It’s never too early to plan for college

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marilyn-morrison90BY MARILYN C. MORRISON

Students in elementary and middle school should start planning for college now. “That sounds crazy!” you might protest. “My kids are still in Cub Scouts, T-ball, and tutus!” It’s not farfetched, however, when you realize that early planning is actually the best way to reduce stress and anxiety about college admissions while simultaneously increasing a student’s chances of being a strong applicant in a progressively competitive pool. This early college planning is all about developing students’ solid study skills while nurturing their individual passions and talents.

Try following these steps to help students make the most of their childhoods as they grow into curious, interesting citizens:

  • Establish the expectation of college in your home. Talk to your children about when they will go to college, not if.
  • Show your children that you value education. Set clear expectations for their behavior regarding school and homework. Treat school as their “job”-try to schedule dentist appointments and vacations so that your children don’t have to miss class.
  • Help your children develop good study habits. Make sure they have a quiet, well-lit place to study, and time to do it. Provide resources such as paper, pens, a dictionary, Internet access, software programs, and a library card.
  • Read, read, read! Encourage your children to read, and read to them as long as they’ll let you. Demonstrate your own love of reading and share your reactions about the books you’ve read. Subscribe to the newspaper and discuss current events.
  • Keep in touch with your child’s teachers and guidance counselors. This gets more difficult as children get older, but it’s vitally important in every grade. Always attend Back-to-School Night, teacher conferences, and parent meetings.
  • Expose your children to new and enriching experiences. Take advantage of local museums, concerts, library events, parks, nature centers, craft fairs, farmer’s markets, art galleries, and other free or low-cost activities.
  • Support your children’s hobbies and interests. In elementary and middle school, you can let them experiment, but by high school, encourage them to choose one or two things to which they can show commitment, dedication, and leadership. Remember that there are no right or wrong hobbies, as long as the student is passionate about them.
  • Encourage a healthy balance of school and play. Becoming an academic “machine” is not the pathway to college acceptance.
  • Introduce students to a variety of college campuses. Here in Los Angeles, there are many opportunities to attend concerts, art shows, and sporting events on local campuses. When you’re on vacation in another part of the country, stop at a college campus to visit their museum, eat lunch in the cafeteria, or just walk around. Also, look into the many summer camps that are held on college campuses.
  • Keep an open mind about colleges at all times. Don’t try to choose one yet, and discourage your child from doing so. Be open to colleges that are not famous brand-name schools, and be especially open to considering small liberal arts colleges. Make sure that your goal is finding the right fit for your child, without using anyone else’s measure of which college is “best.”
  • Save money for college! Start as early as possible, even if it’s just a little at a time. Ask grandparents and other relatives to contribute. Don’t ever think that your child should not apply to college or won’t be able to attend just because you don’t have the money, or you think it will be too expensive. A private college with a high sticker price and good financial aid can cost less out-of-pocket than a state university that offers little financial aid.

By establishing good study habits and academic expectations early, and encouraging your children’s individuality and passions, you will be doing more to prepare them to be strong college applicants than if you focus only on their grades or push them to participate in activities that don’t interest them. Remember to begin college planning now, but save college searching and deciding until 11th and 12th grade. Don’t panic-this is a case where “slow and steady wins the race.”

Marilyn C. Morrison is an independent college consultant who guides students and families through the college planning and application process. Visit Morrison Educational Consulting’s website at, or contact Marilyn at (818) 781-3476 or

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.