If you are a parent of a child headed to high school or college,
you probably have a list of questions already formulating in your
head: Which school is right for us? How do I make sure my child is
academically and socially prepared? Are all these honor classes
really worth it?
Regardless of the questions, there is one thing every parent is
trying to accomplish-finding the right educational fit.
"Finding a high school or college is similar to finding your
mate," says Grace Moody, assistant principal at Alcott College Prep
in Chicago. "It's a relationship-it's not just about the school
giving your student an education, it's also about what your student
can give to back to the school community."
Here are some tips every parent should know:
Even when your child is in middle school, start talking to him
or her about their interests. "High school is important in
narrowing down choices when you look at colleges and universities,"
says Michael Horton, headmaster of the British School in Chicago.
"What are their talents? What experiences are they looking for in a
In addition to making sure they have a great high school
experience, start doing casual college visits. "Stop in and visit
college campuses during your family vacations," suggests Jeremy
Klyn, director of admissions for Trinity Christian College in Palos
Starting the college conversation early also helps to eliminate
students' fear and anxiety as they approach graduation. "We don't
want to add to the culture of anxiety and stress," says Jeff Bell,
head of school for Beacon Academy in Evanston. "We are hoping to
create an environment where students feel they can be the
architects of their own education, even in high school."
Most high schools offer open houses or college fairs, giving
students and parents a taste of what is possible. In addition to
in-school visits, parents should look for general informational
sessions that will help them navigate the process. "Mondays during
the summer, we bring in college representatives to talk to parents
and students about things such as admissions, scholarships and
athletic eligibility," says Rich Borsch, associate principal of
Fenwick High School in Oak Park.
Most colleges and universities require students to take at least
two years of a foreign language, but many experts feel that is
definitely a minimum recommendation. "Having only one language in
your portfolio isn't enough anymore," says Eva Hoeckner, German
professor at Lycee Francais de Chicago.
Some high schools offer full immersion programs and/or cultural
exchanges that give students an opportunity to develop skills that
go far beyond just learning a second language. "There is a
different brain development taking place when you learn a second
language," adds Hoeckner. "Students who know at least one
additional language usually have improved memory and perception and
can switch easily between tasks, making them great
Time management is a huge skill for kids. At Resurrection
College Prep High School, the block schedule, with 82 minutes per
class every other day, not only allows students and teachers to
delve into the material more deeply, but helps students plan their
homework and projects around outside activities, work or family
commitments, says Kathleen Heneghan, communications coordinator at
The school also encourages students to talk to teachers and use
them as a resource, something they should learn to be comfortable
with before they leave for college, she says. Resurrection builds
in a daily seminar period in the middle of the day where students
can work on group projects or meet with teachers or advisors. "They
are learning how to manage business as a student," she says.
Just as Resurrection does for each of its students in assigning
an adult in the building as an advisor, Heneghan suggests parents
help their students find someone in their high school they can turn
to as an advisor or mentor.
While high school is the perfect time for students to explore
their passions through extracurricular activities, there is such a
thing as being too involved. "Colleges are not looking for the
'Yearbook Kid'-the student who participates in everything, but
doesn't make a difference in anything," says Borsch. Colleges want
to see that students take on leadership roles and are involved in
activities that are meaningful to them, their schools and even
"Students should always be looking for ways to get involved with
the community at large," says Suzanne LoSasso, college counselor/IB
coordinator for Beacon Academy. "Get out from behind the school
walls and see what you can do to make a difference."
Look at the full college experience, don't just zone in on one
aspect, such as athletics. "If your student chooses a college
purely for a sport, he or she may find themselves stuck in an
environment that doesn't work for them," says Horton. Also, don't
write off an institution for a financial reason. "Just because you
see the sticker price, don't assume it isn't affordable," says
Klyn. "Start with the admissions counselor, be up front about your
financial concerns. They will lead you to additional resources that
may make the school more budget-friendly."
Experts also caution parents to not get too involved in your
student's final school selection. "Always keep your child in mind,"
says Moody. "Just because you fall in love with a campus doesn't
mean your child will. It's hard, but you have to take yourself out
of the equation and find the very best fit for your student. After
all, he or she is the one that will have to spend the next four
years on campus."
Adds Borsch, "If you have really listened to your child and know
in your gut this is the right place, go with it. Choosing a college
isn't a trophy, it's a match."
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