Why Are First Graders Prepping For College?

The first graders in Kelli Rigo’s class at Johnsonville Elementary School in Harnett County, N.C., already have colleges picked out. That’s because Rigo has been making sure that “What is college?” is a question that is firmly planted in their brain.

“I want them to be able to understand what the application process is,” she declares in a video produced by The New York Times.

Itís an alarming trend: with the President Obamaís “College and Career-Ready” mantra at the fore, grade schools across the country are starting their youngest students on the road to college. Or perhaps it’s because our competitive culture has turned childhood into a checklist of readiness skills. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that the class of 2030 is already preparing for college.

In Rigo’s class, three students have chosen West Point and one Harvard. In a writing assignment, the children share their choice and what career they would pursue afterward. The future Harvard applicant wants to be a doctor. She canít wait to get to Cambridge because “my mom never lets me go anywhere.”

Another first grader declares, “College is a place where you have to go to get a job.”

Why on earth can kids not just be kids? Why do they have to be adults in training? Scarily, this trend is creeping across the U.S.

Early Admission

Last year, an elementary school in New York†canceled its annual May kindergarten play. The reason? The 5- and 6-year-old students needed to focus on college and career work.

The interim†principal of Harley Avenue Primary School in Elwood sent a letter to parents on April 25 notifying them the school had canceled plans for the May 14 and 15 event.

“The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple,”†read the letter, signed by Principal Ellen Best-Laimit and four kindergarten teachers.†”We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers.”

Checking out Pinterest confirms that this is an ongoing trend. Dozens of elementary schoolteachers share cute activities to introduce the road to college to their young charges. One cut-and-paste work sheet has students using circles and squares to sequence the steps. There are four: mail your application, get accepted, graduate high school and “move in, go to class and study hard!”

Campus tours are now popular field trips. In Santa Cruz County, Calif., 3,000 fourth graders go to a local campus†for tours on a single day in May. Rice University, in Houston, Texas, last year led 91 elementary and middle school tours and sent out 357 classroom packets with activities, literature and iron-on transfers for making T-shirts.

The New York Times reports that the University of Maryland has been deluged with requests. After leading 8,000 children on guided tours in 2012-13, the program director for visitor services, Betty Spengler, said they had to limit slots. “We had so many requests, we were doing tours five days a week,” she said. “It became impossible to sustain.”

Then there’s this elementary school in Oregon, whose website states: “In our classroom, we don’t say, ‘WILL go to college?’ . . . instead, we say, ‘WHICH college will you go to?’”

Mrs. Renzi, the fourth grade teacher, continues, “I believe students need to start thinking about setting a goal to go to college and begin to plan and anticipate it early in life.† The important thing isn’t WHERE they go to college; the important thing is that students GO to college.”

Each October our fourth grade team takes our fourth grade students on a field trip to Oregon State University. We also took campus tours of several dorm rooms, ate in a campus dining hall using a “real” OSU meal card, toured several academic buildings.

Children Need Time to Be Children

The trend of forcing grade schoolers to decide on which college they want to attend is alarming. Why should we force children to adopt our adult values and aspirations at a time when they should be exploring and being creative, not pinning themselves down to one college?

If this is what children perceive education to be, chances are that, by the time they are teenagers, they will be totally turned off to education. And that is the real tragedy.

Starting to choose classes in middle school as prequels to what you need in high school is one thing, but deciding on the college of your choice as a 9-year-old? Bad idea.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Margaret G.
Margaret G.2 years ago

I think that this trend of increasingly treating childhood as a preparation for being a well-employed adult is a symptom of a major problem with the economy in the United States. Ever since the 50's, the big corporations and the rich have played musical chairs with well-paying jobs, by driving down the wages, eliminating the jobs, or sending the jobs off-shore as much as possible. The result is that at least half of the available jobs do not pay well enough to live on, let alone enough to save for retirement and/or the post-secondary education of your children.

So what's left of the middle class is frantically trying to prepare their children for the few well-paying jobs available. I do not blame the anxious parents and educators; I blame he wealthy elites.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

When do these kids get to be kids? When do they get to play? Most child's play is a learning experience.

Sharon S.
Sharon S3 years ago

Wow, prepping for university in the primary grades. perhaps in the last year of junior. This is way too early. They should be outside playing.

delilah st louis
delilah st louis3 years ago

Let kids be .. they'll have enough pressure when they get older .

Rose Becke3 years ago

Let them be kids

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Kelsang Lamchen
Kelsang L3 years ago

It sounds like it's less of parenting, and more of playing with dolls. You've heard of trophy wives -- I guess some "parents" want to have trophy spawn.

Winn Adams
Winn A3 years ago

Good grief!

Freya H.
Freya H3 years ago

Kids need to be kids! All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. The problem with our (so-called) education system is it tries to be one-size-fits-all. That is why I like alternate schools, where children spend no more than 20% of their time in the classroom and 80% of their time studying and learning on their own. 90% of of the lessons that have stayed with me happened outside of school.

froudji thommes
froudji thommes3 years ago

It take so far more then school/college education to become an adult human... Learning how to deal with friends, cope with whatever deception life might bring, how to find a way avoiding boredom while being creative, these are things a 9 year old kid should learn, and that means some time off the school books