For parents of Lodi’s middle school children, I offer this advice: If your child aspires to college, get him pointed in that direction this summer. By the time a student reaches his third or junior year of high school, the die is cast. By then, it’s too late to add anything to his college application that would significantly upgrade his chances.

A recent U.S. News story told about a Colorado high school senior who was at NASA in Houston conducting an experiment with other honors students on a new plant growth chamber that she’d helped develop. During her NASA internship, she received rejections from Brown, Tufts and Amherst. Plant science wasn’t the young student’s only outstanding qualification. She’d maintained a 3.6 unweighted GPA in the International Baccalaureate program and an ACT score of 33. Her extracurricular activities included playing French horn in the All-Colorado Honor Band and mellophone in the marching band; she had also volunteered with a teen suicide prevention organization and a nonprofit that helps rescue child soldiers in Uganda.

For the ultra-exclusive Ivy League colleges, competition is even more cutthroat. Of the 26,664 students who applied to Princeton University for fall 2012, 10,225 had a 4.0 GPA, and 13,945 scored 2100 or higher on the SAT. Admissions officers admit that rejected students’ qualifications are often indistinguishable from those accepted.

The Northwestern University School of Education recommends that, as hard to believe as it may be, college preparation should begin as early as the sixth grade because there so many objectives to reach and information to collect. Northwestern stresses developing talents, examining personal traits and engaging in character-building experiences that will develop a solid undergraduate candidate. An example for junior high kids might be to volunteer at a local senior center to interact with the aging population.

Northwestern offers several other useful and easy-to-carry-out suggestions. Whether a young student’s interest is singing, dancing, art, computers, martial arts, writing or community outreach, he should set high goals and demonstrate stick-to-itiveness that will impress the admissions department. Participating in off-campus activities during summer months helps build relationships that may give the prospective college-bound youngster more commendations from a wider source of supporters.

Beyond Northwestern’s tip sheet, it also recommends its Midwest Academic Talent Search test, designed for students between third and ninth grade. The increasingly popular test, which costs about $70, determines how their child’s academic performance will compare to his peers and pinpoints specific subjects that need extra study.

By preparing early, students will have a greater chance of being accepted at the college of their choice. Both parents and child have to put forth a lot of hard work in preparing for and submitting applications. But without a coveted college diploma, job prospects will be slim.

While many analysts debate whether a college education is worth its cost in this depressed employment market, one thing is certain: Without a four-year degree, the job search for a position other than one in the minimum-wage range will be tough.

On the other hand, employment prospects for college grads are looking up. Earlier this year, a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that corporations expect to hire 9 percent more graduates from the class of 2014 than it did last year.

Look at it this way: Preparing your child early can’t hurt. But in the increasing and almost impossibly competitive world of college admissions, being safe is better than being sorry.

Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Unified School District after a 23-year teaching career. Contact him at

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