elizabeth_davenport.jpgLiving Well 101: Florida A & M University

TALLAHASSEE — The responsibility for providing students with the necessary information and resources to prepare for college has traditionally fallen to high school counselors. Proper academic counseling allows students to make well-informed decisions about how to effectively prepare for and choose a college.

However, given the budgetary cuts to K-12 education in Florida and across the country, access to counselors may be limited or completely unavailable. Therefore, it is important for parents to step in and act as academic advocates for their children by providing the advice they need for college admission.

Start early: Early college planning is a critical factor in determining whether a student will pursue and obtain a college degree.

Preparing for college, or college readiness, can begin as early as the sixth grade.

Parents and guardians can start by encouraging children to participate in activities in school and out of school at an early age.

Excelling outside of the classroom environment is important for personal development, provides leadership opportunities and is a way for your child to differentiate themselves from other college applicants in the future.

Furthermore, student involvement in outside activities positively contributes to a wide range of developmental outcomes affecting academic success, such as time management, critical thinking and cooperative learning.

College essays often ask students to detail the moments or activities that have been most meaningful to them. Therefore, participation in the community, school or volunteer groups, or personal hobbies is a meaningful way to discuss and demonstrate a students’ commitment to their community and career goals.

Once a child enters middle school, parents should also encourage them to develop the writing, reading, critical thinking and time management skills necessary for college success.

Select the right academic program: Prior to entering high school, you and your child must choose the proper academic program.

In high school, a college preparation program provides students with the basic academic skills required for mastery of college curricula. Completion of a college preparation program is also required for admission in Florida’s 12 state public universities.

Further, a college preparatory program is also recommended, but not required, if your child plans to enroll in an associate’s degree program. If your child has different career objectives such as going into a technical program, most school districts have technical programs that prepare students to obtain a technical certificate.

A student who is uncertain of their career objectives might want to choose the college preparatory/technical path at their high school because it provides more career flexibility after graduation.

Whatever the choice, it is important to note that taking a challenging curriculum in middle and high school affects a student’s future educational, occupational and financial options.

Fast forward to high school. Completion of a high school diploma does not guarantee a college admission; it is only the first of several steps. Your child’s grade point average, SAT or ACT scores, and letters of recommendation are all important admission requirements that vary depending on the college. Parents who want to assist their child in keeping up with their progress toward college admission should visit the Florida Virtual Campus (flvc.org) for helpful information.

Count the cost: In recent years the burden of financing a college education has shifted from state aid to personal resources. There are Pell grants available, as well as the Bright Futures Scholarship awards like Bright Future Gold Seal Vocational Scholars and Florida Medallion Scholars.

Still, the cost of higher education is rising. If the university or the college of your child’s choice is financially unobtainable, start your child at one of the community colleges in your area, which is often less expensive. Encourage your child to get an associate degree and transfer to a state university to obtain their baccalaureate degree.

Ultimately, timing and planning are essential to your child’s success in being admitted into college. Remember parents, “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail,” so start guiding your children in the right direction now.

*Elizabeth Davenport, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Human Services at Florida A&M University. Join Davenport on Feb. 14 at 6 p.m. for a live Twitter chat for expert advice on college admission. Follow @ FAMU_LivingWell. Visit famu.edu/livingwell101