics, but an overall life experience; and encourage them to learn about all the colleges available to them. Point out colleges that you or family or friends attended; visit colleges when you are on vacation; ask professionals about what college they attended – but most importantly, build in your child the belief and confidence that they will attend college one day. Make it an expectation that they will obtain a college degree just as someday have a cellphone, drive a car, and stay out later.
Preparing your child for a college education starts from the day they are born and it is a continuous process. The benefits of a college degree are not only financial, but studies show that college graduates have more opportunities, better stability, and are happier. Education is something that each individual earns and unlike other possessions, it cannot be taken away. Take the time to support your child’s pursuit of a college education by helping them dream, prepare academically, and saving little by little.
Over the next few weeks, please join me as we explore education in regards to local happenings, college preparation, and common concern of parents.