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How to expose your child to college at a young age

For many adults, high school or perhaps middle school marked an introduction to the world of college. In their freshman, sophomore and junior years, they embarked on school tours and read glossy brochures. And while current high schoolers still do similar things, so do students in grades as young as kindergarten. Why?

Early exposure to college can spark an interest in higher education, as well as motivation to perform to one’s full academic potential. Here are three ways you can explore college with your young child, whether she is in first or fifth grade.

1. Visit local campuses

Very young students, such as those in first and second grade, often connect to the world through their senses; through sights and sounds, for instance. If you plan to introduce the concept of college to your child for the first time, consider doing so with a campus field trip. Sitting in on a 100-level philosophy lecture may not appeal to your student, but visiting the university bookstore might. If your child enjoys athletics, you may even be able to secure free or inexpensive tickets to a basketball game or a student dance showcase. As you explore the campus, explain the purpose of college to your student, as well as the general steps that people take to reach this educational stage (for example, “Do you see number four? She worked very hard in school and in soccer practice to play for this university.”).

2. Participate in mentorship opportunities

Many college students choose to volunteer in the communities that surround their schools, and these opportunities can enable your child to learn from and ask questions of individuals who are currently in college. Whether your student receives after-school assistance in math or perfects her softball pitch with the help of a mentor, encourage her to ask questions. A role model who is enthusiastic about his or her experience at university can inspire your child to strive for the same. Speaking with a college student can teach your third- or fourth-grade child about majors, living away from home and behaviors that lead to success (for instance, “Math is hard for me too, so I try to do five practice problems each day. Maybe we can practice together.”).

3. Link current goals to university research

By the time students reach the latter portion of elementary school (i.e. fifth grade), they can often identify and achieve academic goals with some support. They may also have a tentative picture of their future in mind; a career with animals, for example. While no child should be expected to conclusively settle on her future at this age, you can capitalize on the goals she sets in her classroom. If your student’s teacher asks her to research a career field that interests her, for example, you can investigate veterinary programs together online. Department Instagram accounts, student videos, virtual facility tours and so on can all paint a vivid picture of college life. A detail that seems small to you may take root in your child’s mind and drive her to one day apply at that school.

For more tips and strategies to help your student succeed in school, visit

Image: Steve Dabenport/Getty Images

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