One of the more important things you can do with your student(s) is to prepare them for college. It is important that you, parent(s) and/or guardians, help with college preparation outside of school because your student(s) school may or may not do the best job at preparing your student(s). There are countless horror stories of guidance counselors who did everything else but guide or counsel. I can remember the one meeting I had with my guidance counselor prior to my senior year. I attended a private school and unfortunately, I got nothing more than the spiel about state schools and community college. Nothing about HBCU’s, nothing about minority scholarships, nothing about taking college classes while in HS. I got none of that. My parents weren’t as informed when it came to the college application process. But by the grace of God I was able to land on my feet. Every student is not so lucky. Don’t wait until HS to teach your children about college. Don’t wait until MS to introduce them to college and cultivate an atmosphere of college. Introduce college early.
If you’ve attended college, then you know the importance of a college degree. If you did not attend college but still want your children to attend, you too understand the importance of a college degree. I hear all of the debates on the validity of a college degree and whether or not college only puts students in debt. To be clear, college does put students in debt. However, I believe that many of us don’t do college strategically. We may get strategic when we arrive. But we must be strategic before we, or our children, step foot on a college campus. My parent were keen on me attending college, however once I arrived it was on me to figure the rest out. I am not mad at my parents for that, but it points to an assumption that students know what to do when they start their college careers. I think I turned out okay, however if I had a head start, my career trajectory may have been different. Nevertheless, my experiences have reinforced my belief in college preparation for students well before the college application period. You may be a parent, who wants to prepare your student(s) but aren’t sure how to go about it. Here are some things that you need to help your student(s) do in preparation for college.
- Become your student(s) in house guidance counselor. You must take the bull by the horns and serve as your student(s) academic adviser/academic advocate/academic coach. Don’t leave this process up to your student(s) alone. They need your guidance and mentorship. The college application and selection process is a very exciting yet stressful time. They will need your wise counsel; even if you never attended college, you as a parent have something very important to offer – life experience. Also, understand that guidance counselors are responsible for hundreds of students. Your child will not necessarily receive the 5 star one-on-one treatment when the goal of the counselor is to process through students on their roster. If you aren’t sure how to go about the whole process of advocacy and advisement, refer to this guide courtesy of Philadelphia Futures – http://www.stepuptocollege.org/images/Step_Up_to_College_Guide_2016.pdf
- Take general education courses at your local community college while in high school. Community college offer these opportunities to all high school students – even to high school freshmen. Some community colleges offer courses at a discounted rate. Taking general education required courses early will cut down on the time it’ll take for them to graduate college after HS graduation. If your students stick with it, they can earn an associate’s degree in addition to their high school diploma. Here are some local college dual credit option resources that can help with your decision making: http://www.camdencc.edu/precollegehighschoolprograms/, https://www.rcgc.edu/DesignYourFuture/Pages/HSOP.aspx, http://www.rcbc.edu/headstart
- Get a summer internship each year… not a summer job. These internships may or may not be paid, however the experience working in a professional setting will give your student(s) an opportunity to gain a feel for workplace culture and procedures and how to integrate themselves and their skills within the workplace. This is critical when they apply for those college internships that can turn into jobs after graduation.
- Compile all relevant information to create a portfolio. Your child’s portfolio should include the following: report card(s), resume, academic cover letter, employment cover letter, awards and commendations, projects and student work, letters of recommendation and references. This portfolio can be taken to any college or employer and it’ll make a great impression.
- Cultivate relationships with key adults to build references and referrals. Students interact with teachers, coaches, mentors, supervisors and clergy in various formal and informal events and activities. These are the adults who can write letters on behalf of your student(s) for college admission. Be sure that you help your student(s) identify these individuals and prepare them on building a reciprocal relationship with these folks so that when the time comes, a recommendation letter or a reference phone call is welcomed and comes easy to those individuals.
- Attend college fairs for minority serving institutions. A minority serving institution (MSI) is a college or university that is administered and populated by people of color i.e. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). It is not a guarantee that your child’s guidance counselor knows about MSIs. If your child’s guidance counselor is unaware of MSIs, find a school with a predominately student of color population and ask the guidance counselor there for information on MSIs. You can also go online, look up MSIs and request information directly from them. Lastly, you can google “HBCU College Fair(s)” or “Hispanic Serving Institution College Fair(s)” and see what exactly comes up. Here are some local NJ/PA resources: http://www.hbcu-cfnj.com/, https://www.hbcufair.com/Registration/EventSelectForState?stateName=All, http://www.hacu.net/hacu/College_and_Career_Fair.asp
- Attend SAT/ACT prep courses (free) at local colleges. Some local colleges offer free SAT/ACT prep courses. Search them out and schedule your student(s) to attend for the extra help. They may provide a free SAT/ACT prep book for your student(s). In NJ, three resources that come to mind are Gear Up http://www.nj.gov/highereducation/gearup/state_projects.htm. The Rutgers Future Scholars http://www.futurescholars.rutgers.edu/FutureScholars/aboutus.aspx, and TeenSharp Program http://www.teensharp.org/ are also great college preparation resources for this and more.
- Attend financial aid workshops offered by your student’s school or the local college/university. These workshops will provide you with the understanding of how paying for college can actually happen; the options that you have and supports available to you if you do not believe you can afford college.
- Research scholarships NOW. If paying for college is something of concern, it is never too early to begin researching scholarship opportunities for your students. Here is a resource that I have found helpful over the years – https://roybal-allard.house.gov/uploadedfiles/student_resource_guide.pdf. You can also purchase books and go online and conduct research yourself.
- Make yourself known to your student’s guidance counselor. The saying goes, the early bird gets the worm. So too does the parent who meets with the guidance counselor early and often. If you make your face known to that guidance counselor with knowledge of where your student(s) stands academically, their future aspirations, and the options available to them, I guarantee you that guidance counselor will know who you are and will remember your student when an opportunity arises. Don’t be afraid to reach out and begin a relationship with these people. They are your partners. They have the formal tools and job of handling paperwork, but you are leading in the best interest of your child. Again, that counselor may or may not have over 100 students with little to no help. Take control by establishing a partnership to position your child for success in and after college.
The college preparation process is fun, but it can become overwhelming – if you are not strategic. Be sure that you don’t get caught slipping. Get your student(s) ready early for higher education. Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know. Engage and learn. That may be the greatest gift you can give to your student(s); the gift of your example.
Let’s continue to press towards the mark!