By Kate Forman, Rugger’s Edge Advisor
It was late December when a student (a senior) told me he wanted to attend USC and play football. His 1.82 GPA says otherwise. And he wasn’t on the football team. Ever. Not in all four years of high school. Add that he is no taller than 5’4” with a litany of behavioral offenses, and the odds of his acceptance stand at zero. This is more common than you might think; he had assumed that since he aced a few summer classes heading into senior year that he was set for success. What he didn’t take into account was that the classes he had taken over the summer were all for credit recovery; he had failed multiple classes over the course of his first three years in high school. The A’s he had just earned wasn’t enough to make up for all the Fs on his transcript. In his head, he had a 4.00 GPA; what he failed to realize was that his overall GPA was far lower; he didn’t understand that the Fs he earned as an underclassman was permanent. Making up for the damage would take way more than a few summer school classes.
Here’s the takeaway.
Day one matters. From the moment you walk into high school, it starts adding up; attendance, behavior, grades, sports, clubs, connections, social media, friendships, and most importantly, belonging. Kids who belong to something, kids who engage in the high school world, first have more fun and, second, are successful. When they belong to something, absolutely anything, they start to open doors for themselves.
If you want options when you graduate, then everything from day one matters. In that effort, and this will seem a little crazy, you must absolutely start talking and thinking about college as early as possible. It might seem aggressive, but in all reality, the kids who show up in my classroom as freshmen who are having those conversations at home don’t need to be convinced that school matters. They have already bought in; they understand the value of learning. It doesn’t mean that all those kids end up at a four-year university, but it does mean they do their homework, ask questions, and they are advocates of their own learning.
My 15-year-old wants to play sports in college, preferably soccer or water polo. We’ve started visiting college campuses. When we went home to Chicago for Christmas, we took advantage of our time and visited Northwestern. It was negative ten degrees, and we had nothing officially set up (no tour or guide), but simply walking around allowed her to see the future. She could start to imagine what it might be like to live there, to build her own life there, and now Northwestern is at the top of her list. We also headed north to Madison, Wisconsin; our friends live there and were able to give us a tour. She quickly took Madison off her list. The campus was too big, the town too overwhelming, and it wasn’t the right fit. Both universities are top notch, but now she can start to understand the differences between schools. There was no amount of talking that can replace those visits. She has first-hand knowledge which is making all the difference in the world.
When kids understand that every year of school is a rung on the ladder to higher education and that they won’t successfully scale that ladder without standing on every single step, they are willing to work. So talk. Talk so much that your kids roll their eyes at you. Talk about grades, talk about higher education, talk about joining clubs and sports, and interests. Talk about their dreams which you can then foster into learning. Talk about why school matters. Talk early. Talk often. Then listen.
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