The first step to begin preparing your middle schooler for college is to begin an ongoing conversation with her about continuing education. The more you talk about the opportunities a college degree affords, the more likely is it she will view college as a natural step after high school. Additionally, if your child knows you believe in her and in her ability to succeed, she will push herself further.
While preliminary searches on the web are great, there is no better way to get excited about a university than to walk its sidewalks, people watch in the library and cheer at a football game. Make it a point on every family vacation to visit the local college campus. On long weekends, load up the car to visit campuses within driving distance. Let your child see the difference between in-state and out-of-state schools, big city and small community campuses and public versus private institutions. This exposure will help solidify the conversation seed and provide direction in the future.
Your middle schooler will likely change his mind as to what he wants to study and “be” when he grows up. While this is perfectly normal and encouraged, it is also a good time for you to help him explore his interests. The more opportunities he has with hands-on experience, the more secure he is going to be when it is time to decide on a university and major. Start simple by taking him to work with you and arranging for him to shadow your friends. As he matures, you can look for more opportunities for him to experience other fields.
After your child has latched on to the idea of college, she must begin preparing academically. At the middle school level it is wise to start taking pre-AP and honors courses. Beginning this academic track positions your child to potentially earn college credits in high school. It is also advisable to begin studying Greek and Latin. The study of these languages develops the mind in a unique way that enhances critical thinking skills and results in higher SAT scores. If studying Latin is out of reach, learning root words is a great substitute.
Eventually, when your middle schooler becomes a college student, the university will mail you their tuition statement. Do not wait until then to determine how you are going to pay for your child's schooling — make a plan now. The hope is that by planning ahead you will have enough saved to offset his scholarships and grants — which he will earn through his academic planning — and give your child the best gift of all: a debt-free education.
Let your child start a collection of university T-shirts, pendants or stickers from each campus you visit. When the time comes for her to apply to colleges, she'll have a record of every campus she's visited.
More college tips
Top 10 majors for 2013
Does your college student need renters insurance?
Top tech for college-bound kids