About two months ago, BBC News reported on a study, conducted by the U.K.-based Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), of 16,000 students who had applied for undergraduate admissions to universities and colleges across the U.K. The article’s headline says it all: “Early university ambitions pay off, survey suggests.”
The article began with a bang:
“Children who know at 10 that they want to go to university are twice as likely to go to a selective one than those who decide at 16, a survey says.”
Mary Curnock Cook, the chief executive at UCAS, continued:
“This report is clear–the earlier children set their sights on university, the more likely they are to go. We need to reset the barometer reading for progression to [higher education] to a much earlier age–10 or younger.”
Elementary school parents in the U.S., take heed. Are you talking to your fourth and fifth graders about college right now? If not, you should be, according to our friends across the Atlantic.
My colleague, Marie Segares, and I co-host USACollegeChat, a free weekly podcast for parents who think they could use a little help negotiating the complicated world of college admissions for their kids. For two years, we have targeted high school parents as the likely audience for our episodes, but I am beginning to think we blew it. Maybe we should be talking to middle school parents. Maybe even elementary school parents!
Frankly, I have no doubt that the survey is right. When our book came out last year (How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for High School Parents), an interviewer asked me when I started to talk to my own kids about college. I said, “As soon as they could sit and talk at the dinner table–in their highchairs.” I really wasn’t kidding. Just ask them.
As Cook commented, “Having a focus on university helps provide the rationale for working hard.” Have kids focus earlier than we might have thought, the study tells us.
What’s the downside? I don’t see one. Does it put more pressure on kids to do well in elementary school and middle school? Maybe, but not as much pressure as they will feel later if they head into high school underprepared to take on rigorous academic work.
Parents of elementary school and middle school students, do this now: Talk with your kids about all kinds of colleges all across the U.S. and abroad. (If you need help, send them to Episodes 27-53 of our podcast for a virtual nationwide tour of colleges.) Set expectations for going to college. Have family members and friends talk about their colleges. Visit college campuses informally. Attend sports and cultural events at nearby colleges.
Parents, you can do these things, whether you attended college yourself or not. If your kid is 10, the clock is ticking.