Preparation is the key to success in any task, and preparing for success in college and careers should start as early as possible. This is not a task that children can do alone: a parent’s guidance and direction is needed. And, it’s never too soon to start planning for a bright future.
Below is a list of things you can do together.
For those in elementary and middle school:
- Become familiar with all the tools and information the Department offers to help your children and your family learn about college affordability and value, and about different career pathways. We provide a host of resources, including step-by-step checklists, to help your students think about exploring careers, choosing and applying to schools, and taking required tests. There are clear descriptions of the types of financial aid available from the government and other sources, including grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study. We have sections that explain who gets financial aid, how to apply, how to stay eligible, and how to get eligibility back if you’ve lost it. There are also tools to help students and families manage loans, get help with problems, and perhaps even have their debt reduced, if their students choose certain types of careers in public service.
- When your students are in middle school, register them for classes that will prepare them for college entrance exams, like the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test or Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test (PSAT) and EXPLORE or PLAN preparation for American College Testing (ACT). The Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test or Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test (PSAT) provides firsthand practice for the Scholastic Aptitude Test or Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT). It also gives students the chance to qualify for National Merit Scholarship.
- Have your children check with their school counselor about scholarships for which they may be qualified and might apply. Counselors have lists and resources that may be of assistance to your child.
- Help your children research funding possibilities on the internet and at the library. You or your children may find organizations that offer scholarships or funding related to activities in which they have been involved or to careers they wish to enter.
For those in high school:
- Have your junior and senior high school students take the ACT, PSAT or SAT.
- Seek the advice of college and career counselors at school. Counselors have lists and resources that can help your students map out their college and career pathways.
- Continue to research scholarships, grants, or other funding to help pay for tuition at the college of their choice. Do this together.
- Encourage your students to be actively involved at school – in academic and extra-curricular activities like sports, clubs, and the arts. They can also volunteer for faith-based or community organizations, or find other ways to serve, show leadership, and make a difference in the community. A young person’s activities, responsibilities, and even work experiences are all important considerations for the reviewers who read and rate applications for jobs or scholarships.
- Encourage them to work or volunteer in workplaces that reflect their career interests. Find out whether your school has partnership programs with area employers that allow students to explore their interests through job shadowing, internships, and other work-based learning opportunities with workplace mentors.
- Investigate whether specific licenses or special certifications are needed for entry-level jobs in their fields of interest, and whether they can begin earning those credentials while in high school, through technical courses, youth apprenticeship programs, or other activities.
- Find out if your students’ schools offer opportunities for them to take college-level courses for college credit through programs like dual enrollment or the early college high school model. Options like these can help to significantly reduce the time and cost of earning a degree from a two- or four- year college degree program. More and more students around the country are graduating from high school with significant amounts of transferable college credit, and some are graduating from high school with diploma and an Associate Degree – for free!
- Make sure your students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)FAFSA form. FAFSA lets families know if their students are eligible for any federal aid. There are federal and state deadlines, and your students’ colleges of choice may also have a deadline. So, be sure to keep these timeframes in mind.
- Visit the colleges in which they express an interest. Tour the campuses together. This can even be done through a virtual tour or a brief drive to a college during the weekend. Many colleges and universities welcome weekend visits and offer weekend tours and other activities for potential applicants.
- Support them as they submit applications to the colleges of their choice. Help them select their first, second, third, and fourth choices. Don’t overlook the option of attending a community or junior college.
- Help your students tell their story through their college essay. Most college applications require students to submit a personal essay on topics designed to help admission officers learn more about the students’ goals, achievements, experiences, influences and values – the things that make them unique. Encourage your students to take their essays seriously, and offer to help by reviewing or proofreading their drafts. Admissions officers will focus on things like writing style, content, analysis and original thinking. Help your students stand out! And, this same essay may be enhanced for scholarship programs to which they may apply.
Success today depends on getting an education beyond high school. Parents play a vital role in helping children set their sights on success in college and careers. You can begin to today to help your children dream big – and achieve their dreams.
Carrie Jasper is director of outreach to parents and families at the U.S. Department of Education