Preparing Your Child for College

This page will help you think about the kinds of things you and your child needs to be doing while they’re in middle school and high school to prepare for college. Much of this information comes from the U.S. Department of Education’s Publications Think College? Me? Now? and Getting Ready for College Early: A Handbook for Parents of Students in the Middle and Junior High School Years. This and more information is available on the Think College Early web site, which has a section for students, parents and educators.

Questions about financial aid and scholarships are addressed on a separate page.

According to Leah Latimer, author of Higher Ground: A Guide for Black Parents to Chart a Successful Course for Their Children from Kindergarten to College, high achieving students stand out among their peers because they knew what they needed to do well before the time came to do it. In most cases, those students’ parents made the effort to find out what a well-rounded, successful student needs at every grade level. Much of the information on this page comes from Latimer’s book.

Latimer also says that one of the most important things you can do as a parent is to understand how today’s decisions will affect your child later on. For example, reading to your child and making sure they have a library card can help develop vocabulary and reading skills early on to ensure they are accepted into higher level classes which will prepare them for college. Be sure to count effort, hard work and improvement among your child’s successes, not just high grades!


How can I help my child prepare for college?
How to talk to your kids about school
What skills should your child have before leaving high school?
What are colleges looking for?
College Match Information and Guidelines
College Testing and Preparation Web Sites
Get a “Leg Up” on College Preparation and Save on Tuition
Put Together a College Support Team
Free "Open Courses" at Yale University

High School Time Line Year by Year


How can I help my child prepare for college, especially if I didn’t go to college myself?
Some parents – especially those who did not go to or finish college themselves – may worry that they cannot provide their child the guidance and support needed to get ready for college. But remember, getting ready for college is more work than anyone can handle on their own, and you don’t need to have gone to college yourself to help someone else get ready for college. To provide children extra opportunities to develop the knowledge and skills they need for college, many schools offer before and after-school programs, where children can learn more about the subjects that interest them, under the care and guidance of adults. Some schools also have mentoring programs, where an adult who has studied for worked in the same field in which a child is interested can provide extra help and advice about, for example, the challenging math and science courses college-bound students need to take, and how to plan for a college and a career connected with their interests. Ask your child’s teachers or guidance counselor for information about such programs in your local schools. Ask your child’s principal about opportunities for teachers or others who have graduated from college to come into the classroom to talk with students about their experiences and success.

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How to talk to your kids about school
Why is it so hard to talk about school?  “How was school today?” has probably provoked more bad feelings between parents and kids than either party ever intended. Without meaning to, parents are asking for a summary but kids don’t summarize the way adults do. So most kids just say ‘fine’ or try to avoid the question. Fortunately, some simple strategies can get kids and parents talking and listening. “What was fun? What was the worst part of the day? Did your teacher explain that math homework? How did soccer go?” Good conversations help kids see we care about their lives, that we are there to support them, and to help them develop strategies for solving problems themselves. Source: PBS Parents Guide to Going to School.

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Why it’s smart to take Challenging Courses
College may seem like a long way off, but your child can get on the road toward college. This is particularly true as your child selects classes and starts planning the courses they’ll take in high school. Now is the time to plan how to meet requirements to get into college.

Studies show that if students take algebra and geometry early – starting in 8th and 9th grade – they are more likely to go on to college than students who don’t. By taking algebra soon, they’ll probably be able to enroll in chemistry, physics and advanced math courses before they finish high school. Then they will have room in their high school schedule to take a second language, art, or Advanced Placement course. Making good grades in these kinds of tough courses can be a big plus in helping you get into college.

What are the right courses?
To prepare for college, your child should take the following courses: Math, English, Science and History or Geography. These courses make up the “core” courses you should take every year.
You want your child to take algebra or geometry as soon as possible. Algebra and geometry are the foundation for many advanced math and science courses (such as chemistry and physics) that some colleges want high school students to take. Your child should also take the following courses:


4 years

American literature
English literature
World literature
4 years

Algebra I
Algebra II
History and Geography
2 to 3 years

U.S. history
U.S. government
World history
World cultures
Labratory Science
2 to 4 years

Earth science
Visual and Performing Arts
1 to 2  years

Challenging Electives
1 to 3 years

Research Projects & Independent Projects
Foreign Language
3 to 4 years
Computer Science
can help you find more
information and do school
work better and faster.
College course and jobs often
require computer knowledge.
*Note: Taking Advanced Placement courses and Tech-Prep courses in any of these subjects can give students added skills for college.

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What skills should your child have before leaving high school?

  • note taking   
  • report writing
  • research
  • organization 
  • time management 
  • prioritizing
  • studying regularly
  • perseverance
  • responsibility
  • drive for excellence
  • respect for self and others

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What are colleges looking for?

  • SAT and ACT scores*
  • Extra curricular activities
  • Special talents and skills
  • Community service
  • Work experience
  • Progression of achievement (the student should show improvement over the years)


What if my child has low SAT or ACT scores?
Schools with open admissions accept almost all who apply, regardless of academic credentials, and in some cases only require that a student is 18 years of age. In short, almost any student who is willing to do the work necessary to succeed in college can be admitted somewhere.

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College Testing and Preparation Web Sites
The creator of the ACT, one of America's most widely accepted entrance exams. They provide information for students, parents, educators, policy makers, adult learners and Spanish speakers on education and career planning.

The college help network. The optimal site for all cultures.
Go to this web site to take a "virtual" tour of many of the nation's colleges and universities.
Buying textbooks can be expensive. Check out this website for savings on textbook purchases and rentals. also provides other student support services such as homework help and course management.

Choose Your Future.
The Chicago Public Schools created this site for high school students to help guide them through the process of preparing and applying for college, applying for financial aid and enrolling in college. Don't worry, you don't have to be a student in Chicago to benefit from the info on the site!

The College Board
The creator of the SAT. They provide information for students, parents and educators on college testing, planning for college, preparing for college, finding a college, applying to college and paying for college.
This comprehensive web site provides free materials to students, parents, teachers, career counselors and others interested in helping young people plan a meaningful future.

College Confidential
Here you'll find hundreds of pages of articles about choosing a college, getting into the college you want, how to pay for it, and much more. You'll also find the Web's busiest discussion community related to college admissions, and our College Visits section!
CollegeData is an Online College Advisory Service provided for students and parents of students, FREE OF CHARGE by 1st Financial Bank USA.
We provide over 1,500 customized internet Admissions Applications built for college and university programs. When applying to more than one program you save redundant typing.  The CollegeNET search engine helps you quickly find the ideal college. Narrow down by region, college sports, major, tuition, and several other criteria.

 College Terms                                                                                                                                                                                       Terms used for college preparation and success are many and varied.  These resource glossaries for students and parents will clarify the college terms encountered along the college preparation path.  The glossaries for parents are in both English and Spanish

College Zone
The trusted source for college information and the official Web site for the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. Click on the appropriate link above to enter a zone customized just for you (Student, Parent, Counselor, Financial Aid Administrator, Lender or español).
The trusted source for college information and the official Web site for the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. Click on the appropriate link above to enter a zone customized just for you (Student, Parent, Counselor, Financial Aid Administrator, Lender or español).

Common Application
The Common Application (i.e., common college adminssions application) is increasingly being used by more and more colleges. Primarily, this is a resource meant to help streamline the process for students who are applying to a large number of colleges. However, not all colleges accept the Common Application, so be sure to check first!

Connecticut College Profiles
The Connecticut College Profiles provides a list of colleges in Connecticut along with important numbers and statistics about the colleges such as Admissions and Costs and Student Characteristics.

CSO College Center
CSO College Center is an initiative of Center for Student Opportunity, a nonprofit organization with a mission to promote college access and opportunity among first-generation and historically underserved student populations. Center for Student Opportunity was founded by a group of concerned parents, admissions professionals, and nonprofit practitioners who sought to fill the need for greater college counseling and preparation resources for first-generation and underserved college-bound students.

Educational Testing Service (ETS)
 We help teachers teach, students learn, and parents measure the educational and intellectual progress of their children.
GoCollege is dedicated to furthering educational opportunities for the youth of America. Find a college, take a tour of that college, find the right scholarship, SAT and ACT practice tests and more!

Hispanic Scholarship Fund
Hispanic Scholarship Fun helps you prepare, plan and pay for college.

Khan Academy College Admissions   

Khan Academy has created resources to help students and parents navigate the challenging process of college admissions. Its online resources include video interviews and conversations with successful students from all walks of life, as well as admissions officers and counselors at some of the nation's top schools.

Khan Academy Official SAT Practice

Khan Academy has teamed up with the creators of the SAT to create personalized SAT practice for anyone, anywhere. In March 2016, the SAT is changing, and you can prepare for it on Khan Academy—for free. 

Mapping Your Future
One-stop site for parents and students with information on financial strategies, career options and college planning.

Find the home page of any college in the United States by state.

The Online Toolbox for College Students

For students and parents: a list of helpful websites that addresses all of your college needs. From financial aid and textbooks to career guidance and entertainment, this site has it all.

For students and parents: prepare for your tests, find the right school, explore financial aid, advance your career.

Princeton Review
Explore schools and careers, improve scores and skills as well as find scholarships and aid. For students, parents and educators.


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Get a “Leg Up” on College Preparation and Save on Tuition
High school students can also take courses for credit at many colleges. These courses – Advanced Placement and Tech-Prep – are available in the 10th, 11th and 12th grades. Middle school and junior high students who plan ahead and take algebra, a foreign language and computer courses by 8th grade are better prepared for Advanced Placement and Tech-Prep courses in high school.

  • Taking Advanced Placement (AP) Courses. AP courses are college-level courses in 16 different subjects that help students get ready for college during high school. Students who score high enough on AP exams can get advanced placement in college or college credit. Your child’s teachers, guidance counselor, or principal can tell you if your local high school offers AP courses. If they are not offered, work with other parents to get them included as a part of the core curriculum.
  • Taking Tech-Prep Courses. Students who want to pursue a technical program at a community, technical or junior college may want to prepare by taking some technical courses in high school in addition to the core courses. Talk to someone at your child’s school or from a community, junior or technical college to find out the best high school courses to take for tech prep involvement. “School-to-work” and “school-to-career” courses can also help connect students to college and the workplace. Work with your school counselor to find local businesses or school-to-work councils that can provide you with these opportunities.
  • Getting Ready for College Admissions Exams. Most colleges require students to take either the SAT or the ACT in their junior or senior year of high school. Ask your guidance counselor how you can best prepare for these exams. For assistance with SAT prep, go to Increase Your SAT.

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Put Together a College Support Team
You can get plenty of help as you and your child map their way to college. People willing to help you include teachers, counselors, librarians and MAAX facilitators. All of them can be good resources. But they won’t know you need support and encouragement unless you let them in on your plans. Tell them you’re interested in putting college in your child’s future. Ask them to be on your child’s college support team. Ask for their help.

Ask the people on your college support team if they know about any programs or activities that can help you reach your goal of going to college. You might ask specifically about:

A Before-school or After-school  Program that’s especially for kids who are thinking about college

A Mentor Program where your child can meet regularly with a college graduate who can tell them what to expect and plan for; maybe your child can help tutor a student to read in elementary school.

Summer Programs, Internships and Advanced Courses Are any of these a good idea for your child? If so, which ones? When should they take them?

Other tips

  • The best way to prepare for college is simply by always doing one’s best in high school, beginning freshman year.
  • No matter who you are or where you’re from you can still get a college education.
  • Colleges are impressed by transcripts that show a student struggled through hard courses, instead of taking the easy way out and making all A’s

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Free "Open Courses" at Yale University

Open Yale Courses provides free and open access to seven introductory courses taught by distinguished teachers and scholars at Yale University. The aim of the project is to expand access to educational materials for all who wish to learn. Open Yale Courses reflects the values of a liberal arts education. Yale's philosophy of teaching and learning begins with the aim of training a broadly based, highly disciplined intellect without specifying in advance how that intellect will be used. This approach goes beyond the acquisition of facts and concepts to cultivate skills and habits of rigorous, independent thought: the ability to analyze, to ask the next question, and to begin the search for an answer. We hope these courses will be a resource for critical thinking, creative imagination, and intellectual exploration. The courses are introductory courses in Astronomy, English, Philosophy, Physics, Political Science, Psychology and Religious Studies.

Please click here to see the full slideshow from our recent Yale-Bridgeport GEAR UP Parent Workshop: What You Need to Know to Prepare Your 10th Grader for College October 27, 2014 

Parent workshop presentation 10-27-14 What you need to know to prepare your 10th grader for college.pdf297.17 KB