A Parents’ Guide to Preparing Your Children for College at Every Age

You don’t have to play classical music for your child in the womb to ensure their intellectual enrichment, but there are steps that parents can take even with very young children to help prepare them to eventually go to college and embrace a lifelong love of learning. In addition to stoking their intellectual curiosity, there are practical steps you can follow to raise financially savvy kids and help ensure that when it’s time to head off to college, they are well-prepared.

A Love of Learning

From the time your children are babies, you can make learning fun and engaging. Make sure that they get the opportunity to try a lot of different activities. Answer their questions, even if means having to look up the answers. Make family trips to the library and museums a regular thing. Cultivate a sense that the world around them is an interesting place and that learning can happen in any environment.

Independent Play

Too often, parents take the above advice to mean that they should micromanage their child’s education and play, but nothing could be further from the truth. While you should provide educational activities and experiences, you should also encourage your child to play independently. If they are genuinely struggling with homework, of course you should give them a hand if you can, but give them the space to work out things on their own.

A Culture of College

Make talking about college as though it is something they will do as an ordinary stage of life. If you attended college, talk about your own experiences. If they express interest in a particular career, discuss what type of major might lead to that career.

The Financial Side

Since many people perceive cost to be one of the biggest barriers to going to college, it deserves its own discussion. You can start saving when your child is a baby, and there are some accounts, such as a 529 education fund, that can offer tax advantages. However, you may want to look at other options as well. Your child may also qualify for federal aid. In addition, they can take out a student loan from a private lender in order to secure funding for school. When they start applying at schools, you can help them explore these and any other financial options, such as scholarships.

The Nuts and Bolts

Most schools still require the SAT, so your child may need to take this in high school. You can help them research schools and even with campus visits if it is practical to do so. Help them think through their options, such as considering whether they want to go to school in a big city or a smaller town. While they are in high school, encourage them to take some college prep classes if they are available. However, as much as you want your child to do well and get into a good school, try not to put too much pressure on them. Think of all your preparation as creating the conditions for your child’s success, but let this ultimately be their choice and their endeavor.

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