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College Planning Without Being a Pest: Tips for Your Potential Procrastinator

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Updated on Aug 19, 2010

Teens constantly hear that a college education is necessary for a successful future. In 2008 nearly 69 percent of high school graduates went straight to college, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But what if your teen isn’t making any effort to join them?

Experts say there’s no need to panic. Although numerous college-preparation checklists say teens should start plotting their paths to college once they start high school (sometimes even sooner!), the real work – taking entrance exams and studying potential colleges – starts junior year.

“My experience is that most kids get serious about thinking about college the second half of their junior year,” says Jim Jump, Academic Dean and Director of Guidance at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, Virginia. Before then, he says, parents shouldn’t push it.

But parents don’t need to wait that long to get their kids thinking about life after high school. Counselor Sally Rubenstone, co-director of College Karma and co-founder of College Confidential, two organizations that offer a range of services for college-bound students, says parents can plant the idea of college in their kids’ heads when they’re younger by taking some trips to visit different college campuses. If you live near a campus or are traveling near one, take the kids there for some fun outings. Maybe your child would enjoy a college basketball game, a concert on campus or a visit to an interesting statue near the library. “They’ll start to be comfortable with the idea of going to college and might even get excited about it,” Rubenstone says.

But not every child is going to jump for joy at the thought of college. Here are some tips to help jump-start your potential procrastinator’s planning:

Steer Clear of Nagging

“Parents should be askers of questions rather than providers of answers,” says Jump, president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Instead of nagging your teen to take the SATs, ask open-ended questions in conversation with your teen. How does your teen picture her ideal college campus? What are her hopes for the future? These questions will get your child thinking about college and how she sees her future unfolding.

Discuss Majors

Rubenstone suggests sitting down with your child and listing some college majors, including the usual suspects like English and Biology, along with majors like Video Game Design and Sports Communication. Rubenstone says to then have your teen to place a check next to all of the majors she thinks she could study and circle the majors that sound cool interesting to her. The next step is finding colleges offering those majors. For that, Rubenstone recommends the College Board’s online College MatchMaker. Thinking about majors before she needs to check a box on her application will help your child not to feel overwhelmed by the idea of higher education and get her on track heading toward her future goals.

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