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Navigating the College Process: A Guide for Parents of 9th Graders

Jul 08, 2024

As your student embarks on their high school journey, the thought of college might seem far off. However, starting the process early can set the stage for a smoother, less stressful college admissions process for both yourself and your student. Read on for a comprehensive guide of what you can do as a parent of a 9th grade student to prepare for the college journey ahead.

1. Foster a Love for Learning

Encourage your child to explore different subjects and discover their passions. High school is a time for academic growth and self-discovery. Support them in joining clubs, sports teams, or other extracurricular activities that pique their interest. Ninth grade is a wonderful time to explore new activities and interests as well, so don’t let previous experience dictate what your student does or doesn’t do.

Colleges look for well-rounded students who are passionate about their pursuits. They want to see dedication, growth, and leadership, so use this year to allow your student to find what interests them.

2. Help Build a Strong Academic Foundation

While 9th grade might seem early to think about college, it’s also an essential time to establish good study habits and a strong academic record. Encourage your student to take challenging courses that align with their abilities and interests. Consistent performance across all four years of high school is crucial when it comes to college applications as colleges do consider grades achieved in 9th grade when reviewing college transcripts. Some students may consider honors, AP, or even dual-enrollment courses this early in high school as well. In order to make the best, informed decision regarding course selections and paths, speak to your student’s guidance or college/career counselor.

And while 9th grade doesn’t normally involve any standardized exams like the ACT or SAT, your student may want to look into taking the PSAT as a practice exam (NOTE: The PSAT at the 9th grade level does not count towards the National Merit Scholarship Competition component). But for most students, 9th grade is a year free of college admissions exams.

3. Emphasize the Importance of Time Management Skills

In addition to good study habits, it’s also important for students to develop effective time management skills. Balancing academics, alternative school day schedules, extracurricular activities, and a social life can be challenging for even the most prepared high school students. But while it may be tempting to organize your student’s schedule for them, fostering independence in their decision-making process around such school-related choices will be incredibly important for them given the challenges they will face down the road. Encourage them to use planners, digital tools, whatever works for them, to organize their schedules, take notes, and set priorities.

4. Begin Exploring Interests and Potential Careers

Use the early high school years to explore with your student various career options and academic interests based on their own likes and preferences. Discuss their strengths, weaknesses, and passions with them as they relate to these interests. Job shadowing opportunities and summer programs are just a couple of ways to provide insight into different fields and are a great way for your student to learn more about a particular field or job. While it may be too early for most students to know exactly what they want to do in terms of work, understanding potential career paths can help guide them in key decisions regarding course selection and extracurricular involvement in high school and beyond.

5. Start Discussing College Early

Begin a two-way dialogue about the types of colleges that might be a good fit for your student based on their interests, goals, and academic performance, taking care to strike a balance between their dreams and what’s realistic. Researching different types of institutions using tools such as this My College Corner’s College Search, including public and private universities, liberal arts colleges, and technical schools, can be a useful first step along these lines.

Understand though that it is very early in your student’s journey in higher education. The colleges they are interested in now may be very different from the one that they ultimately attend. But by opening the lines of communication about college early on and encouraging both their curiosity and participation, you can better ensure that the conversations you have with your student about their future education will be as positive and stress-free as possible.

6. Visit College Campuses

If possible, start visiting college campuses to get a feel for different environments. This can be an exciting way to motivate your child and help them visualize their future. Campus visits can provide valuable insights into what they are looking for in a college. If a college tour feels too early at this point, try attending a sports or music event or some other activity on campus at a school near you so they can get a feel for another aspect of the college atmosphere beyond the classroom.

7. Learn About Financial Aid and Scholarships

Familiarize yourself with the basics of financial aid and scholarship opportunities. Understanding the financial aspects of college early on can help you and your student plan accordingly. At this point, it’s also not too late (or too early) to start saving for college. Look into savings plans like 529 accounts and explore scholarship opportunities that your student might qualify for. Get started with the scholarship basics found in this article to learn more.

8. Stay Involved and Supportive

Stay actively involved in your student’s education and extracurricular activities. While it’s important that you start giving your student the responsibility to make and manage their own decisions, it’s also equally vital for you to remain involved and informed. Attend parent-teacher conferences, support their interests, be their cheerleader!

The college process is overwhelming as it is for all students. Add on school, social pressures, extracurricular activities, and balancing time with friends and family, and students can feel on edge at times. Your involvement as well as your encouragement are critical to their overall well-being.

9. Utilize School Resources

Make use of the resources available at your student’s school. Counselors, teachers, and academic advisors can provide valuable guidance on course selection, extracurricular activities, and college planning. Don’t hesitate to reach out to them for advice and support.

10. Enjoy the Ride

This is one of the most exciting times for you and your student! While it may be tempting to grind away this year, it’s also an important moment to create memories together. Take that family vacation, spend time together when you can doing activities that interest your student, and really try to get to know them as they begin to change and evolve.

Starting the college preparation process in 9th grade might seem early, but it lays a strong foundation for your child’s future. By fostering a love for learning, supporting their interests, and staying informed about the college admissions process, you can help your child navigate high school with confidence and ease. Remember, the journey to college is a marathon, not a sprint, and your support every step of the way is invaluable.