This week, my good friend asked me when it was too early to start looking for the right fit college. We were catching up after a busy spring of work and travel...she on a sabbatical traveling the world and me, helping busy juniors develop college lists and potential summer plans for visits.
She's a dear friend and very supportive of my burgeoning business and career, always curious about how its growing and with whom I am working. I love our conversations. They give me a chance to talk about the college admission world with someone who isn't overly invested. My friend does not have children and like many of us back in the day, read a lot of brochures, typed her few applications on a typewriter and sent them off with little guidance or help from anyone - counselor or parent. Oh for the olden days! It's nice to reminisce about "when things were simpler" and kids lived with less pressure.
So, when exactly, is the "right" time to start looking at college? This is not as simple a question or answer that you might imagine. So much of our thoughts about education are informed by our parents, the environment in which we are raised and how the mentors in our life encourage future education plans. It's no accident that KIPP schools and other charter schools name their classrooms after colleges and universities and talk about college with their youngest students. Studies have shown that parents can influence the way their children think about education just by talking to them about it - academic socialization is important. Families with a strong college going culture begin the conversation early. Vacations can include a stroll through a campus. Dinner conversations can include talk about careers and required education. When students are sophomores and rising juniors a formal, structured search can begin through developing a list of match, likely, and reach school with school or independent counselors. If all goes well, the informing conversations of childhood will help lead a student to a college or university where s/he will be a good fit academically and socially.
Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an article about common financial mistakes parents make when paying/saving for college. The second mistake highlighted, was not opening a 529 account. (For those of you not aware, a 520 plan allows you to invest after tax money with no federal tax payment if the money is used for qualified higher education expenses. You can read more about it in the article!) As we all know, saving makes the most impact when done early. And often. I've often thought our elementary schools should encourage and develop opportunities for families to learn about colleges - not just conversations about how to gain access, but conversations about the impact of college on future earnings and the importance of saving for the experience. So really, conversations about college should begin as soon as you bring that bundle of joy home.
Encouraging a culture of "academic socialization", creating the conversations around educational expectations, and exposing your children to college beyond the exciting and often most publicized athletic programs are critical for developing a college going culture in your child. And, while you are talking about college....start saving for it, too!
Creator and founder of The Accepted Life and college admissions counselors shares her thoughts, musings, and insights into the college admissions process.