I’ve been thinking about writing this for a while, but I wasn’t sure how to make it relatable to parents of younger kids. I’ve been spending the last few months working with high school students informing them of the opportunities in higher education. I love this part of my job because not only do I have a passion for higher education, but I also love seeing a high school student realize that it is possible for them. Some of the students we interact with have no idea how to prepare for college, and it is interesting to see how small things can change the way a student sees college. This is my own personal opinions based on my interaction with students from kindergarten to community colleges.

Start Early: Seriously though. If you want your child to be college-bound, take them to see colleges when they are young. Walk around a campus, see the buildings, the students, the hustle and bustle. Take your child to free events on college campuses. Participate in your college community to get a baseline of what the college atmosphere is like. Tell you child what your path was. Kids are interested in how you chose your college, or why you didn’t go to college. Your story can help your child picture a path for themselves.

Keep At It: Starting in middle school, talk to your kids about what they like to study. Ask what their favorite subjects are and encourage them to look at careers that align with those subjects. Talk to them about the colleges and universities that have programs that are applicable to the careers they seem interested in. Ask them who their heroes are and do some research together to show your child how that person got to where they are. One warning though, don’t pigeon hole them into one career when they are this young. It will do more harm than good.

Get Involved: Enroll your child in programs on college campuses. Most colleges have a bunch of pre-college programs that are affordable and give your child a chance to get the feel of being on a college campus. Don’t limit yourself to just one campus either, try programs on a few campuses if you can so your child gets an idea of what different colleges feel like.

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High School Is Important: I am continuously surprised at the students I encounter that have no idea how to apply for college. It is a confusing process and it requires the student to be fairly organized, so the best strategy for this is to start in their freshman year talking to them about the things they will need to apply for college. One of the biggest things we see are students who miss deadline because there is no one helping to keep them organized. It is important to start setting goals early on in high school. Goals for career paths, goals for schools that the student wants to attend, goals for achievements in high school. Most colleges are now looking at applicants holistically, so although grades and test scores are important, so are the other aspects of a student’s life. Being involved in sports, clubs, extra currciulars are important too. Volunteer work is a huge plus, and taking some college level classes as a high school student is a great way to increase the likelihood of your child getting into their intended school.

Do Your FAFSA: Even if you think that you can afford to send your child to college, it is really important to fill out a FAFSA. You never know if you suddenly need assistance. For those of us that may not have enough to cover the full cost of college, be in contact with the financial aid office at the intended school of your child. The financial aid process can be intimidating and confusing, but the more you are involved, the more likely your child will receive the assistance they need.

Line Up Schools Early: Work with your kid in their sophomore year to identify their top 5 schools. Studies are showing that students are selecting their college by the end of their sophomore year. This means that as parents, we need to be talking to our kids about college from about the 8th grade on. Help your child rank their colleges and work with them to look up the admissions requirements for each school. Make a timeline and keep on top of it so you don’t miss any deadlines. This is one of those areas that students really need help with and are sometimes afraid or embarrassed to ask for. Don’t be militant about this, but continue to remind your child about deadlines. Visit these campuses if you can so that your child has an idea of the school’s layout and if the “feel” is what they are looking for. There’s something to be said about standing on a college campus and knowing that it is the right fit for you.

Finding a college that fits for your child is daunting, but if you start early and work on it as your child grows, it seems less scary and huge. Keep talking to your kids while they experience new things in life and eventually you will be able to help guide them into schools that fit their educational needs and can help them fulfill their career dreams.