College planning: middle school isn’t too early
Many families with middle schoolers have questions about how they should start thinking about college. They want to know how to plan, prepare and finance their child’s education. With the Council’s newly created web pages, parents can begin to answer some of those questions.
For some parents, middle school may seem way too early to begin thinking about college. But according to a 2010 public opinion survey conducted by Hardwick Day, 93% of Minnesota middle school parents said it was important for them to help their children start preparing for college. And according to a 2008 ACT study, The Forgotten Middle, middle school may be the best time to build college readiness, access and success.
That conclusion was also echoed by Laura Ritter, a college counselor at Robbinsdale Cooper High School. “One thing we always have a difficult time with when we visit the middle schools is that many of those students think middle school doesn’t count for anything,” she said. “But in reality, how you do in middle school impacts what courses you take in high school.” Ritter pointed out that this was especially true for math classes — math class choice and performance affects which math a student is placed in high school. And taking challenging classes in middle school can be a prerequisite for getting into honors, AP (Advanced Placement) or IB (International Baccalaureate) classes.
Tim Parke-Reimer, a software quality assurance analyst in St. Paul and father of two, understands the long-term impact of middle school. “For my eighth grader, I am helping her understand what classes will be good to complete in order to gain admission to a four-year college,” he said.
As Miriam Bungert, a current high school teacher and mother to a middle-schooler explains, college readiness is a real concern for many parents but so is choosing the right high school. “As the parent of a seventh-grade student in Richfield, I am thinking of what is the best choice for high school,” Bungert said. “The high school decision is a game-changer for my son and I believe it could completely determine his fate — and that decision will help us think about college realistically.”
Thinking through the finances
“As a single parent, I am also quite concerned about the financial toll of college tuition on our family and our quality of life,” added Bungert. Financial planning is a real concern for many parents — 61% of respondents to a survey conducted by the Minnesota Center for Survey Research stated that finances are the biggest obstacle keeping students from earning more education.
“We work really hard to get the message to parents and students that they can afford college and that financial aid is available,” Ritter said. “We tell students to work hard in their classes and apply for that financial aid. College really is a viable option.”
These new website pages will offer guidance and support to parents like Bungert and Parke-Reimer with tips on how to start thinking about their student’s interests and talents and how they might translate into a college major. Most importantly, parents are reminded that it is never too early to save for college.
“Right now, the thinking I am doing around college for my middle-schooler is financial — putting money away in a 529 account,” said Parke-Reimer. “Also, at home college gets talked about in a casual way as the expected path after high school.”