Years ago I decided that I would not be the one who shut doors in my children’s lives. That was God’s business. The way I saw it, my job was to keep as many doors open as possible throughout their growing up years and wait to see what He had in mind when the time came for them to enter the world as young adults.
Here’s how a friend of mine explained it to her child: “We are standing at the end of a long hallway filled with doors to various colleges or careers. Right now you’ve identified one door that you want to walk through. But, at the end of high school, you could develop a new interest and change your mind, thus needing in another door. The door that looks open now could suddenly close. So many things can happen over the course of high school. It is my job as your mom to leave as many doors open as possible so that you have a choice when the time comes.” How do you leave doors open?
1. Pursue a rigorous academic path in high school.
Competitive colleges want to see 4 years in all the core subjects – English (with lots of writing), math (through calculus), science (biology, chemistry, physics), history/social studies (world history, US history, US government), foreign language and a few electives. AP classes are becoming common, so your child needs several to be competitive. I recommend 3-6 depending upon your circumstances.
I don’t recommend tough classes just to jump through a college admissions hoop, but also because tough classes teach our kids how to think. I have watched kids blossom when stretched by a rigorous class and suddenly find direction. I have seen bored kids come to life. I’ve seen average students turn into exceptional students. I have witnessed teens find career direction and thus make better choices in the college they went to and the major they chose.
2. Take the right standardized tests.
At the most competitive level, your child needs the SAT or ACT with writing, 2-3 SAT Subject tests, and several AP tests. To keep all doors open, your child needs to start thinking about and preparing for testing by the sophomore year of high school. To read more about testing, click here.
3. Develop a quality extracurricular profile.
I probably focus more on this particular area of a child’s life than any other. For one thing, it is much more controllable than some of the other areas. A child with a fascinating extracurricular profile can overcome a lot, including less than stellar test scores. A student with quality activities, leadership, work, or service comes to the table with much more to offer. They have more confidence and understand themselves better. And, they have something to talk about in essays and interviews. Remember, I’m not talking about quantities of activities, but quality activities with depth. There is a huge difference!
4. Enlist the help of qualified teachers or tutors.
Even if you are highly educated and can teach all subjects at home, it is important to seek outside help for a few subjects. First, your children need to be exposed to other expert teachers who can expand their horizons. Secondly, your children will need at least 2 wonderful letters of recommendation from a teacher in the 11th or 12th grade in a traditional core subject. And, that teacher can’t be mom or dad. Homeschooling parents get their chance in the counselor letter, but we can’t write teacher recs. If your child is in public or private school, they need to be proactive and get to know their teachers outside of class. These teachers have large numbers of students and without special effort on the student’s part, your kid is just one of the crowd.
Don’t make the tragic mistake of thinking you know exactly what the future holds for your kids. I’ve seen too many students come to life in the junior year only to find that many doors were already closed to them because of early choices in high school.
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