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When and how you should begin talking to your kids about college

Carolyn Rahaman is a professional SSAT tutor and contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. She holds a Master's degree in Learning Sciences from Northwestern University.

Introducing your student to the conversation about college can commence even in the earlier stages of her life. Use these strategies as a guide to begin conversing with your child about the higher education in her future.

It is never too early to begin speaking with your student about college, just as it is never too early to begin saving for that higher education. The sooner you share your expectations and hopes, the better.

Elementary school

When it comes to young children, there is certainly no need to pressure them about choosing a major or participating in extracurricular activities to improve their eventual chances of acceptance. However, you can still introduce the concept of college. Talk to your student about what she wants to be when she grows up. Mention that college is an academic step she will need to take to accomplish that goal. If your child recognizes that college can unlock her dreams, she will be more likely to readily accept that higher education will be part of her life.

Emphasize, even at an early age, that school is important. Create an environment at home that is nurturing and supportive of your student's academic career. Do not mock your child's studies or imply that there are more important things than schoolwork that she could be doing.

Middle school

Start speaking more directly with your student about her academic strengths and interests. You might consider talking about what courses she might like to take when in high school, as well as her options regarding private versus public school, etc.

In middle school, your child's goals for the future will become more reasonable. She will develop a better understanding of her abilities and her weaknesses. Be sure to listen to your student's wants, rather than forcing yours onto her. If she hopes to study literature, for instance, do not insist that history is a smarter career path.

Share your fun college experiences or how your education was critical in your life. If you discuss the disappointing parts of your college experience, frame it in such a way that your student understands that her time can be different and better.

High school

Your child must begin to seriously get ready for college while in high school, as her actions here directly affect her applications. She will need to focus on grades, class choices, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation and extracurricular activities. Be sure to speak to your student about the importance of each of these components, and encourage her to start preparing in freshman year. This can help to eliminate some of the stress of the college admissions process.

This is also the ideal time to talk about which colleges would be ideal for her, as well as to narrow in on potential majors. Visiting these campuses is a great opportunity to discuss campus life, course work, employment, independence, internships and so on.

The main things to be mindful of through all age ranges are to be respectful of your child's dreams and talents, to make your expectations clear and to position college as a simple fact of life. Be honest, open and upbeat about this eventual stage in your student's education.

For more tips and strategies to help your student succeed in school, visit www.varsitytutors.com.

Photo credit: Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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