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When Should My Student Start Planning For College?

You’re driving up to pick up your middle schooler, when suddenly, it hits you–college. College is just around the corner. Thoughts of brochures, college visits, applications, memorabilia start flying through your head.

Should you be planning now? Should you wait a couple months?

AH! What are you going to do?

Anxious, you pick up your middle schooler, drive home, and open up your computer. You navigate over to Google, and type in, “When should my student start planning for college?”

And…hello. It’s nice to meet you. I’m glad you clicked on this article. Go ahead and take a nice, relaxing breath. I’m here to answer all your questions.

Start in Middle School!

Yes–I know it sounds early. But, believe it or not, this is the time to start planning.

Why? A couple reasons:

  1. You need to make sure your student has a really strong foundation in math and reading before they hit high school.
  2. GPA is a tricky beast–and it’s easiest to wrap your head around before it’s too late!
  3. You and your student have the time and space to learn about important standardized tests and make a plan to ace them.
  4. Top universities want students to be passionate, innovative, and involved–and right now, your middle schooler has time to become the ideal applicant!
  5. College funding can be a source of anxiety…but since your student isn’t a high-school senior, you can research scholarship sources and make a plan without racing against the clock.

Basically, instead of being beaten down by low grades, unhappy test scores, and slammed-shut scholarship and college doors, you and your student can get ahead of the game, and come out on top.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should start test prep or college tours right now. You’re just working with broad strokes, not the fine details.

Now, let me expand some of those broad strokes.

college-brushstroke

1. When will your middle schooler need a strong foundation in math and reading?

Middle school is where your kid is building their academic toolbox. Learning basic math skills, and getting reading comprehension under their belt.

By the end of 8th grade, as far as math goes, your student should be able to:

  • Understand what ratios are, and use them to solve problems
  • Divide fractions by fractions
  • Find common factors and multiples
  • Use their previous numerical knowledge with negative numbers, too
  • Rock basic algebraic expressions and equations! (So for example, they could solve: 4x + 12 = 225)
  • Graph and analyze the relationships between dependent (y) and independent (x) variables
  • GEOMETRY! They should know about area, surface area, and volume, and use them to solve problems.
  • Analyze distributions and statistical variability

(Source: Arizona Department of Education)

Also, by the end of 8th grade, as far as reading goes, hopefully your student can:

  • Analyze a piece of text, and use textual evidence to support that analysis
  • Filter out important info from a primary or secondary source, and summarize the document
  • Interpret meanings of words or phrases using context clues
  • Figure out how information is presented (chronological order? causally? comparatively?)
  • Discover and understand the author’s point of view
  • Tell the difference between, fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment

(Source: Arizona Department of Education)

If they have these skills down, then they’ll have no problem jumping into high-school level classes…especially honors or Advanced Placement (AP) classes.

But if your student is still struggling with some of these concepts when they start high school, they can fall behind fast… and it can be incredibly difficult to catch up.

Things to know: If your student is struggling with some of this stuff now, get them a tutor! It can make a world of difference.

2. Why is GPA important?

In high school, your student’s grade point average (GPA) determines:

  1. The colleges they can apply to
  2. The scholarships they’re qualified for
  3. Their placement in their graduating class (Valedictorian?)

There are two different kinds of GPA.

There’s unweighted GPA, which takes each of your student’s classes, whether or not it’s a regular class or an honors class, and assigns it a numerical value (A=4.0, B=3.0, C=2.0, D=1.0, F=0.0). Then, all those numbers are averaged out. The highest unweighted GPA you can get is a 4.0.

And then, there’s weighted GPA. Weighted GPA means that regular classes are still ranked on a scale of 0-4.0. But honors classes are ranked from 0-4.5, and Advanced Placement (AP) classes are ranked on a scale of 0-5.0.

Things to know: Most colleges and scholarships only look at UNWEIGHTED GPAs. In other words, you and your student should plan now to make sure they get all A’s and B’s, so their unweighted GPA is as close to a 4.0 as possible!

3. What are the big standardized tests you should look out for?

The two main ones to really look out for are the PSAT and the SAT.

the-psat

This is the pre-SAT. It’s only held in October, and it’s also the test that qualifies you for the National Merit Scholarship–a huge, massive scholarship that can result in full rides to a huge number of universities.

Things to know: Your student can take it as many times as they want, but it only counts October of their junior year.

the-sat

The SAT is used for college admissions.

It tests 3 separate subjects:

  1. Math
  2. Reading
  3. Writing

Each subject is worth 800 points, so the highest possible score your student can get is a 2400.

Things to know: Your student can take the SAT multiple times to aim for the highest possible score.

4. Who are top universities looking for?

Ivy League Schools like Harvard, Yale, UChicago, Johns Hopkins, etc. are looking for more than just high GPAs and test scores. Everyone that applies to these colleges has a 4.0 and an SAT score above 2000.

So, on top of those two qualifiers, what your student needs is to stand out. Take on leadership roles, show their passions, do some amazing, self-driven projects…basically, be innovative and wonderful!

Things to know: The well-rounded student isn’t what prestigious colleges want anymore. Instead, they want the well-angled student.

5. How can you pay for college?

High GPAs and high SAT scores aren’t just for college admittance. They can also gain you merit-based scholarships.

Unlike private scholarships, which usually require essay-writing and don’t give out a ton of cash, merit-based scholarships are just based on great grades and high test scores, and can give you thousands without any trouble.

Things to know: You and your student should aim for the highest possible GPA and SAT score, so you don’t close any doors…but as you get closer in, and your student has their eyes on a couple specific schools, you can use Meritaid.com to see if they’re on track to get a scholarship!

Where Can I Find Some Helpful Resources?

If you’re looking for a particular place to start your college journey, click around our blog a little more!

You can also check out Collegeboard’s “Big Future” program. It’s absolutely free, and helps your student make a plan for college, no matter which stage they’re in.

Conclusion

Middle school is the perfect time to start planning for college, because you’ve still got time to learn about all the things you’ll need to be on top of in high school! SexeDate

Some things to remember:

  1. If your student is struggling with basic math and reading skills, get them a tutor and catch them up!
  2. Colleges and scholarships only look at your unweighted GPA.
  3. The PSAT and the SAT are big deals–but while the PSAT only counts once, your student is free to retake the SAT.
  4. Prestigious universities want passionate, innovative students–not just students with high grades.
  5. Merit scholarships are a great way to help fund college!

What are your biggest questions? Leave a comment below!

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Dressler Parsons

Dressler Parsons spent most of her childhood in an adobe house her father built in rural Arizona. Right now, she's taking so many business and art classes at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University, and plans to graduate in Fall 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in Marketing, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Intermedia. And, handily enough, her SAT scores and grades qualified her for ASU's Presidential Scholarship (worth $24,000), as well as the AIMS tuition waiver. She is passionate about showing people their potential for a bright, beautiful future. In her free time, she cooks edible things and knits inedible ones.
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