• by Leticia Rodríguez, Ed.M. • IDRA Newsletter • September 2008 • 

In a recent story about an incoming Harvard freshman, one proud parent beamed as she helped her daughter move into the dorm, “I think I’m more excited than my daughter because it’s every parent’s dream to have their child attending such a prestigious college.”

What parent wouldn’t be proud! But Ivy League or not, regardless of the college they choose, all students are entitled to receive the same rigorous schooling to help them reach their goals. Early planning, intervention and continual support are essential ingredients to ensure that all students have the necessary academic foundations and develop the intellectual curiosity essential for success and graduation from any college.

Following are a few college prep tips teachers, counselors and administrators can share with families to help them navigate the journey from the cradle to college.

For Parents of Infants through Pre-Kindergarten- age Children

Create a family culture for the love of learning. Explore and engage

Talk about everything and anything. Find teachable moments in daily activities and events. From early on, shoot the breeze about college.

Teach self control

 Help young children understand their feelings. Give them choices. Find situations to model self-control.

Build self esteem and self confidence

 Help children feel successful in their early accomplishments. Provide opportunities for problem solving, persistence and independence.

“The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.”
– Robert Hutchins

Read often to infants

The act of reading to a young infant is more important than what you read. Reading out loud to babies in a cozy and comforting environment helps them to be soothed by the sound of your voice. And, in the future, reading will be associated with warm and happy feelings.

The Texas IDRA PIRC is proud to be working with HIPPY in Texas to support families and their children’s learning in this manner. HIPPY is a three-year (90-week) parent involvement and school readiness program in which learning and play go hand-in-hand. Using a structured curriculum, parents encourage their children to recognize shapes and colors, tell stories, follow directions, solve logical problems and acquire other school readiness skills.

Recommended books for infants are: Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, Touch and Feel Animals box set from DK Publishing, Baby Faces board book, #02: Smile!, by Roberta Grobel Intrater, Monkey See, Monkey Zoo from Lamaze Infant Development System, Barnyard Dance!, by Sandra Boynton, and Moo Baa La La La, also by Sandra Boynton.

Recommended Spanish-language books for infants include: Leonidas y su perro Luis by Esteban Serrano and Lucia Spotorno, My Family: Mi famila series by Pat Mora, Buenos Dias Baby! written and illustrated by Libby Ellis, and Te Amo, Bebe, Little One by Lisa Wheeler.

“A good plan executed now is better than a perfect plan next week.”
– George Patton

Enroll young children in Early Childhood Education programs

Recent longitudinal studies of early childhood development programs indicate that young children, especially economically disadvantaged ones, who participate in well-designed high quality, full-time or half-day, preschool programs demonstrate higher academic achievement and higher high school graduation rates and are more likely to attend college.

High quality early childhood programs also are fundamentally sound human investments that yield extraordinary high public returns. The Federal Bank of Minneapolis and the Federal Bank of Richmond have both recently made recommendations for prioritizing early childhood education as economic development initiatives over subsidizing professional sports stadiums that historically generate a small to negative public return and a negligible impact on reducing crime, increasing earnings and potentially breaking the chain of poverty.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis investigated the cost-benefit of high quality early childhood education programs like the Perry Pre-school Program, Abecadarian Project, Chicago Child-Parent Centers and the Elmira Prenatal Early Infancy Project. The results of longitudinal studies on these programs revealed a return ranging from $3 to $9 for every $1 invested.

In addition, the Federal Reserve used a real internal rate of return to adjust for inflation for the Perry School to more easily compare the public as well as private return. The estimate for the real internal rate of return was at 16 percent! Even when considering arguments based on payments and revenue streams or distribution over time the same result holds. When considered next to other government spending, like subsidizing football and basketball stadiums, investments in early childhood education, especially for economically disadvantaged children, yield higher public as well as private returns.

Save early and often

There is a proverb that says, “Money grows on the tree of patience.” This is sage advice to ponder since the average cost of private and public colleges increased by 40 percent from 2000 to 2006.

As daunting as the cost may seem, there are many resources, such as 529 college savings plans, scholarships, work-study programs and grants, to help families finance a college education. All of this financial aid information can be found free of charge on the Internet and from lending institutions and college financial aid offices. Saving early is a good vehicle for offsetting the cost of college, and every little bit saved counts.

For Parents of Elementary and Middle School Students

Learn what children need to know by the end of each school year.

In elementary school, parents armed with information about the essential knowledge and skills students need to pass state-mandated and national standards tests can be a valuable asset for high academic performance. For their middle school children, parents can meet with the school guidance counselor to learn about the right courses a student needs to take to stay on the college prep track for high school.

Many middle schools are now following the recommendations from the U.S. Department of Education for Algebra I in eighth grade, geometry in the ninth grade, and each year in English, history or geography, and science. Other recommended middle school courses are visual or drama classes, foreign language, and technology classes.

“Success doesn’t come to you…you go to it.”
– Marva Collins

Read and write together

Read books and more books, magazines, newspapers, the back of cereal boxes and more! Visit the library, record books together or start a mini-library at home.

Help children write letters and cards to family and friends. Young children like writing stories and books. Writing is a tool middle school students can use to connect with their peers. Encourage students to submit their best stories to the school newspaper, literary magazines or writing competitions. There also are web sites that support children’s writing, like Tikatok where children can write and illustrate their stories online.

Help children explore career options based on their interests and assets

Help them dream big.

For Parents of High School Students

Meet with the school guidance counselor to ensure students continue to take challenging and rigorous college prep courses. In recognition of the research that indicates that 80 percent of the jobs of the 21st Century will require a college degree, many states have incorporated more rigorous college readiness standards into high school curricula.

Encourage outside-the-classroom experiences

Volunteering, mentoring, hobbies and work experiences are the building blocks necessary to reinforce interpersonal and leadership skills for school and college admission and success.

Encourage girls as well as boys to participate in sports. Many female executives attribute their success in Corporate America to the leadership skills they learned on softball fields and basketball courts. Likewise, many CEOs and U.S. presidents credit their extraordinary success in life to the leadership skills they gained as Eagle Scouts.

“Nine tenths of education is encouragement.”
– Anatole France

Research and participate in pre-college programs

Numerous college preparatory programs, such as Upward Bound, GEAR-UP, Project Stay and POSSE, recruit first-generation college bound students. Many of these provide students with comprehensive guidance, support and information on college applications, financial aid, college admissions tests, college tours, summer college camps and parent involvement. Check with school administrators and guidance counselors for the availability of pre-college programs at the school campus.

Plan visits to college campuses – including virtual tours

 Many colleges provide tours on Saturdays. Look at college web sites for everything families want to know about colleges but are afraid or don’t know to ask. Many colleges have interactive sites with video of campus life and activities.

Attend local college fairs and contact local college alumni groups for more specific information about colleges of interest

Prior to attending a college fair, students can prepare general questions for the college recruiters, such as graduation rates, concentrations and majors, financial aid and scholarships, extracurricular activities and housing requirements.

When colleges are short on staff for college fairs, college alumni often volunteer to recruit at the fairs. These alums, especially recent grads, are a rich source of information for students and families. They are usually the most active members of the local alumni groups and are eager to provide information about their colleges. Many alumni clubs, such as The Texas Exes of San Antonio Chapter and Harvard Club of San Antonio, have school committees that sponsor early college awareness activities. Visit these and other alumni web sites for contact information and early college awareness activities.

Develop student-mentor relationships

Encourage your child to initiate a genuine relationship with his or her favorite teacher, coach, youth group sponsor, scout leader or other school leader. Each of these adults can provide life-long guidance and valuable recommendations for college or work.

Develop soft skills

Infuse them into children’s education along with academics. In today’s economy, policy and business leaders are saying: “Young people must also be able to work comfortably with people from other cultures, solve problems creatively, write and speak well, think in a multidisciplinary way, and evaluate information critically. And they need to be punctual, dependable and industrious.” (Gewertz, 2007)

A 2007 College Board study revealed that, over a lifetime, a college graduate has the potential to earn $800,000 more than a person with only a high school diploma. College graduates also are reported to generally be more optimistic, knowledgeable of world affairs and healthier. So despite the initial financial sticker shock of obtaining a college education, the short-term investments are minimal compared to the long-term benefits derived by the individual and our communities.


American Council of Education. “Guide for Parents: Ten Steps to Prepare Your Child for College” (Washington, D.C.: American Council of Education, 2008).

Fairfax Futures. “Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond President Touts Value of Early Education: President of Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond Jeff Lacker Speaks to Fairfax Futures Business Partners” (Fairfax County, Va.: Fairfax Futures, 2008).

Gewertz, C. “Soft Skills in Big Demand,” Education Week (June 12, 2007).

Grunewald, R., and A. Rolnick. A Proposal for Achieving High Returns on Early Childhood Development (Minneapolis, Minn.: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, 2005).

Lamphere, T. “I’ll Sit in Traffic, She’ll Go to College,” Fiscal Notes (Austin, Texas: Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, 2008).

Lightbulb Press, Inc. The Cost of College (New York, N.Y.: Lightbulb Press, 2006).

NECTAC (National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center). Effectiveness of Infant and Early Childhood Programs (Carrboro, N.C.: NECTAC, 2008).

Porter, K. “The Value of a College Degree,” Eric Digest, ED470038 (Washington D.C.: ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education, 2002).

Zero to Three. Everyday Ways to Support Your Baby’s and Toddler’s Early Learning (in English and Spanish) (Washington, D.C.: Zero to Three, 2007).

Leticia Rodríguez, Ed.M., is an education associate in IDRA Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2008, IDRA. The following article originally appeared in the September 2008 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]