As an educational consultant who helps students and families with their college pursuits, I am often asked, “When is the best time to sign up for your services?” The easy response is “sometime during the Junior year of high school.” Yet perhaps the question is too simple. The more valuable question is “When can you help me prepare my child for college?”
Here are some tips to help parents prepare children for the best-possible education.
Begin with the understanding that the finest universities in America prefer applicants who are both deep in their achievements and well-rounded. They evaluate not only academic prowess and potential, but also contribution and performance in non-academic activities such as extracurriculars, athletics, community service, even hobbies. Colleges also want good citizens, people who will contribute to their campuses and to each other, applicants with superior human qualities. The vast majority of American colleges seek more than good grades and good test scores.
There are three basic parenting styles. Children who receive little to no attention from their parents usually suffer bad results. Children who live in homes where parents restrain their activities so as to protect them from danger often don’t know how to extend themselves as adults. This is common with parents who grew up outside of the U.S. However, children whose parents support and push them to try new things learn to do new things naturally.
As a starting point, if you want your child to achieve in the American college system, then adopt the American system of child-rearing: ensure that your child is involved socially, in activities, and in new things.
Next, realize that children are children. Give them fewer options when they are very young, then give them more responsibility as they grow. Young children have not developed enough mentally to handle multiple ideas; the “kid in a candy store” doesn’t know how to decide what to buy. However, as they approach high school, adjust your parenting style. It is fine if they want to be involved in various school activities, but let them know that they are responsible for their school work as well as everything they do. Step back slightly to allow children to step forward responsibly.
When guiding children, always lean towards providing them with inspiration. Children don’t understand negatives as well as they understand positives. When they struggle with their studies, don’t take away their favorite activities; students who have lost the things that they enjoy do not hold the kind of attitude that promotes quality studying. Keep their glasses half full, not half empty.
Children also don’t understand the world from an adult perspective. High school classrooms look very much like the classrooms in elementary schools, and through the eyes of children, schools can look and feel like jail or prison. Show them that something more amazing lies ahead. When students are in middle school or junior high, take them to a college. Just the sight of a lot of different buildings will let them know that there is something different awaiting them. With a valuable goal in sight, their school efforts gain purpose.
Help them find things that they enjoy. Do not push them towards activities that you think will help them get into a great college. You can never guess what the colleges want. Yet if a student deeply enjoys something, he or she will naturally try harder and achieve more. American colleges look for student achievement, and that happens when applicants love what they do. Remember that activities need not be those offered in a high school. American universities highly value original effort and thought, so don’t limit opportunities to what is placed immediately in front of your child.
Finally, while you’re directing your children towards academics and activities, remember that the best teaching comes from example, not by words. Teenagers don’t always listen to parents. Instead of trying to regulate them by words, teach them by your own example. When dealing with your child, change the proverb from “Do as I say” to “Do as I do.” Children emulate what they observe in you.