Ninth grade is the time to start looking for a college according to some educators. In New York, a number of new for-profit schools have opened that start college counseling for students who have barely started high school. Léman Manhattan indeed has seventh- and eighth-graders take a 3-day trip in the spring to visit college campuses. This school and another one called Avenues also advise parents about how to have students shape their “high school career” so as to make an applicant as appealing as possible.
Eleventh grade is the traditional time at which high schools have had students start planning for college. The New York Times quotes administrators from two elite private schools, Trinity School and Ethical Culture Fieldston School, who feel that starting any earlier puts too much pressure on students and turns high school into, in the words of the head of college counseling at Trinity, Larry Momo, “résumé building.”
Administrators at the for-profit schools counter that starting in the junior year of high school means that a student has lost valuable time to, in particular, make the best use of their summers, via internships or other activities.
(One does have to wonder: Are such for-profit schools measuring their “profits” based on where their graduates go to college?)
Lost in the discussion is one vital question: Are students as young as 14 (or younger) really ready to make decisions that will affect not only the next several years of their lives, but potentially their entire futures? Many of the freshman students that I talk to have no idea what they want to major in, let alone what sort of job and career they would like to pursue. Even the students who start college with what they say are very definite plans — medical school, a career in law — often find that they would really rather do something else, a decision reached largely as a result of them maturing, figuring out their own interests and inclinations, sizing up options and realities.
Should all of high school be exclusively devoted to preparing for college? Or is turning high school into full-time college prep quite missing the point about what education should be for a teenager, “allowing kids to develop their natural talents and inclinations and support those inclinations” as counselor Momo says?
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Photo of prospective students on a college campus tour by Peter Gene