When they’re born, you dream that one day they’ll be a great scientist, take over the family business, or become the President of the United States. When they’re four, they dream that they’ll become ballerinas, professional baseball players, or toy-store owners. By grade school the dreams morph into firefighters, policemen, doctors, and lawyers, and by high school, the dreams have matured: environmentalists, prosecutors, journalists, accountants, translators, engineers. All parents dream of what their child will become. And every child dreams of what he or she will become as a “grown-up.” And even though the dreams can be somewhat impractical (or altogether delusional), they still represent early goals and ambitions.
It is important that children keep these goals and ambitions throughout their academic careers. The goals may change from day to day, but being in school and working towards something is an important component in the long journey toward college.
Below are 5 tips to keeping students motivated and making their goals and ambitions a reality.
1. Go on College Tours! Starting as early as seventh grade, I recommend that you plan on visiting a college on all family vacations. Going to California? Pick the nearest campus, drive through, and point out the exciting features. Who cares that your son is only 12 years old – he’ll gain an appreciation for higher education at an early age. Driving up to Grandmas? Take the scenic route and show your middle-schooler a suburban college setting. See how he likes the atmosphere. Emphasizing college at an early age and exposing your child to different campuses, settings, and options will make the process that much easier come junior year. Plus, you can buy your twelve-year-old a school banner for his room, or a cool sweatshirt to wear to class. These school memorabilia will be ongoing motivators. At a young age, students often do not know what to look for in a school. We tell our children to “do well” in school, but college seems a long ways away and our children do not really recognize what they are striving for. The key is for your child to set his or her sights on something and then work to make this a reality. Without a long-distance goal, students often do not achieve to their potential. Every year I drive my eight-year-old around Dartmouth University. He tells all of his friends that this is where he will be attending college one day. Why? Because he loves the ice skating pond, sledding hill, and ski mountain. Obviously he doesn’t have his priorities straight, but he told me that he will work extra hard this year to get a good math grade on his 4th grade report card, because he knows he must do well in math to get into this top school!
2. Start creating a “game-plan” in 9th grade! Not only should you weave college tours into yearly vacations as a means of motivating your child, you should also sit down with your child yearly and discuss the “game-plan”. I recommend creating a game plan as early as 9th grade. Starting early reduces the scrambling that occurs second semester of junior year. Map out and discuss a timeline for each year of high school. Beginning in 9th grade, students should participate in at least ONE community service – even if it is just planting a tree on Arbor Day. Students should also be in a school club and be pursuing a hobby or interest. If your child does not have a hobby, find one! This does not mean that students should participate in a plethora of clubs, though. It is much better to participate in just one or two activities and to take on a leadership role within this organization/activity.
3. Keep a running resume from 8th grade on! It is easy to forget those accomplishments, awards, honors, Girl Scout badges, etc. that we’ve received years ago. Therefore, write everything down. If your child is staring at a blank piece of paper at the end of 9th grade, this is a clear indication that your child is not doing enough.
4. Take on a challenging curriculum! Grades and course load are the most important things in 10th and 11th grade. Students need to take challenging courses, even if this means a slightly lower GPA. Having a 4.0 but no A.P. classes is not nearly as impressive as having a 3.7 and four A.P. courses.
5. Map out the standardized test process! Of course standardized tests play a key role in the college section and admission process. But, standardized testing should not begin until the end of 10th grade. Once again, create a game plan. Have your child take a practice ACT and a practice SAT. Which is the better test (higher starting score)? Then, create a testing calendar and studying time frame. Remember, both course grades and test scores are important! Keep in mind when midterms and finals fall so that your child is not overwhelmed.