Posted in HS4CC

5 Tips for Middle School Parents

If your teen is approaching high school in the fall, you’re probably worried that they’ll be ready to start earning college credit! I know I was nervous with my 4 sons, but being on the other side of it, I think these 5 tips will help you transition with ease and success.

(1) Make a “Draft” High School Schedule

Let me say this with all the compasion I can muster, no matter what you write down today, it’s going to change. I’ve never met a parent who didn’t revise their high school schedule a dozen times, so while many of us love to plan (and plan, and plan) just know that a revision doesn’t mean you’ve made an error- it means you’ve made an improvement.

Draft tips:

  1. Find out if your state has high school graduation requirements (most don’t).
  2. Find out if your community college has free or reduced tuition in high school (most do) and what grade you can enroll. If it’s 11th grade (typical) then make a loose goal of starting at that time.
  3. Find out your state public university admissions requirements. If a 4-year college is on the horizon, use these as your “minimums” for number of high school credits in each subject.
  4. Cover the 5 basics: English, Math, Science, History, Electives (may include Foreign Language).
  5. If you are confident about your student’s goal- you can get specific. If you’re not confident, stay general.

(2) Talk to Your Teen About Career “Fields”

How many possible jobs are there? Probably hundreds of thousands. Sometimes parents get caught up trying to nail down specific “jobs” for their teen too early. Keep in mind that no one starts a job in their early 20’s and keeps that job their whole life. Jobs change- but what is helpful is identifying career fields. Students of all ages and abilities can identify a career field they’re interested in, while only teens with specific interests and abilities will match to specific jobs. As their academic strengths and weaknesses evolve, you can rule in (or rule out) specific job paths. While income is usually tied to higher academics, that’s not always the case. The Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook website tracks and reports actual earnings for real jobs.

Example of a Career Field: Animals

Examples of Jobs Within that Field

  • Very rigorous academics (4+ years of hard science and higher math): Veterinarian
  • Rigorous academics/4 year degree: Marine Biologist, Zoologist, Poultry Science, Animal Nutrition
  • 2-year degrees: Veterinary Tech/Assistant, Rehabilitation Management, Animal Control, Equine Management,
  • Less than 2-year degree/On the Job: Groomer, Animal Trainer, Animal Breeder, Pet Sitter, Dog Walker, Self-employed, Animal Care, Small Animal Farmer.

(3) Gently Talk to your Teen About Weaknesses

You are your teen’s best guidance counselor, so you know your teen’s strengths and weaknesses. We all have weaknesses! Use your wisdom to help your teen pursue their passion in a way that circumvents their weaknesses.

When I was in 8th grade, my biology teacher (Mr. Truelsen) and my foods teacher (Mrs. Truelsen) took great interest in helping me plan my future. I told them both that I wanted to study biology or culinary arts. On my best day, I barely earned a “B” in math, but I enthusiastically earned “A’s” in Foods I, II, III, IV. At a time when women weren’t chefs, they took me to meet 4 local chefs and drove me across the state to attend my first food show. They strongly encouraged me to attend culinary school instead of the 4-year university, my peers attended. Decades later I can tell you they were 100% correct. I thrived in culinary school and as a chef. Later, as an adult I returned to school and earned a Master of Science in Nutrition. The courses that gave me the most trouble? Biology, Chemistry, and Physics! NO WAY was I capable of hard sciences at age 17. I likely wouldn’t have graduated. As wise adults, they knew my weaknesses in a way that I didn’t have the life experience to understand at the time. Thank you Mr. & Mrs. Truelsen!

(4) Plan 9 College Credits: Spark Stage

If your teen’s first 9 credits are successful, they’re going to be successful. If your teen’s first 9 credits are a disaster…it’s going to be very, very hard.

While it is tempting to create a full 4-year plan packed with college credits, my advice is to plan only 9 college credits (3 courses) first. Your learning curve from 0-9 is so steep, so informative, and so life-changing, that you’ll sell yourself short if you try and plan before you’ve gone through that learning process. This tip is as important for you as it is for your teen. As their guidance counselor, you’ll be making the planning decisions and enrollment choices for them. As a team, your objective is to be successful out of the gate. Success begets success.

(5) Align Your Budget with Academic Goals

When my oldest started high school, I had no concept of what college would cost. Once I discovered that $25,000 per year was the norm (in 2008) it might as well have been a billion dollars- we didn’t have that. We had 4 kids to launch, and our college savings at that time was a a big, fat, zero. By 2013 when my oldest graduated high school, I’d figured it out. I had a solid plan in place to make sure all 4 kids got through college without debt. My plan was a combination of my husband taking a job across the country that provided educational benefits for our kids, using CLEP exams to reduce the number of classes they needed to take, moving to a state with free dual enrollment so they could rack up 2+ years of college in high school, applying for scholarships, and each of them working a job to contribute money to share the burden of the final credit. That plan took a lot of work, and we made some extreme decisions that might not make sense for everyone.

You can’t avoid the budget conversation. College is exceptionally expensive, and the “default” position for many students is to simply borrow everything and spend their lives in debt. When you resourcefully plan your teen’s high school years, you can bring college credit into their plan in a way that saves time and money later. Every class taken in high school (for free or at a reduced cost) is one less class you’ll pay rack rate for after high school. It IS possible to get through college without debt, and you’re at a big advantage starting now.


Executive Director of Homeschooling for College Credit