Students, parents should use their summer to plan for college wisely - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Community Focus

Students, parents should use their summer to plan for college wisely

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Bob McDonnell

Posted: Saturday, August 6, 2011 9:00 am | Updated: 10:01 am, Tue Apr 23, 2013.

Summer is in full swing! The weather's hot, the days are long and you'd kill to be doing anything outside. Camping trips, weekends at the beach and barbecues abound during this eventful time of year. It's a time to relax, rejuvenate and, most of all, have fun. Kids know how to do this best. After they've been studying at school all year they just want to have fun all summer long. It's good for them to get all that pent up energy out and recharge their batteries. It's good for you, too. You'll need the rest when fall comes around and the school schedule makes demands on your time and focus.

Summer is a fleeting season. It's so easy to fill your calendar full of activities like camps, family vacations, trips to the beach and long weekends away that by the time the summer's over you wonder where the time went. Be sure to fit in some important tasks that will help you along the way towards your goal of getting your child into college.

It's easy to put it off until the fall and winter but if you get a head start now, it will make things a lot easier for yourself down the road.

You may have a recent high school graduate who is undoubtedly enjoying the last weeks of summer before college begins.

Enjoy this time together for those of you that may soon be empty nesters and congratulate yourselves for all the hard work that was put in to making the journey together to get into college.

For those kids just starting as freshmen, make sure they take this summer opportunity to get the proverbial "wiggles" out before school starts. They've got a lot to focus on once school starts.

FRESHMAN YEAR

Getting a head start in terms of preparation for your high school freshman is one of the best things you can do for them. They will be making a major transition into high school and being prepared can make all the difference. And, it's really never too early to start. Get a jump on things by running through the tasks below to see what may fit into your schedule over this summer break.

• Have your child establish goals for themselves for the year. This is essential for reaching milestones throughout your child's high school experience. Have your child set goals for the upcoming year. The goals may be simple or complex. It could be as simple as enrolling in two clubs of interest during the year. Whatever the goal is, make sure it's attainable and within reach. Gaining confidence during this first year is really important.

• Help your child understand why it's important to attend college. This may seem like a no-brainer for you, but many kids know they are expected to go to college but don't really know why. Talk about the benefits of what it means to your child's future and personal life to have a college education.

• Plan for a challenging course load for the upcoming year. The type of courses your child takes in high school tells colleges what your child's plans may be for the future. Make sure they takes classes that are challenging but not beyond their abilities.

• Find a mentor for your child. Mentoring a child is no small task. As they say, "It takes a village to raise a child." Your influence will not be the only one in your child's life. Finding someone who you trust and who your child admires is priceless. This is very important in terms of providing support and guidance throughout the high school years.

• It's never too early to get your financial plan together. Protect the money you've saved. If you have money saved outside of your company's retirement plan, talk to your funding advisor about possibly repositioning those assets into accounts that are not exposed to the financial aid formulas.

SOPHOMORE YEAR

Your child can pat themselves on the back because freshman year is done! Sophomore year is just around the corner.

Your child has now learned the ropes of what to expect from high school and this year will not be as stressful as compared to freshman year.

Look ahead to the tips provided to see what can be done to assist in your child development during sophomore

year.

• Plan to take PLAN, also known as the pre-ACT. This is a test to assess 10th-graders readiness for college. Typically, PLAN is administered in the fall so contact your child's high school guidance counselor to get the dates and times of the test.

• Start collecting college information. It's never too soon to start thinking about college for your child. Encourage them to start browsing on the Internet or at your local library for information about colleges they might be interested in.

• Continue to build on your child's vocabulary through reading. Summer is the season for reading. Lazy days on the beach curled up with a good book are one of the trademarks of the season. Encourage your child to read. They needn't start with Aristotle. If it's something they enjoy, start there and move on to more challenging literature.

• Have your child start saving for college. Getting into college is a family affair and the saving doesn't have to fall entirely on the parents' shoulders. Having your child share some of the responsibility can help build character and will teach life skills that will be beneficial throughout his or her life. Teach them to save some money, as well.

• Protect your money! You've worked hard for your money. Protect that money by talking to your funding advisor about keeping those dollars out-of-sight from the financial aid formulas.

JUNIOR YEAR

If your child is entering 11th grade, things will start to get busier especially as the year rolls along. You can start the year off right by getting some tasks accomplished over the summer then you won't feel as overwhelmed during the school year.

• Start a list of colleges. Junior year is a good time to plan to make visits to the colleges and universities your child is interested in. Start a list now of schools and begin to research each of the schools and the benefits and downsides of each school.

• Encourage your child to commit now to good study habits if they haven't already. Have a discussion over the summer about what constitutes good and effective studying. Find out what their preferences are. Do they like to study alone? Find a place in the home that will be a haven for studying for your child. Maybe a room or area that is set up just for studying and is free from distractions.

• Research scholarships for women, minorities and disabled students. If it's applicable, go to your local library and search the Internet to research the availability of scholarships for students that fall into the categories listed above. Although it's typically not a ton of money, an extra $100 here or there can't hurt.

• Get your financial game plan in place. Guard the money you've worked so hard to put away. You want to protect what you've saved for your child. Perhaps you have money either in mutual funds, bonds, stocks or CDs. Those funds are typically calculated against you in the financial aid formulas. However, by working with your funding advisor, there may be ways of protecting those dollars so that you don't have to pay more for college then necessary.

SENIOR YEAR

Senior year is almost here. This is the last summer your child will be in high school. Next year - college bound! Make sure they make the most of the time available during this summer. Check out the tips below that will help you throughout the year.

• Have your child plan their course load for the upcoming year. It's important to fulfill the requirements that colleges and universities expect. And, your child should plan on taking courses that are challenging. The admissions committees at the college institutions look at specific courses and not just overall GPA.

• Go over the FAFSA. This is a form that is consistently turned in late. People tend to procrastinate on things they do not understand.

• Think about essay ideas. Your child will need to write an essay as part of the application process. It's not something to wait until the last minute for. Summer is a good time to mull over some ideas and later in the year the ideas can be fleshed out.

• Get ready for college entrance exams. After you've determined which colleges or universities your child would like to apply to, then they will need to prepare for the entrance exams. Depending on the institution, they may require the SAT or ACT.

• Keep your money safe from financial aid formulas. A college funding advisor is there to help protect the money you've worked so hard to put away for this important occasion. Summer is a great time to get a jump on things while the kids are around. You have a chance to have discussions about goals and plans for the upcoming year without the distraction of impending homework. Use it wisely because the time goes quickly.

Bob McDonnell is executive director of Arizona College Planners, L.L.C., a member of the College Planning Network, the National Association of College Funding Advisors and the National Association of College Acceptance Counselors. For questions, email Info@ArizonaCollegePlanners.com.

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