I tutor kids and help them with college applications, so here are my words of advice. I try to tell all my middle school families these tips before they start to panic about college (and for that matter high school) admissions:
1) Cultivate interests outside of school - genuine, heartfelt interests. Community service, a musical instrument, theater, their own t-shirt business, etc. So few students these days have something that they love outside of their academic commitments, and it's really important for self esteem, mental health, and (p.s.) college admissions.
2) 9th grade grades are not really important. If you have a kid who's "adjusting" to high school, by all means get him or her help, but don't freak out vis a vis college now. Kids need to make the transition to high school, which is hard enough. Sometimes a previously great student will have a pretty substantial dip during the changeover. Don't ignore it, but don't tell your kid it's a make-or-break year either.
3) ** Work on writing. Work on writing. Work on writing. ** Oh, and read. Real books. Can't emphasize this one enough. Readers are writers, writers are readers. Colleges want kids who can write well already.
4) Don't fret about test prep. Standardized tests are teachable -- that's why there are so many tutors out there for them!
6) Remind them this is the only time in their lives they will have to be good at everything. It's totally unfair, but the deal with school until college. Don't hesitate to get a tutor for your child if that will make him or her feel better in a particular class. Or help your kid form a study group. Encourage meeting with teachers, going for extra help -- whatever.
7) Have perspective: I've worked with many students on college admissions and every. single. one. of. them. has gotten into a college they LOVED. Maybe it wasn't the original dream or first choice, but once they visit and see -- whoa. They get SO excited. It's pretty amazing.
And added from PSP member Dale Rosenburg, mother of Doran (graduated from SUNY Purchase with a degree in journalism, a dying field, but he got a great education), Kendra (didn't go to college) and Zara (freshman at Hamline U where she seems to be having a great time and learning a lot):
I think these are good bits of advice. I'll add a few:
8) It’s all in the “fit.” There are colleges out there that will be great for your child. Don't think in terms of "good schools" but what's good for your specific child.
9) Have more perspective(!) NY has great state schools. We are fortunate to live in a state that has excellent public colleges and universities. The SUNYs deliver a high quality education at much less than the "rack rate" of private colleges. And there are lots of them and they can meet various needs/desires.
10) Financial aid can really help. That said, you won't necessarily have to pay rack rate. My daughter is now at a private college and with significant financial aid I am not paying much more than if she were at a SUNY.
11) Community College can help with uncertainty. Community college can be a good thing for kids who are unsure about college and/or unready to leave home. And the price is right.