Particularly for students interested in more selective colleges, grades matter a great deal. Communicate your expectations before your student enters high school but avoid placing undue pressure about grades. Teens should not get the message they have to be perfect. Especially during the 9th grade transition, help provide support by setting up a good study environment. If your teen is struggling with grades seek out help from teachers, counselors, or tutors as necessary. If your teen is struggling to get good grades, begin by looking carefully at screen time. So often when students say they are overwhelmed by homework they are mixing it with gaming, texting, social media, and Internet surfing. Don’t be afraid to provide the structure and support your student needs to be successful and develop good habits.
Encourage Extracurricular Involvement
Involvement in extracurricular activities such as band, sports, clubs, or community service are an important part of high school for most students. Extracurriculars aren’t just important for college admissions, they are a huge part of self confidence and finding community for most teens. If your son is not a natural joiner help him explore the range of options and strongly encourage him to become involved in at least one activity per season. Realize there are a huge range of offerings now from game clubs to political organizations, so even if some of the traditional activities like sports aren’t of interest, there are plenty of other options. If your daughter is the type to join every activity she can, try to encourage her to be realistic and choose to concentrate on a smaller number. Quality is more important than sheer quantity of activities so especially as high school goes on finding a few really important commitments may be more meaningful than being secretary of every club under the sun. It is also important to be aware that the time demands for many extracurricular activities are different than they were a generation ago. Many high schools expect that a student not play multiple sports but invest more time in one sport year round. Genuine engagement with community service is a highly attractive trait for college applicants.
Plan for Testing
Test scores are one of the most important factors in college admissions. Most students should expect to prepare for the SAT or ACT and to take these tests more than once. During 9th and 10th grade your child’s school may offer the PLAN, which is a “pre-ACT” test, or the PSAT 9/10, which is a predicting test for the SAT. These tests offer a way for students to begin to practice test skills and to get a ballpark prediction of how they may score on the ACT or SAT. Colleges do not see the results of the “pre” tests so they can be a lower pressure way to try out testing. Most serious college applicants will ultimately do some preparation for the ACT or SAT.
Look Long Term – Explore Career and Lifeskills
It is common, even for students entering college, to not know what they want to do for a career. That said, early high school is a good time to begin these explorations. Some ways to begin to explore careers include online resources, academic extracurriculars, job shadowing family friends, internships, volunteering, and career oriented summer camps. Early high school is also a good time to start to think ahead about the life skills you’d like your child to have when they leave for college. Think about skills like stress management, laundry, simple cooking, and financial management.
While most students don’t begin formal college visits until 11th or 12th grade, it can be helpful to set foot on college campuses earlier. These informal visits can be in conjunction with a family vacation, summer camps, or attending cultural events college campus. While you want to keep this a very low pressure experience, it can be incredibly helpful to getting teens thinking about college. This can help teens start to get a feel for different sizes and types of colleges and for some it acts as a motivator to pay attention to their grades.