Parent Question: Kid is in grade 5 but I’d like to get started on college planning as early as I can.

I received an email from a parent of grade school student and I remember feeling similar anxiety about high school and college planning! In this post, I’d like to talk about elementary and middle school years, and how they work towards resourceful high school planning for college.

I used to struggle with this question, mainly because I remember feeling similar urgency with my oldest somewhere around middle school. At the time, it was as if someone dumped cold water on my wonderful child-led-learning homeschool. I remember feeling like all the “fun” had to give way to the seriousness of academics and planning and *cough* college planning.

I started homeschooling in 1996ish, and I’ve gone through this now with 4 kids. My youngest is just a few months away from high school graduation and my years as a homeschool mom are almost over. Having homeschooled several kids, like you, meant I’ve done 5th grade multiple times, middle school multiple times, and now high school multiple times. You probably couldn’t have convinced me with my first to lighten up, some of us aren’t wired that way, but I will say that with each subsequent kid I’ve learn a little more, perfected my process a little, and though there have been many college credentials (certificates, diplomas, associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees) accumulated by my sons, I’m much better at seeing the big picture today than I was when I started 25 years ago. The big picture: strict planning very early on is unlikely to pay off in the way you think it will.

My Biggest Regret

My biggest regret(s) is that I over-planned too soon. I spent a lot of time in the very early years planning for things that were unplannable. For instance, I planned for my oldest son to earn 18 college credits in literature using CLEP and 21 college credits in math using ALEKS. The College Board (author of CLEP exams) experienced a downgraded in their exams, so 18 credits became 9 overnight. When my son selected a new target occupation (for the 5th time), his training program didn’t require any college credit in math, so while I’d planned for him to use 39 credits, what actually happened was NOT what I planned. For those of us who are “planning types” things like this feel like a disaster. I confess that I had a lot of anxiety over these changes, and only now, 10 years after he graduated high school, can I look back and say that this was a “mom” problem, not a “son” problem or “college” problem. This was me being overzealous and being more invested in me having a plan for him to follow instead of using my adult wisdom to help him develop his ideas into goals, and facilitate his goals into an action plan. (Can you see the distinction?)

What I Did Differently

With each subsequent son I got a little better, but my best plan (my youngest son) was the one that kept my focus on our homeschool and brought college credit into our homeschool when it fit in well with my son’s goals and interests. In other words, with my youngest, his homeschool experience was always front and center. Ironically, this son struggles the most academically, but facilitating his plan meant he earned the MOST college credit in high school of any of my sons. He will graduate high school with a college undergraduate certificate (earned in 10th grade) a college undergrad career diploma (earned in 11th grade) and his Associate’s of Applied Science degree (to be awarded with his high school diploma). What was different? Besides not feeling the same stress and anxiety I felt with my older sons, the main difference here is that I’ve been helping him accomplish his goal instead of focusing on my goal of executing my plan.

Your Plan Won’t Work

Between today (grade 5) and high school graduation, every target college you are considering WILL revamp and revise and change their policies and costs and transfer protocol. If you want evidence of this, go into a college’s website and see if you can find their archived college catalogs. You’ll see that these changes happen no matter what YOU are doing in your homeschool, so it is a waste of effort to try and predict what some random college might or might not do, what credits might or might not transfer, and what your kids might or might not study.

Between today (grade 5) and high school graduation, your daughter will meet hundreds of people, interact with topics and questions that will direct her interests. These are unknown.

Between today (grade 5) and high school graduation, technology will emerge that hasn’t happened today. Careers that don’t exist today, businesses that don’t exist today, skills that don’t exist today, and college majors that don’t exist today are all being developed. These are exciting options!

Suppose you try to plan their middle, high, and college educational experiences this far in advance. In that case, you’ll experience extreme frustration because your plan doesn’t include the most significant variable of all: your kids.  Your HS4CC journey will be FULL of adjustments, and that happens because they are becoming adults.  They will develop strong opinions and passions that they don’t have yet in the coming years. You might have a future engineer, a chef, or a poet.  Their first job may put them in contact with someone who inspires them to study medicine or business ownership.  Whether or not they take AP classes, get AP exam credit, or attend a particular university is interesting to think about. Still, the #1 objective at this stage is to keep developing their homeschool program.  

  1. Learn math, learn reading, learn to write.
  2. Teach your kids to own their weaknesses and preferences and then use adult wisdom to help them filter out occupations that are a poor fit.
  3. Teach your kids to own their strengths and preferences and use adult wisdom to help them filter in occupations that are a good fit.
  4. Comply with your state laws for homeschooling.
  5. Find out if your state has graduation requirements for homeschoolers.
  6. Pour fuel on your teen’s interests and encourage them to try new things.
  7. Give them ample opportunities to meet people in their professional occupational role. If the neighbor they’ve known for 10 years is also an electrician, get them talking to the neighbor about being an electrician. When you take your puppy to the vet, talk to the vet tech and veterinarians about their careers. Connect the dots for your kids that almost everyone around them works a job or has a career. Do not assume they are intuiting that realization.
  8. Your teen’s interests, abilities, and goals should loosely guide your plan (but with adult wisdom) until your teen is rock-solid about their goals for after high school.
  9. If your son or daughter graduates with 1 high school credit, they are ahead.
  10. You got this!

Author:

Executive Director of Homeschooling for College Credit