Starting College Preparation Earlier Than Ever

When is the right time for students to begin preparations for college? Most educators and parents would agree that junior year is the logical starting point, as it has been the most common time for decades. Despite this consensus, some for-profit schools are now starting the college admissions process as early as seventh or eighth grade. This new school of thought arises from debate over the purpose of secondary education: is it just a training ground for future careers or a learning environment that naturally prepares students for the process?

Image courtesy of Todd Heisler/The New York Times

The discussion over the end goal of secondary education is not exclusive to the United States. Many countries around the world have very different ideas about the purpose of school and when to start preparing for adulthood. In Belgium, students at the age of 12 or 13 must choose between general, technical, art or vocational schools. General secondary education prepares students for university, technical schools blend practical and general courses, vocational schools offer job specific training and art schools offer education in performance and display arts.

Belgium isn’t the only European country requiring students and their families to determine career goals early on. Germany, Italy and Finland all have similar education policies, forcing students to make a choice between college and career training soon after middle school. To read more about European education systems, visit The Eurydice Index.

Despite the startling news that some American schools are preparing kids for college in middle school, it doesn’t seem that unusual when viewed in an international context. While I personally believe that waiting for college or career decisions until later in the learning cycle is the way to go, an argument can be made that Europe has it right with early decision-making among their schools.

What do you think about college and career preparation? When should students and teachers start the process?