I just read an article stating that we need to start preparing our kids for college when they are in middle school.
When I was in 6th or 7th grade, no one was talking to me about what colleges I wanted to go to. Perhaps there was the occasional, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But it was rare, and it certainly wasn’t asked as a way to hint that I should be planning out my college career at that moment.
My talks about college started with my classmates, and they took place around the school vending machines toward the end of my sophomore year.
Junior year was spent meeting with a career counselor, checking out books at the library about certain schools, seeing what the requirements were, and planning our schedules accordingly.
I was a senior in 1993 when I really started looking at schools. I specifically remember applying to college the winter before I graduated after taking the SATs in the fall. The rest of senior year was spent visiting colleges to narrow it down.
I knew I wanted to stay in the northeast, so my search wasn’t wide. After exactly two weekends of interviewing and exploring, I had it narrowed down to two colleges in Vermont.
After that, there were loans to get and work study to apply for and scholarships to look into.
These days, it feels as if college preparation has gone from a pretty straightforward business that started at the beginning of our junior year to an actual business our kids (and we) are supposed to be fully invested in starting in the 7th grade.
I realize this comes from the fact more kids are applying to colleges than they were in the ’90s when I went. So, in that way, it’s become more competitive. According to U.S. News and World Report, the acceptance rate for Columbia University was 65% in 1988. As of 2014, the acceptance rate was 7%.
Even if they’re not aiming for an Ivy League school like Columbia, students need to be on top of their classes, their grades, extracurricular activities, and their SAT scores. There are more students in the pool, so they need to stand out.
I attended Green Mountain College in the small town of Poultney, Vermont from 1993 to 1997. Tuition averaged about $13,000 a year during my time there. My parents took out some loans, and I took out loans (that I’m still paying off) in order to attend.
Now, the cost of attending Green Mountain is $49,620 per year. I’m sure the increase in cost is in line with every other college. That obviously means families have to start searching earlier for scholarships and loans.
After talking with other moms who have kids in school, they’ve told me the cost of college textbooks and supplies have also gotten out of control.
Of course, many of them feel their kids need to take more to school in order to survive. Parents want their kids to have more than they did for college in the ’80 and ‘90s, but they also say that “keeping up with the Joneses” is a very real thing. It doesn’t only happen in high school.
There’s also the pressure from technological advances and the rise in online courses that has led a lot of families to get their kids started in AP courses sooner—sometimes as early as the 10th grade simply because those opportunities are available.
A truth we have to face as we go into these pre-college years and try to prepare our kids for the next four years of their life is immensely different than it was when we went through the process in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
We may feel more uncomfortable now as parents that we aren’t crossing every “t” or dotting every “i” when it comes to college, probably even more so than we did as college students.
But lots of things have changed in the past 20-30 years and hopefully we can figure out how to prepare our kids for their college career and not feel like we are compromising their childhood, or turning it into a second job.
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Hi, I’m Brad Baldridge, a college funding specialist and the owner of Taming the High Cost of College.
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