Preparing Your Child for College

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Ways Parents and Students Can Start Preparing for College

When your child is in high school and preparing for college, as a parent, it’s a stressful time. This is an important time in your child’s life, which means it’s an important time in your life as well. Fortunately, there are a number of things you could do that might make the process a bit easier.

Fun Fact

23% of full-time undergrads 24 or younger work 20 hours or more per week.*

How to Prepare for College: What Not to Do

As you learn how to prepare for college, it can seem like there are too many different aspects to keep track of. Your child needs to study for standardized tests, research schools, and consider different majors and careers, all while maintaining grades and participating in extracurricular activities. You may be worried they can’t handle it all.

However, this is a point in your child’s life where they begin developing habits and skills that may help them going forward. Therefore, it’s important that you let them perform these tasks on their own and not take over. Instead, your responsibility is to help guide them in their decisions, prepare them for the challenges they may face both before college and once there, and gather your own research.

Ways Parents Can Prepare Their Child for College

Preparing for college, just like life, is about balance. Helping your child (or children) prepare for college is centered around gaining information, having open discussions with them, and providing a supportive environment.

Below are a few tips on how to prepare for college to get you started.

Start Saving Money

Ideally, parents start saving money for college as soon as their child is born. However, that’s not always possible. Still, you should start putting money aside as soon as possible.

Nearly every state has a 529 Plan in place, which offers parents an opportunity to save money for their children’s college education. In the majority of plans, your choice of school is not affected and tax incentives, similar to a 401K or IRA, may be available.

However, every state has different rules, so be sure to check to see all your options. This is also a good point to create a user ID with FAFSA and research different financial aid opportunities.

Attend Financial Aid and College Nights

When it comes to how to prepare for college, one of the best starting points are the college fairs or financial aid nights that many high schools host.

These are great opportunities for you and your child to talk to representatives from various schools. On top of getting valuable information, it might also be a great way to start a conversation with your child. For instance, you could have an open discussion about if your child wants to stay close to home or is more interested in going across the country.

Attend a few of these events and talk to as many different schools as possible. Then, take the information, and help your child create a list of questions for their guidance counselor as they start the college planning process.

Explore Scholarship Opportunities

While it’s important to teach your child how to be independent, it’s also important to help them through the toughest parts.

Searching for scholarship opportunities can be one of the more tedious processes of college planning. Sitting down with your child and helping them sludge through various requirements can help keep them motivated and potentially find some scholarships that meet their current academic standing.

One of the best tips is to focus on local or regional scholarships. While they typically award less than national scholarships, they usually have less applicants, which means less competition. Start there, then check out other scholarship databases. And don’t forget to see if scholarships are offered at the schools themselves!

Emphasize Learning

College should be a time of intellectual exploration and growth. To help your child prepare for college, emphasize learning in the household. This means playing a motivating role and stressing the pleasures of reading. You could also try taking trips to museums, theater, and other learning environments.

Set an example of life time learning and it may rub off on your child. They might begin reading more for pleasure and seeking out new educational experiences.

Encourage Independence

Your child is preparing to enter adulthood and experience complete independence for the first time. Therefore, it is up to you to help prepare them for the challenges they may face over the next four years.

One way is to give them experience in being independent. This means pushing them to find new extracurricular activities or working part-time, all while maintaining their grades and performing college research. Fostering independence may also mean stepping back a little. Allow them to succeed (or fail) on their own. Of course, you can still be there to help and issue friendly reminders. Think of this time as a test run for college, with you still standing nearby.

Explore Careers and Majors

One of the most important steps to helping prepare for college is understanding what your child wants from his or her postsecondary degree. There are plenty of resources available both online and in print about industries that are expected to grow over the next ten to fifteen years and what majors those industries are seeking.

This may be a great way to help guide your child to a major that will not only challenge them, but also provide valuable skills and knowledge that may help them after graduation. Plus, it may provide you with useful information to help support your child’s long term goals.

Ask Questions

In trying to create an open dialogue with your child about their college planning, it’s important to ask questions. Many teenagers don’t respond well when their parents tell them what to do, especially when it comes to important decisions like choosing a college and a major. Some teens may make this more difficult by not divulging as much information as you’d like, but be persistent.

You might ask about careers and majors they’re interested in, schools that have caught their eye, and what’s important to them as they prepare for the next step in their life. Stay open to their answers.prepare for college They may surprise you. Then offer feedback and ask clarifying questions to help them further their thinking.

Visit Colleges

One of the most important steps in the college planning process is visiting a number of schools. This is the only way to get a feel for the vibe and culture.

Colleges and universities make it easy for you to visit the school through open house events and tours. These are great opportunities for you and your child to experience a college firsthand. Make a list of questions to ask on a college tour. Then, after visiting a number of schools, you and your child can narrow the list together.

Narrow The List of Colleges

As your child progresses into their junior year, it is important to narrow down their favorite schools. This doesn’t mean going from an initial list straight down to the list of schools they are applying to.

Instead, take time with the process so that you may find a perfect school for you and your child. This means requesting more information from a variety of schools to see what types of programs they offer and to see if it fits with your child’s goals and expectations.

With these steps, and a positive environment that encourages learning, you and your child could work together to find a perfect school for them.


Things to Do to Get Ready for College: High School Students

As mentioned above, there are a number of ways parents could help their children prepare for college. However, there are plenty of things that students should do themselves while performing their own college planning, some of which are listed below. Keep these in mind and give your child a friendly nudge when necessary to help move them forward.

Do the Work

College is more difficult than high school. But, getting into college is a lot of work as well and includes many responsibilities. This includes narrowing down the list of schools, preparing for standardized tests, and getting involved in extracurricular activities.

These shouldn’t be reasons for your child to skimp on schoolwork however. Instead, they should focus even more on getting good grades and taking challenging courses. This may prepare them for the rigors of the college classroom.


Reading is a great way to prepare for school and expand one’s thinking. Therefore, recommend that your child put aside time every day to read. This includes fiction and nonfiction, as well as blogs and news articles. While reading, ask them to try to think of different ways the article might have been written or for holes in arguments.

This type of in-depth reading could be good practice for the amount of work your child may need to do while in college. Plus, setting aside a bit of time each day may help with your child’s time management.

Learn Time Management Skills

With all the different responsibilities and requirements in college, learning time management skills is one of the keys to success. Plus, this is a skill that your child could start working on while still in high school.

As they learn how to prepare for college one thing they could do is set aside an hour a day for college research and studying for standardized exams, and a half hour for the reading mentioned above. By sticking to a schedule and making lists of various assignments, they could develop good habits in time management and multi-tasking. And when done properly, your child should still have plenty of time for friends and family.

Involve Friends and Family

Preparing for college should include involving loved ones. This is one of the most stressful times in your child’s life, as there are so many different aspects all demanding attention. Try not to allow your child to swallow that stress.

Instead, have your child reach out and ask friends and family for support. More often than not, they’re glad to help. This could include assisting with homework, answering questions about various majors or careers, and sharing their experiences in college.

While most of their advice may not apply directly to your child, it’s still important to hear and understand the perspectives of others. They may say something that your child may not have thought of on their own. Or reinforce ideas you’ve shared in the past.

Take Standardized Tests

As your child’s junior year begins and into their senior year, it’s time to take the standardized tests. This may include:

  • PSAT
  • SAT
  • ACT

Studying for these tests is probably the most common, and well known, way to prepare for college. Your child should be studying throughout their sophomore and junior years, and of course into their senior year, to prepare for these tests. There may also be courses, guide books or other resources available to support their studies. Ask your child what might be most useful to them. Everyone is different, so ensure you help provide the type of support they need.

Find a Perfect School for You

With these tips in mind, you’re ready to move the college preparations forward. Take the next step to find a perfect school for you and your child. Click on any of the sponsored listings to read program descriptions. You can even learn about various programs, curriculum, and request more information directly from your favorites. Good luck!


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