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How to get your child into college and when to begin

Written by guest writer:  Mark Corkery of ICAN get into college

There is no time like the present to start planning for college.  Most parents think that the time to think about college admissions begins at the end of the junior year of high school.  Over the last 25 years I find that this rite of passage needs to be considered earlier and earlier to be a viable candidate for competitive colleges.  Here are some reasons why:

1)      Course planning for 7th grade often dictates the track of courses students are on through high school.  It is important to consider the strength in math in 5th and 6th grades.  If a student is particularly strong in the subject, for example, it is best to consider that pre-algebra be taken in the 7th grade.  The beginnings of higher level math at this age mean that the student can get to the highest level of the subject by high school senior year.  Four years of high school math is preferred.

Language study can also start in the middle school years.  A foreign language begun in 7th or 8th grade can also mean that the highest level of the subject can be reached earlier in high school.  Early study of a language is looked on very favorably by college admissions offices and also leaves open course slots for the student to take courses of interest.

The most important reason to start math and language study in the middle school years is that it shows students are strong academically and can take on higher level study at a younger age.  The grades from these two subjects taken in the middle school years will also appear on the transcripts sent to colleges.  Admissions officers average in the grades from these subjects whenever the first year of a language is taken and/or when the pre-algebra course is taken.

2)      Summer enrichment programs offered by the local schools, academies, or area colleges can be great experiences for students as early as 5th grade.  Boarding schools also offer summer programs which prepare students for upcoming subjects in the fall.  Although there fewer programs offered for student at  this age, planning ahead for such programs in 7th and 8th grade is important.   Participation in these summer programs is quite popular for students wishing to get the best grades in high school and also who plan to apply to competitive colleges.  Many summer programs offer scholarships to students.


3)      Colleges are moving away from using the standardized tests as heavily as they used to.  So many students have such high scores today, the way to distinguish you as an applicant is to participate in extracurricular activities.  Helping your student volunteer or become involved in clubs starting in the middle school years helps to build student interest in these and other activities.  Although most students cannot begin community service until high school, parents often volunteer and bring their younger student along.  Colleges are seeking students who are involved.   It is highly predictable that a student who participates in middle to high school will become involved when they potentially attend their school.


4)      Participating in a sport is not required for college admission, but certainly can show the student can get along well with others.  Sports provide the student opportunities to be on a team.  Starting a sport in the early grade levels can help parents to determine which are the best sports for that student – if any – to play in the high school years.  It looks bad if a student changes or drops sports in high school.  Colleges like to admit winners, not quitters.


5)      College financial planning begins today.  In four to five years it is predictable that private college costs will range up to half a million dollars including tuition, fees, books, transportation and trips to Florida for spring break.  With further budget cuts and rises in tuition at public colleges and universities nationwide, costs for these institutions may be out of the price range for many families. Building a strong financial portfolio can help; finding scholarships begins now and not in the senior year.  Scholarship searches can help you find the best and most amount of money for private money which, when awarded, gets applied to the college of your final choice.  And, with new laws in place, the money earned through these scholarships is no longer deducted from the aid you would otherwise get from the school attended.

The time to begin thinking about all of this is when the student is ready.  Hopefully these points help you to see that now is a great time to think and plan ahead – for both the financial aspects of affording college for your child but also the getting in part.


Mark Corkery has worked in college admission for over 25 years.  He served as an admission and academic counselor prior to starting his own business in the field.  As an educational consultant, Mark offers college admission planning and resume development to families in their homes in Southern Californiaand on line worldwide.  He holds a Masters Degree in Education from HarvardUniversityand an undergraduate degree from the Claremont Colleges.  For further inquiries, questions, or comments, please feel free to write me @ mcorkery523@gmail.com or (323) 366-2236.