College Prep for the Kindergartner? No Need, Thinking Ahead Should Start in High School

Answering the question 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' is often how most young students start to think about their future profession or lives as adults. That conversation can quickly turn to questions about college and how to get in—and understanding the best time for that conversation is an important part of a successful process.

Providence Country Day School Director of College Counseling Terry Ward says serious college consideration can wait until the summer between sophomore and junior year, though rising freshman can be well served to identify and begin exploring interests before the college search begins in earnest. "Freshman year is too early for students to think specifically about the college admissions process, but it's the perfect time to think about themselves, their favorite subjects, or interests outside of the classroom." Ward advises students to engage in new and varied experiences—whether it's trying a new subject at school, working a summer job, or volunteering at the local senior center.

By contrast, some colleges encourage an accelerated timetable by offering field trips for students as early as first grade. The newest college-ready programs allow young students to sample classes, visit dorm rooms, and complete a mock college application—all to promote college awareness and career exploration for primary schoolers. Proponents for 'college day' reference the academic discipline, personal goal setting, and inspiration for first generation college students that can be the by-products of early exposure. Opponents argue it shifts free, playful childhoods to competitive checklists that can prematurely initiate admissions anxiety. Kids' interests change as they grow and getting an early jump on college lists and career choices may prove fruitless, and even detrimental.

Offering a new range of course electives is just one way Providence Country Day helps high school students consider their still-developing strengths and interests. Writing for Stage and Screen, 20th Century U.S. History through film, Psychology 101, and Introduction to Mathematical Cryptography, are among the nearly two-dozen new classes being offered at the school this fall. To stir self-discovery, PCD integrates multidisciplinary intensives, service learning excursions, and a student-led community curriculum that frames year-long explorations through open dialog, guest speakers, and workshops. The school also requires athletics, visual and performing arts, and co-curricular clubs. "No one at the school is a sideliner," says Associate Head of School Mark McLaughlin. "Everyone participates and learns a lot about him/herself in the process. Most discover interests and abilities they didn't know they had and are able to identify likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses—all of which are important for a successful college search and application process."

In addition to a varied curriculum, PCD also supports students with the Compass Program. The Compass provides unique grade level experiences that help students think in a meaningful way—before the college search begins—about who they are and what their future might look like.

"College prep" can be a daunting prospect for many parents, but rather than focusing for years on how to get into college, experts agree that children should be encouraged to try new things as their personalities unfold. A student's commitment to learning, exploration, and self-discovery will prove valuable before, during, and after college. Those with a strong sense of self are happier, make better decisions and more fully understand others. And when they have to answer the question: "what do you want to be when you grow up," their answer will be informed by what they love to do and find meaningful. Socrates said it best: "To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom."

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