College Prep Starts Early

If you really want to prepare your kids for college, starting them young – like when they are babies or in kindergarten – isn’t crazy. There’s a reason some parents stress over getting their children into the best pre-schools and making sure they read to their kids in the womb. You want to set up a love for learning and a strong educational foundation, so there’s never any doubt that your child will go to college. Plus, given how expensive college is, it’s never too early to start saving by opening an NC 529 Plan.

Still, if you didn’t start an NC 529 Plan when your kids were born, it’s not the end of the world, and most kids can afford to be a second-grade slacker. But by middle school, hopefully, you’re well on your way to saving for college and your child is getting very serious about his or her studies. It may sound wildly premature, but the work your child is doing in middle school can literally help take them to college. Seriously, consider this:

If possible, your kid needs to take challenging courses. In many middle schools, kids can take pre-AP math (that is, math that prepares them for Advanced Placement high school math) and earn high school credit. Why is that a big deal? Because they will start high school with high school credits and that can sometimes give your child a jump into participating in dual college programs. That is, your son or daughter can take classes that offer credits for both high school and college.

And why is that a big deal? A couple of reasons: Your kid can start college with credits, which will translate into a slightly overall smaller tuition bill. Plus, having taken a few classes in high school for college credit, your child should feel more prepared for college. (High school classes that give college credit are just as demanding as the classes your kid will take at a university, but without the tuition-heavy prices.)

It’s time to start thinking about the SAT and ACT. Some education consultants suggest that parents get their kids a PSAT practice book in middle school. You don’t have to go overboard; you could have them answer, say, four or five questions a day as part of their routine. Yes, it sounds extreme and impractical considering everything that your children have going on, from afterschool activities to homework and studying for tests. But if you do start getting into a PSAT routine, where your kids work in the practice book, think how unstressed you and your kids will be when it is actually time to take the SAT and ACT.

Stay involved with your kid’s middle and high school career. It’s tempting, especially as your child is in his or her last months of middle school, and as he or she becomes a high school freshman, to pull back on focusing on their education. The parent-teacher conferences, at most high schools, dwindle or end. Plus, your kid doesn’t quite seem like a kid anymore. But teenagers, no matter how sure of themselves they sound, don’t always have their facts together. They may tell you that they don’t need to take a foreign language, which may be technically true at the high school, but most colleges require freshman to have taken at least two years of a foreign language. If you let your kid handle his or her high school career, you may be in for an unpleasant shock later.

It’s understandable that you may not want to think about college if your child is in middle school. You love your children, and you’re in no hurry to pack their bags and see them move onto their adult lives. But helping them with their transition to college is, obviously, a big part of a parent’s responsibility, and just as you’re probably thanking your younger self if you started saving for college early, your future self will be grateful if you start poking around now and research financial aid and what school your child might want to attend.

This is a group effort and a family affair, and while it’s never too early to start preparing for college, you definitely don’t want to someday find yourself thinking – oh, no, we’ve started too late.