Every fall, I hear from parents of high school seniors with last-minute questions about getting in and getting money for college. If it’s still early enough in the season, they will often sign up for my firm’s Comprehensive Assessment where we do a deep dive of their teen’s prospects based on academics and activities, determine best-fit colleges for their needs and interests, and discuss options to get more scholarship dollars. ‘

There are usually several moments during this 90-minute assessment when I feel the painful cringe of the parent thinking, “I wish I had known . . . “ It’s a feeling that every parent has had at one point or another when you regret something you did or did not do for your child. What’s so harshly regretful about college admissions is that the decisions we may or may not make as parents can not only hurt our teen’s chances of admissions and future path but can cost our pocketbooks dearly.buy what to know before they go to college

Even when parents of college-bound seniors have very limited options or opportunities to undo bad grades, I still encourage them to consider alternatives like college list revisions or a formal gap/bridge year experience. Senior year of high school can still be a new beginning regardless of how ugly the transcript or resume may have been.

The one thing that can’t be changed is the past middle school years, which are so critical for high school and college success. Here are 3 tips that every middle school parent should heed to avoid future regret in senior year of high school:

  1. Make sure your teen reads and writes for pleasure

The best habits always start earlier. By the time your teen is a junior or senior in high school, it will be even more difficult to develop a love for reading and writing if that habit has not been nurtured from earlier years. Parents often tell me that their teen enjoyed reading when they were younger but stopped in middle school or high school when the homework increased. That may sound good but it’s really not an excuse. Everybody is “busy”. But when you enjoy something, you make time for it.

I feel that students lose their intellectual curiosity and that’s why they no longer read or write for pleasure.

Long story short . . . colleges are seeking students who are intellectually curious and that quality is nurtured over time. It is highly likely that your teen will have a college application essay or two that asks specifically about reading for pleasure. The inability to respond thoughtfully and authentically to such a prompt will dramatically decrease their chances of getting in.


  1. Pay attention to math placement

I have met more and more high school seniors who want to major in STEM fields but did not take Algebra until high school. To have the best chances for a competitive application for any STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) major, a teen should take Algebra by 8th grade. This will also position them for any additional testing, like SAT Subject Tests, that may be “recommended”, i.e. required for college applications.


  1. Use the summers to develop social and independent skills

There are a number of “sleep-away” camps offered during the summer for middle-schoolers. Some may have an academic component while others may emphasize sports or social skills. Either way, when teens learn how to “be” when they are away from the comforts of home and familiarity, they gain self-confidence, independence and so much more. Introducing these types of programs in middle school match well with them developmentally and there are even programs with shorter stays. If 7 days is too long, then 3- or 4-day overnight programs for middle schoolers are plentiful.

By the time a teen is in senior year, if they have never spent a night away from home then the thought of going away to college may be too daunting. Likewise, the teen may be ill-equipped to handle the freedoms that come with living in a dorm, doing chores like laundry, or even advocating for themselves in college.


What would you add to this list? Please comment below.


If you want more tips and insight on helping your college-bound teen, purchase your copy of “What to Know Before They Go: College Edition” today!


Author: Pamela E

Dr. Pamela has helped thousands of teens attend the college of their choice. She brings her 25 years experience in education to assist families, schools, and employers with college selection, admissions, financial aid, and more. Dr. Pamela holds a PhD from Stanford School of Education, and an MBA from Dartmouth.

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