How Early Should I Prep My Kid for College?

Ask Dr. Lomax: Use these tips to get your child on the right track.

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Academic readiness: It’s never too early to begin making sure your son is academically ready for college. Being prepared to take college-preparatory high school courses requires taking prerequisites starting in middle school. 

Make sure he takes the courses that colleges demand. In general, colleges want students to have taken college-prep courses instead of courses — many of them with the word “general” in their titles — aimed just at high school graduation. Advanced Placement courses help, too, and can count for college credit, increasing his chances of graduating in four years. You may also investigate actual college classes that your son may be able to take on a college campus while he’s still in high school. This will demystify college and accustom him to the college environment.

Membership in academic clubs can help your son get into any good college, not just the best known or most prestigious. This shows that your son is committed to learning, especially in the most important subjects, not only to getting good grades.

Making sure that he gets assigned to these college-prep courses may take some vigilance and advocacy on your part. There is an unfortunate history of assigning black students, and especially black males, to non-college-prep courses. You should check out his class assignments as soon as they are handed out and be prepared to talk to whoever makes the assignments to make sure he gets what he needs. 

You may need to do some advocacy at home as well. College-prep courses are more challenging and require more work, tempting students to take easier and less-demanding courses. It’s the parents’ job to make sure their kids understand that the hard work they put in now is an investment in getting the college education and having the life they want years down the road. It’s also the parents’ job to keep an eye on their kid’s progress in class. If he has trouble with a particular course, make sure he — or you — talks to his teacher and gets the help he needs before he falls too far behind.

College savings: This is another area where it pays to start early. If you aren’t already started saving for college, this is the perfect time to begin. Even modest deposits in a college-savings account can build a nice college nest egg. Plus, research has shown that saving for college increases the likelihood that your child will actually go to college, both because it gives the family resources they wouldn’t otherwise have had and because it gives students and parents an early stake in college — it gives them some skin in the game. See if your state has a state-sponsored college-savings plan, commonly known as a 529 plan. You’ll find a list of them here.

The road to college isn’t short or easy. But you’re doing the most important thing: You’re starting early and making sure your son is with you every step of the way. 

Good luck. And let me know, through The Root, how you do on your journey.

Michael Lomax is president and CEO of United Negro College Fund. He is a contributing editor for The Root.

If you have any questions about the college experience, whether you are a student or a parent, please send them to Dr. Lomax at

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.

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