Action Plan for College: Freshman Year
By Joe Messinger, CFP®
February 28, 2019
College Action Plan for Freshmen
In freshman year, everything is new (and sometimes kind of scary). New school, new classes, new classmates, new teachers…they are starting on the next part of their journey, and students know that things are going to change. At this point, students will start to think about something they may never have thought about before. What happens AFTER high school? Is it college or career or military or what?! What can families be doing during freshman year to lay a good foundation for the years ahead?
Let’s back up to BEFORE freshman year.
During January and February of a student’s 8th grade year, they will select courses for their first year of high school. Often their choices will be limited to general education requirements they need for graduation with a few electives thrown in.
Students and parents can look forward a bit though and see what options they have in the future. Maybe they see some exciting electives they’d like to take junior year? Maybe they’d like to take college courses while in high school eventually? They may have some prerequisites to plan for, or they may need to make sure they have the space in their schedule. It is a good time to do a little preplanning, and they’ll be excited by the prospects ahead.
When a college-bound student starts their freshman year, the high school GPA calculator starts up. For perhaps the first time, a student’s grades really count toward something. Their future college application will include grades from classes taken in 9th, 10th, and 11th grade (and perhaps 8th if they took high school credit that their district includes in the GPA). It is time to get a more serious.
Encourage a student to do well in their classes. Help your child be organized and set goals for the school year to help them stay motivated and focused. Support the student and make a plan to check in regularly about schoolwork. By staying on top of their assignments, you can head off problems early. Arrange to meet with your counselor to establish a relationship going forward. Read outside of class.
At this point, the majority of freshmen have no clue about careers. They only know about the careers they are exposed to in their own lives (parents, other adults they know, TV). Now is the time to do some general thinking and researching. What things are the student interested in? Research different careers–Google, YouTube, Occupational Outlook Handbook, summer camps. (Summer is a great time to explore interests, and these meaningful summer experiences are good for college applications.) Dig into what schooling/training do you need? What are the average wages? What does the job market look like? The more information a student can gather the better able they are to get a feel for a good fit.
Something else to consider…Did you know that nearly 80 percent of the jobs in the military are non-combat occupations? If the student is interested in the military, do your research and meet with recruiters. Read more about paying for college with military service by clicking here.
Preparing for College
Students have many decisions available to them for life after high school–career, trade school, community college, military, 2-year or 4-year degree. All are excellent choices depending on the student and their future goals.
As freshmen, they can start building their resume of extracurricular activities, community, and eventually work experiences. These activities are great ways to feel more engaged in school. All are valuable nuggets of information on the college application. A student does not need 10 different activities. In fact, colleges would prefer that a student have one, two, or three activities that they pursue, show passion for, and grow into over the years.
Start keeping track of all the details about honors/awards, activities, community service, extracurricular activities, and leadership positions in the student’s high school years. You’ll need that information when they apply to college. You don’t want to be trying to recreate that information in August of a child’s senior year.
Perhaps families take some time to visit a college campus together. It’s a great way to get your child excited about college. At this point, freshmen can wander a campus with their families to get a feel for it and explore a college fair which happen in the fall and spring–no expectations. Students can work on narrowing down the types of colleges they are interested in based on their preferred criteria–big vs small; urban vs rural vs suburban; etc. Our blog about college visits can help. They can start a very general list of colleges that sound interesting.
Paying for College
When students start thinking about colleges, parents start thinking (maybe worrying?) in earnest about how to pay for it. Freshman parents may not even realize how much it will actually cost. (FYI…around $25k per year for public college and around $50k per year for private college.) Don’t panic!
Make it a priority to have the college money conversation with the student. Our blog is a great tool for this discussion. It is so important (and will avoid much heartache) if parents and students are on the same page about how much college they can afford! We have seen too many parents who struggle with telling their children “no” when a college is too expensive.
Get the facts about what colleges cost and gain the knowledge you need about financial aid, scholarships, loans, work-study, etc. Parents need to understand how all the puzzle pieces fit together. Freshman year is NOT too early to start this learning. What aid is available and how do you qualify for it?
Also, consider asking Grandma and Grandpa about their plans. They may want to help, and you want to make sure their help doesn’t hurt potential financial aid and fits in with their estate planning. Even gift giving in the form of deposits to a child’s 529 plan are good ideas to help save.
Sharing this information is part of our mission every day. If you haven’t already done so, register for one of our Smart Money Moves for the College-Bound™ webinars. We have dates throughout the year. This detailed free webinar will give families a great foundation of knowledge to build on. Other good free resources include our blog page (take advantage of the search bar) and our social media feeds (Twitter and Facebook).
Testing – PSAT, ACT, & SAT
Testing, testing, testing. In high school, the standardized state required testing continues and picks up the pace.
Sometimes freshmen are ready to take the ACT or SAT for the first time for practice. Taking the actual exams early is great practice to understand the topics covered and the timing involved. In addition, the math sections test heavily on Algebra II and Geometry so taking these tests at the end of the completion of these math courses is the perfect time before losing any of that knowledge.
While the possibility of applying to college without providing ACT or SAT scores is a reality, merit aid/scholarships still often rely on those scores when determining awards.
Summer Before Sophomore Year
Summer is also a great time to do that money talk we mentioned above. No school responsibilities are hanging over their heads–a good time for family talk.
Summer is also a great time to explore interests and learn new skills at meaningful summer camps.
As a parent, you are going to be surprised by how fast these years fly by. Enjoy your summer time together as a family as the journey to life after college begins to race towards the finish line in their sophomore year.