I have worked with students between the age of 14 and 22 since becoming a student aid in high school. One thing I never tire of witnessing is the development of young minds as they begin to connect parts of their lives that seem very different. Observing the change that takes place as confusion gives way to understanding has kept me feeling like a teenager even as the years tell me that I should begin thinking about retirement.
Sixteen years of helping families through the college application process is much like allowing an old-style record to restart after the song has come to an end. The seniors move on to college or into jobs and all the rest move into a new year and a higher grade – the song begins again. The frustrating part is that most of my clients will emerge from the woodwork as rising seniors. Most parents and students do not understand the importance of making plans for college early in the high school years.
Consider that secondary students must now select an endorsement – an area of concentrated study within their high school curriculum. If the endorsement is in social studies and the student decides on a college major in one of the STEM areas, what are admissions committees to think about their commitment that major? It may not make a difference at many colleges, but at highly competitive institutions, any disconnect identified in the application can generate a rejection letter.
I am not advocating that an eighth grader commit to the career they will have for the rest of their lives, but that they follow their interests and seek to improve on skills they already possess. Choosing courses for the sole purpose of increasing the GPA can have unexpected consequences.
My advice to parents is to expose their children to a wide variety of activities both academic and athletic. Let them explore before committing to anything and then explain that when they commit, that the expectation is to give their best effort. Teach them to make good decisions and suffer the consequences of bad ones; and for heavens sake, make sure they read something every day. Nothing else will do more to expand their mind, improve their understanding of everything in their world or improve their ability to communicate in every way that reading will. And for all the parents whose children don’t go to college, all these things are highly valued by potential employers too.