College and Beyond

I remember someone making the pronouncement that all grades before high school are simply practice for the real thing. The statement was made in reference to applying for college. Those of us who have been indoctrinated into the college application process know that the critical years are tenth, eleventh, and twelfth, with eleventh grade being the lynchpin.

I agree with the statement about the importance of the high school years, but if your child hasn’t been committed to learning and exercising his skills during the practice years, he’s not going to be triumphant in high school. My husband used to tell our daughter that the key to winning (referring to basketball) starts in practice. He would say, “If you’re not going to go hard in practice, you’re not going to go hard in the game.” So, before we move into a discussion about the high school years, I encourage you to recall what was discussed in the three Education posts (September, October, and November 2015).

Preparing for College Admission

Ninth grade is a transition year. It’s your child’s opportunity to get accustomed to the new routine of high school. Give her some leeway to figure things out, as she’s being introduced to a different level of coursework, social scene, athletic competition, etc. which all require a different level of maturity. Some students are better at navigating the labyrinth, while others get turned around. Be attuned to what’s going on, and be especially mindful of their relationships (see February post about Relationships). Definitely make sure that she continues to give her all academically.

When colleges review your child’s transcript, they recognize ninth grade as a transition year and are far more forgiving if those grades don’t reflect your child’s best effort. That’s, of course, if the 10th, 11th, and 12th year grades are in the good to stellar range. However, if all four years are marginal, your child’s prospects of getting into competitive universities or colleges (if that’s the goal) aren’t likely. But even if that’s the case, he still has the option of transferring to a preferred school if he works hard and does really well during the freshman and sophomore years of college.

In addition to giving his all academically, your child should establish himself as a contributing member of the high school community. There are opportunities to distinguish oneself through service (leadership and community service), athletics, and the arts. If your child has paid employment during the school year in addition to participating in extra-curricular activities, she should highlight that in her application or when talking with representatives from college admissions offices. If work precludes your child from participating in the life of the school, she wants to emphasize that fact to admissions officers, as well. For example, if your child must work to contribute to the household (paid employment, babysitting a younger sibling so parents can work, etc.), it’s imperative that she convey that on their college application because it speaks to her tenacity, maturity, and work ethic, among other characteristics.

In terms of academic rigor in high school courses, your child should challenge himself. Easy classes will not adequately prepare him for college-level work. If your child is the first in the family to attend college, or his high school college advising is not up to par or non-existent, direct him to this link, It provides a plan for everything he needs to do from ninth through twelfth grades. The site is also helpful if your child isn’t the first in the family to attend college but needs more direction than their college advising department is providing.

The eleventh grade year is crucial, as it’s the most advanced full year’s coursework that admissions offices will see as part of the application. Remember, applications are due in November of senior year for early application and January for regular decision. The third and fourth quarter grades from senior year are sent after your child is accepted.

Eleventh grade is also the time of high-stakes testing. The PSAT is required for every student whether they’re attending college or not. And your child should take the SAT or ACT for the first time in the winter or spring of junior year. If your child scores well on the PSAT, the scores will be sent to colleges which can translate into recruitment and scholarship offers even before she submits a college application. The PSAT is an important piece of the college admissions process. Make sure that your child takes is seriously.

Both of our children took an SAT prep course the summer before eleventh grade. The course prepared them for the PSAT and the subsequent SAT (there’s no need to take a separate prep course for both; the SAT prep sufficiently prepares for both). All prep courses aren’t equal. If you’re going to shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars (it was a precipitous drop in price from the time our son took it to four years later when our daughter enrolled in the course), you want to have some guarantee of improved performance. Look for programs that offer a guarantee. If you prefer to forgo a program or cannot afford the cost, encourage your child to study on her own. Go to the test-prep section of any bookstore or search online for guides and resources.

Encourage your child to make good use of teachers. Ask English teachers to review college essays and give feedback to ensure that the writing reflects his best effort. Lastly, he should not procrastinate. Your child should plan to have all applications complete at least a week in advance of the deadline. That way, he’ll have ample time to review the submissions and feel confident that he’s presenting his best self before hitting the “send” button. He should also check-in on teachers who are writing recommendations and on the college advising office to be sure that materials are being submitted on time.

If your child is going to undertake post-secondary training other than college, she needs to approach the process with the same focused energy required for the college admissions process. Start early, stay on top of deadlines (tests, recommendations, applications), seek out test prep courses or self-guided resources, and prepare for interviews.

Developing the Professional Self

After learning that our son was headed to Yale, a Harvard alum said, “No one has ever asked me about my GPA. Go to school and have fun. Just don’t flunk out.” Our son never came close to flunking out. He was more than adequately prepared to ace college. And he absolutely had fun. He played intermural and club sports, traveled the world, and joined social societies. Our daughter, too, is now enjoying the college experience. She plays club sports, mentors in the St. Louis community, and is an active member of various school-sponsored organizations and social societies.

Unless your child is on a track that leaves little time for extracurriculars, or he has to spend considerable hours working, he should approach college as an opportunity to explore interests, and begin to hone his professional identity. Encourage him to use elective credits to learn about subjects that pique his curiosity. In addition to studying and doing the required coursework, he should get involved in the community – through sports, the arts, social organizations, etc. These are opportunities to form bonds with other students and administrators that will invariably become opportunities to learn, grow, and establish a network.

This is also the time to begin preparing for life after college. Summer internships provide exposure to professional etiquette and environments. Your child will also begin building a professional resume which will make her more marketable for post-college pursuits. Shortly after arriving to campus, she should visit the office responsible for internships, and familiarize herself with the application and interview processes. You should strongly encourage her to take advantage of all resources such as mock interviews, resume writing workshops, etc. Before she goes on an interview, make sure that your college student is well-versed and in possession of appropriate interview attire. There are plenty of resource sites on the internet if either of you has questions or needs advice.

Be sure to establish relationships with professors by taking advantage of their office hours. Even if your child doesn’t feel like he needs additional help, he should try to establish a personal relationship with professors, particularly those teaching subjects related to his career interests. Those same professors can give him insight into professions, initiate connections for him that may lead to internships or full-time employment, and write recommendations for graduate school. In doing so, your son is learning and honing personal and professional skills that will sustain him throughout the life of his career and beyond (civic engagement, etc.).

As soon as your son/daughter returns to campus to begin senior year, he/she should finalize a resume and cover letter, and begin looking for positions. The first resumes should go out in October. Remember, the early bird gets the worm. If she procrastinates, she’ll be in the same pool with the majority of college graduates looking for jobs after graduation. If she’s already familiarized herself with the folks and resources in the career services department, she’ll know exactly where to begin her search for job announcements.

Well, that’s all we’ve got. This is the end of the how-to’s for raising academically and socially successful Black children. Next month we’ll conclude with Power in Parenting.

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