By Jeannine Harrell, Guile Contreras, Sarah Fleischauer, and Kerry Tousignant

Even though your middle school-age child’s college and career may seem to be off in the distant future, there are some seeds that you can plant even today that will help set the stage for your child to be successful later in life. Yesterday, we offered some tips for getting started planting these seeds. Today, we’ll cover some of the factors to consider over the coming years to help your child get on the path to college and career readiness:

Academics and course selection

Even though colleges may not emphasize grades earned in middle school, how your student performs affects which classes they may take in high school. Students who enroll in Honors, AP or IB courses are more desirable applicants for many colleges. In addition, students who get good grades in AP and IB courses may receive college credit, which will save you and your child time and money.

Teacher Recommendations

Teacher recommendations can greatly influence your child’s college applications. Getting practice in establishing positive relationships with their current teachers will empower your student to do the same with their future high school teachers. Teachers can be a great resource for scholarship information, too.

Test Scores

Middle school students are still learning how to create and stick to positive study habits. Help your student identify areas of improvement now. In a couple years, they’ll be ready for the PSAT, the practice exam for the SAT.

Extracurricular Activities

Does your daughter like building models? Is your son a musical virtuoso? Start brainstorming with your child about their interests and hobbies, and how they can incorporate these by volunteering at their school or in the community. Developing skills and interests now will make it easier for your child to get involved in high school and become a more competitive applicant for colleges and scholarships.

Financial planning

It’s never too early or too late to begin saving for college. College is expensive, but with financial planning, federal student aid and scholarships, you can limit the extent to which money will bar your child from higher education. Include your child in family conversation about finances, especially if he or she will be responsible for some or all of the cost of their education. Though it may seem early to think about financial aid, understanding the nuances of tuition and scholarships will help give you ideas for the most beneficial extracurricular activities and academic tracks for your child.

  • The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is one way to receive financial assistance. FAFSA4caster is a tool to estimate your child’s eligibility for federal student aid. It also takes into account various types of loans and grants. Even if you think you make too much money to be eligible, it is worthwhile to use this and other resources.
  • Besides FAFSA, take a look at other forms of financial aid like scholarships and/or grants. The Office of Federal Student Aid has a terrific guide to finding and applying to scholarships. Additionally, a growing number of educational institutions aim to meet the full financial need of all accepted students. Though private schools tend to have higher tuition compared to public institutions, a school with a promising financial incentive may require less tuition overall.

While your child is in middle school, it’s important to not put a lot of pressure on these college and career conversations. This is a great time for your child to explore their interests and begin to dream of what their future will look like. By supporting your child’s success from this early age, your child can feel supported in looking ahead to a bright and successful future!

Jeannine Harrell, Guile Contreras, Sarah Fleischauer, and Kerry Tousignant are students in the Master’s in School Counseling Program in the UNCG Department of Counseling and Educational Development.