Freshmen may not believe their journey starts right now, but it does. Now’s the start of school and there’s no reason to wait!
We’d occasionally get emails or letters from students that would explain their bad grades — loss of an important family member, students’ own illnesses, traumatic event, lack of motivation, switch to a different teacher, lack of maturity, etc.
Colleges do take that information seriously — things happen. However, it’s best not to plant those seeds of doubt.
Anecdotally, in the admission office, we found that a high predictor of college success were students’ grades in high school — more than SAT or ACT scores. The variable that generally reflects the strongest correlation with college academic achievement is the high school GPA, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
So, how to prepare for college as a freshman in high school?
Naturally, it’s up to you to have that conversation with your child before school starts.
Grades Matter, Starting Now
You knew that would be the first thing, right? It’s really hard to change the tide of bad grades as a senior and high school academic success paves the way for college success. High school grade point average is still the highest predictor of a student’s likelihood of graduating from a two- or four-year college. Although any single grade is imperfect, when averaged over a high school career, the grade point average is an excellent predictor of how a student will do in college.
Here’s a scenario: Meredith knows she’ll be able to slide through high school because of the community college’s open admission option — that anyone can get in, no matter their grade point average. Meredith believes that she can “take it easy” freshman year because, if all else fails, she can go to the local community college.
However, research shows that putting effort toward grades in high school is essential, according to the American Federation of Teachers. In fact:
- Students who don’t do homework end up with 1.2 years less education and 19 percent lower earnings than average.
- Students doing 15 hours or more a week of homework attain almost 1.5 more years of education and attain 16 percent higher earnings than average. Isn’t that amazing?!
Steps to Prepare for Freshman Year
Freshman year may look a whole lot different than your child may have envisioned. Here’s what you can do to help your child prepare for college. (Yes! It’s time to have these conversations now!)
Roll with Remote Learning
A few moms I know have their kids all set up with remote learning. Danielle has set up a six-foot long table for her five kids and they all study at the same time, like a one-room schoolhouse. Tracey’s high schooler studies in a common living space — not in his room. Here are a more tips for remote success:
- Limit distractions. As much as you can, keep kids away from their phones, Netflix, the refrigerator (“I need snacks ten times a day to study, Mom!”)
- Stick to a routine. If your child has a Zoom class at 10, suggest studying for that class at the same time every day. Write out a schedule in advance and align it as closely with your child’s class schedule as possible.
- Look at actual textbooks. It’s taxing to look at a screen all day — you may understand if you sit at a computer all day long! Check out blue light-blocking computer glasses if your child has no choice but to stare at a screen all day!
- Fix any difficulties with classes. Is your child having trouble with classes due to distance learning? It may be hard to adjust to learning trigonometry online. Find out whether the teacher offers study sessions outside of class and can demonstrate how to do complex math problems or teach Shakespeare individually.
Examine Eighth Grade Experiences
College success is linked to high school preparation — and that starts now. Use eighth grade as a springboard for the conversation. Ask your child:
- What worked well in eighth grade?
- What do you wish you would have done differently in your classes in eighth grade?
- How would you do things differently?
- Is there a better way to stay organized this year?
- Classes will be more involved this year. How do you think you’ll plan to study?
- What do you think is the secret to success?
- What classes do you think will be a challenge/not as much as of a challenge? How will you handle each?
Take College Prep Classes
Make sure the plan includes college prep classes:
- English: Keep in mind that colleges like to see four years of English.
- Math: Colleges also like to see four years of math. Math classes should include at least four of these classes: Pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, algebra II or trigonometry, precalculus and calculus.
- Science: Take at least three years of laboratory science classes (check specific school requirements) but a fourth year is still a bonus. Make sure your child plans to take biology, chemistry and physics.
- Social studies: Most colleges require at least two years of social studies or social science, including world history and U.S. history, government, sociology, geography or psychology.
- Foreign language: Many colleges require a minimum of two years of foreign language while in
- Arts: A small number of colleges require at least one year of visual or performing arts.
Cultivate Good Study Habits
It’s best to start freshman year with good study habits so your child is used to implementing them each year of high school.
Here are some tips:
- Determine your child’s most productive study hours. Does your child do better in the early morning? Late evening? During
studyhall? Extracurricular activities might make it tough to be picky, but try to cater to your child’s best hours.
- Encourage your child to get plenty of sleep. Teenagers need between nine and nine and a half hours of sleep (in fact, studies show that most teenagers need exactly nine and a quarter hours of sleep!) according to Nationwide Children’s Hospital. The need to study might hinder your child’s sleep cycle but try to hit those nine-and-a-quarter hours as much as possible! It’ll make your child more productive in school and during study time.
- Make sure your child has all
necessaryresources. Does your daughter do better when she’s got a laptop in front of her? A quiet room? Does your son need a special calculator? Does he do well studying in the midst of chaos (at the kitchen table)? Make sure your child’s set up for success wherever that may be.
- Help eliminate distractions. Netflix off, phone in quarantine. What other distractions normally bug your child during study hours? The cat running circles in the dining room? The neighbors coming over at the exact same time every night?
Check in. Keep a mental check of what
- Know what’s due. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to know every single math problem assigned to your child. Just know in the back of your head
- Come up with ways to keep grades up. What went well last year? Did your child’s grades measure up to what you expected? Did your child think he could have done a little better? Make a list of ways (together!)
Talk About College, Starting Now!
Let’s step away from the academic conversation for a second. There’s other stuff to talk about!
Talk About College Money
It’s never too early to have conversations with your child about how much you’ve saved for college. In fact, it’s really important — it will help your child understand his college options. Talk to your child about how much you’ve saved, how much you can help out per month during college and more.
It helps frame the college conversation a little bit more and gets your child ready for what’s ahead. Student loans might be a part of the college cost equation, and the earlier your student knows that, the better.
Here are some topics you might want to consider talking about:
- Actual college costs vs. sticker price
- Loans and their implications
- The importance of scholarships
- Your own experience paying for college
- The difference between grants, scholarships, loans and more (hint: scholarships and grants are free money!)
- In-state versus out-of-state tuition
Talk About College Preference
It’s also not too early to talk about where your child thinks he might “fit” best — community college, private liberal arts college, state university, etc. Describe the differences between each and learn more:
- What is a community college?
- What is a liberal arts college?
- How is a state university different from all other options?
- Is a technical school or online institution a better fit?
You may not know the answers to these questions right now, but it’s time to start thinking about them.
Things Could Change in a Heartbeat!
We aren’t sure what’s going to happen during the upcoming school year. If your child’s started out online, maybe it’ll continue for the foreseeable future. Maybe your child’s taking classes in person right now but you know all this could change!
Carefully examine the ways you can help this year get underway successfully — it’s going to take some creativity and maybe even a few pivots, too.