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College Prep at 11?

college prep stress

I have recently discovered that college preparation begins in the sixth grade.  As a caregiver of a sixth grader, this was news to me.

I thought sixth grade was about learning how to go from classroom to classroom on a schedule and how to get out of bed before seven. Turns out it’s about prepping for the PSAT and determining what AP classes you’ll take in three years. 

You may think I’m joking, but Federal Student Aid recommends college planning in middle/junior high school, despite the fact that colleges don’t look at transcripts before high school.  And while anyone should be thinking about the future, an eleven year old shouldn’t be stressing about how to pay for college.  Although, if the cost of college continues to rise, it might not be a bad idea for parents to start seriously considering your options.

It would take years to save the thousands of dollars needed for college tuition, so maybe starting early isn’t a bad idea.  Maybe, depending on the family, a child should start chipping in at eleven. But others suggest that a middle schooler needs to be far more proactive than that.  They should be studying an in-demand foreign language, like Chinese or Arabic, studying for future standardized tests, or even visiting college campuses

Even putting aside practical concerns like what middle school offers Arabic, why is there such a rush to prepare for college?  There is plenty of time for that.  These are the last few years before high school and all the madness that comes with it.  It’s their last chance to be a kid.  They won’t get that ever again. Yes, colleges are more competitive than ever before, but our kids are also more stressed than ever before. They already face incredible pressure in high school to get into the right college, which can only be achieved if they take 14 extracurriculars, are class president, and have a 4.5 GPA. At least, that's how they perceive it. In reality, they'll be fine. Whatever they end up majoring in is more important that the school anyway. Why is there so much pressure for them to start the rat race early?

There is something to be said about keeping up on academic performance. Middle school isn’t just a time to play around; it is school.  So making sure that your kid is challenged enough with the coursework and that they are learning are both important, but it’s always been that way. Parents have always wanted their kids to do well in school, even in preschool. This isn’t anything new, and it’s certainly not for the explicit preparation of college. Yes, students have to complete high school to attend university, and have to attend middle school to go to high school, but each have their own steps. We don’t need to meld them all together.

The intentions behind this are good; we all want our kids to succeed. We see a hypercompetitive world around us and are attempting to arm our kids for it. But realize that there is more to life than college and getting a good job. Childhood is precious on its own. The experiences of playing with friends with no scope of the world around you are long gone for most of us, but would you trade them for Arabic lessons that you can barely recall or the memory of eating in the cafeteria of some school you never went to anyway? 

Then why are we so eager to make that trade for our child?

Dayton Uttinger's picture

Dayton socializes for a living and writes for fun, all while caring for her ten year old uncle. Her rarely relevant degree gives her experience in political science, writing, Spanish, rugby, theater, coding, and spreading herself too thin. She will forever be a prisoner of her family’s business, doomed to inherit responsibility despite frequent existential protests.