Don't just apply to college… Position yourself.

First day of high school

Your teenager is excited with anticipation, worried by insecurity.  You’ve cleaned out Staples and Aeropostale. OMG! Sometime this week, your kid will begin his first year of high school (in some areas, it has already begun!).

In some cases the transition is a bigger deal than others. If your teen is going from a local middle school to a regional high school, it means a larger, more annonymous environment requiring more independence. If your kid is going from a public to a private school setting, it will mean an entirely new set of classmates, possibly a ramping up of academic rigor, and humbling grade deflation.

It is the beginning of a new chapter of adolescent development. You have survived middle school, so you feel you can take on any challenge! You’re probably right. (From middle school, there’s nowhere to go but up.) But every developmental stage is unique. You’ll be facing dating, driving, drinking, drugs, defiance, depression, all the “D” words.  And it will end with your child’s  “d-parting” for college.

Guidebooks to the roller coaster ride that began when your child turned 13 include: The Primal Teen: What the New Discoveries About the Teenage Brain Tell Us About Our Kids by B. Strauch, Yes, Your Teen IS Crazy!: Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your Mind by M.J. Bradley, and of course,  Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall: A Parent’s Guide to the New Teenager, Revised & Updated by A.E. Wolf.

Since my focus is on college prep, here are 3 tips on what you can do now to help naturally position your 9th Grader for college without stress or overkill.

1. Take a 4-year planning approach to course selection. Meet with the guidance counselor early this fall for perspective. Of course, your 9th Grader is already enrolled for 9th Grade, but an early counselor meeting can determine if any modifications need to be made. The minimum “college prep” curriculum for most U.S. colleges includes:

  • 4 years of English, including literature and composition
  • 3 years of math, including algebra I & II and geometry
  • 3 of laboratory science, including biology and chemistry
  • 3 years of social studies/science, including geography, U.S. History, world cultures
  • 2 years of the same world language

College Board advises a fourth year of math (trig, calculus or statistics), says many colleges require more than two years of foreign language, suggests arts electives to exercise the mind in unique ways, and a computer course.

I cannot stress enough the value of optimizing academic options, ensuring your teen can qualify for Advanced Placement courses junior or senior year. Some schools require an honors class as a prerequisite for AP, with a grade cutoff. Some schools have an entry test, because they don’t have enough AP sections to accommodate everyone.

This is why it is critical to meet with the guidance counselor to understand your school’s requirements. Does your teen need to be in all honors or AP courses? No! You don’t want him to be overwhelmed. Every student has to find a balance for his skill set and interests. In my view, it is better to get mostly A’s in a combination of AP, honors and regular courses than all B’s in all AP courses. Advise your teen to pick subjects in which he excels, and go for advanced versions of those courses.

Try not to be talked into a “no honors” approach by an overly conservative  counselor or an underconfident student. This will lock him out of advanced classes from the get-go and limit him flexibility. Encourage your student to go for at least one honor course this year if he can get access.

2. Don’t overdo extra-curricular activities. Your freshman will encounter major challenges this year (physiological, emotional, social). Academics will ramp up big time vs. middle school, and suddenly it counts. A 9th Grade transcript blip will not be the end of the world, but it will interfere with establishing a solid starting GPA and preclude entry to advanced classes later on. Avoid transcript disasters by resisting the temptation to overbook extra-curriculars.

3. Begin financial preparation for college. It’s never too early for this. Become acquainted with the “pay for college” landscape by reading Pay for College without Sacrificing Your Retirement: A Guide to Your Financial Future by Tim Higgins. Become familiar with Kiplinger.com/money. Ask your guidance counselor about community workshops for parents on financial aid. Talk to your accountant or financial advisor about investing for college through 529 plans.

For more tips on navigating the early years of high school, check my post: 10 Things You Can Do for Your College-Bound 10th Grader. I welcome comments from parents who have survived the “white water” of high school! Related posts: What Is Important to Colleges? Top Ten Factors, Antidotes for the Race to Nowhere, Not Just Getting into College: Parenting for Purpose, Honorable Adulthood.