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9th Grade College Planning: Focus on the Big Picture

Terry McCue, former director of admissions at Hathaway Brown School in Cleveland, Ohio, has advice for parents whose teenagers are in their freshman year of high school. Her suggestions remind us that we need to take the long view about education and recognize that while high school is a means to an end, it is also a very formative time and and of itself.

3 Goals for High School:

1. Encourage them to pursue their interests.

“College admissions officers know when a teenager is involved with what they love.  It’s palpable in that student’s college application,” says McCue. “On the other hand, the teenager who is dotting I’s and crossing T’s just to look good for college applications, those applications read flat.”

There is no “right” co-curricular activity that will get your teenager into college, so McCue recommends your approach should be: “Not too much. Not too little. Let them do what they love.”

High school can be an enjoyable time for your teenager. Let them discover their passions through clubs and classes that they pick on their own.

2. Cultivate a a love of reading.

“As far as tips for parents of high school students, I cannot emphasize this enough—Students who do well on the SAT are good readers. It’s a vocabulary rich test. You cannot become a good reader overnight. Get your teenager into the habit, just for the joy of it, to read for pleasure 20-30 minutes each night.” You can help them enjoy reading by taking them book shopping. Let them pick out books that interest them. Long after they take the SAT, they’ll still love reading, and that’s priceless.

3. Don’t solve their problems.

“Don’t solve their problems. Instead, help them problem solve. If you step in to solve every problem your teen encounters, the implicit message is, ‘I don’t think you’re capable of solving this yourself. I’m going to step in every time to fix it.’ Sometimes, a problem is too big for them to fix. Then you need to step in. But it’s finding the right balance. For the teenager who comes in and says, ‘I got a C on a test,’ don’t pick up the phone to talk to the teacher. Those kids go off to college unable to solve their own problems.” Certain skills need to be in place before your teenager leaves for college.

Terry McCue, former director of admissions at Hathaway Brown School in Cleveland, Ohio

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