The Impact of Early Exposure: Exploring How Early Post-Secondary Preparation Can Positively Influence Our Scholars

Scholars from Parkway Center City Middle College at their annual Student-Staff sports competition | Nurya Abdullah, High School Photographer
Scholars from Parkway Center City Middle College at their annual Student-Staff sports competition | Nurya Abdullah, High School Photographer

Many students begin contemplating college preparation in high school, but is that truly the optimal time to start? With the current school system, it may be more advantageous to start preparing children in middle school. This way, students can fully comprehend the impact of their academic performance and make any necessary changes before the critical high school years.

Many students may not fully understand the impact of their GPA and academic performance until they are well into their high school years. By then, it may be too late to make any outstanding changes, grade-wise.

One of the principal issues with student performance is that many feel like they do not have enough time left to raise their GPA or participate in programs that can help them stand out to college admissions.

While there are many kids who were adequately equipped for college in middle school by knowing how important all four years of high school would be to their post-secondary plans, many kids did not have this knowledge. Many didn’t know it was hard to raise their GPA or even wanted to until after their freshman year of high school. Many didn’t contemplate the different sports and extracurriculars they could take part in and which of those could interest them and help their college applications at the same time.

Many do not start thinking about college until their junior year of high school. While college may have crossed their mind, the logistics of it may not have. For example, whether they want to go or pursue a different path, what they want to study, how long they want to attend college, whether they want to stay in-state or go out of state, whether they want to travel abroad, whether they want to live on campus or off-campus, whether they prefer a suburban or rural setting for their college, whether they want to attend a predominantly white institution (PWI) or a historically black college or university (HBCU), or both.

This is in addition to college visits, which provide an overwhelming amount of information about each college. How do they know if they are choosing the best college for them and if they meet the qualifications? All of these options carry significant weight during the application process.

Waiting too long to prepare can lead to other challenges, such as relying on SAT scores to compensate for attendance and GPA during the first few years of high school or hoping that extracurricular activities will impress college admissions officers more than GPA.

They may also face difficulties in obtaining recommendation letters if they don't start taking school seriously until the middle of their junior year and don't have a strong relationship with many staff members who could write them a recommendation. And let's not forget about scholarships.

The college process requires a great deal of thought, and it would be much more beneficial if students started considering the idea of college before entering high school.

One of the principal benefits of starting to contemplate college early is that it helps your high school resume look more consistent. While you don't have to understand what you want to do in seventh grade, finding something that you love doing before high school can be hugely helpful. Many people scramble around in different areas, doing different things in high school instead of mastering just one thing because they are not sure what direction they want to head in.

On the other hand, we have the kids who knew they wanted to go to college since the eighth grade. The kids who knew that even their freshman year of high school counted for something. That their extracurriculars are important. They came in with their head straight, and this immediately gave them an advantage over their peers.

Another benefit of starting college preparation in middle school is that it allows more time for students to explore their interests and passions. By starting earlier, students can take a wider range of classes and extracurricular activities, which can help them discover what they are genuinely passionate about. This can give them a head start on finding the right thing for them to pursue.

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Of course, there are concerns about putting too much pressure on young students. However, it is essential to approach college preparation in a way that emphasizes exploration and finding their passions rather than just grades and test scores.

It would be outrageous to insist that twelve-year-olds know where they want to go to college, but it is reasonable to ask those same twelve-year-olds to understand the gravity of high school participation and figure out what they love doing. When we prepare for life after high school, particularly college, too late, it eventually becomes less about self-discovery and more about statistics. By framing it in this way, students can feel more empowered to take control of their academic journey and make informed decisions about their future.

Parkway Center City Middle College, Class of 2023 Graduation ceremony at the Community College of Philadelphia | Nurya Abdullah, High School Photographer

Other times, it isn't even the students who come more prepared; it's the high schools.

COVID-19 ruined the high school selection process for many students entering high school around that time. Many were just happy they finally got the opportunity to go back outside into the real world. There were no high school tours or open houses, let alone anyone thinking about which high school could help them succeed the best when it comes to college. What high schools had the best sports programs, the best robotics clubs, AP and IB courses, and even what schools were offering degrees was the last thing on people's minds. Students ended up at schools they were unhappy with, and that didn't prepare them adequately for college.

Parkway Center City Middle College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is one of the only schools in their city to allow students to graduate with both an associate's degree and a diploma at the same time. The kids take one of their first college classes soon after completing the eighth grade. Their first two years mainly consist of high school classes, and their junior and senior years of high school take place at the Community College of Philadelphia full-time. At the end of their four years, if successful, these kids graduate with both a degree and a diploma.

Opportunities like this put students at an advantage because many kids choose to transfer these credits to a four-year university and end up getting their bachelor's degree two years earlier than most. But of course, these are the types of opportunities that you just have to be lucky enough to find out about while you are in middle school.

Educating kids on the college and post-secondary process in middle school and how their high school years affect that may be the missing piece.

Taking a proactive approach to college preparation can be beneficial for students. Starting college preparation in middle school can help them understand the impact of their academic performance and make necessary changes while they still have time. It also gives them more time to explore their interests, take a wider range of classes and extracurricular activities, and discover their passions.

By providing access to good high school opportunities and introducing college and career readiness classes early on, we can help students prepare for the challenges ahead.

Emphasizing exploration and self-discovery, rather than just grades and test scores, is essential for successful preparation for children after high school, whether that be college or another route. This approach can set students up for success and help them achieve their goals. It ensures that no one is disadvantaged or better prepared for college than the next student.


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