The Game Plan



Parents – close your eyes and imagine your children’s professional future. What are they doing? How much are they earning? Are they comfortable?

Now, imagine that future with an annual $15,500 cushion. Things look a little rosier, don’t they? That $15,500 may seem like a random number, but it’s not. $15,500 is the “college bonus” – the median additional salary that comes with a four-year college degree.

According to a 2014 Pew Research study[1], today’s 25 to 32 year olds with bachelor’s degrees earn a median salary of $45,500. That’s $15,500 – the magic number – more per year than their peers with two-year degrees or some college hours, and $17,500 more than those with a high school diploma only. Bachelor degree holders are also less likely to be unemployed, living in poverty, or living with their parents. On a related note, they’re more likely to be married. Four years of college for a higher salary, independent living, and a spouse? Where do you sign?

The statistics are clear: College is worth it. Alihermy (Ali) Valdez, founder of College Bound, already knows this. It’s why she started College Bound, a college counseling company that helps Rio Grande Valley students get into and graduate from college. We’re bringing you some of Ali’s expertise in preparing students for the big senior-year-college-application experience. Follow Ali’s game plan, and your children will be on their way to stability and security.

Get Started in Middle School

Let’s be clear – we’re not suggesting that 11-year-olds get cracking on the college admissions essays due in six years. What we are recommending is focusing on college early. Here are some specific tips for making the most of the middle school years:

  1. Make it a family affair. Good things happen when parents and students head down the college path together. Spend time as a family talking about college, looking at college websites, and planning ahead.
  2. Start visiting colleges – and keeping track of them. Take a campus tour on the next family vacation, or even plan a trip to visit a certain campus. Ali recommends keeping a record of these visits in a notebook. Have your child jot down reactions, pros and cons, and other information that might come in handy later.
  3. Lay the groundwork for good grades. Colleges look closely at GPAs. Developing good study habits in middle school makes it easier for your child to do well in high school. Need study habit tips? Reach out to the folks at College Bound. Your child’s transcript will thank you.
  4. Support development of soft skills. Succeeding in college takes “real life” skills like asking for help when needed, taking initiative, and building relationships. Extracurricular activities help children build these skills. Encourage your child to join a sports team, common interest club, arts program, or whatever else sparks his or her interest.

Keep the Ball Rolling throughout High School

Freshman year is when things start to officially “count” as admissions officers review performance for all four years of high school. Make sure they like what they see by following these guidelines:

  1. Challenging courses are worth it. Colleges like a high GPA, but they also like to see students challenging themselves. Encourage your child to take one or two “hard” classes each year. They’ll be upping their chances of college admission and getting smarter at the same time.
  2. Keep the GPA strong with good study habits. Help your son or daughter continue with good study habits. Remind them to study for tests in advance, take good notes in class, and reach out for help when they need it.
  3. Up the involvement. Talk to your child about going deeper with extracurriculars. Encourage them to seek leadership positions, spearhead new projects, fundraisers, network, and more. This helps them develop skills that are critical in college and the real world.
  4. Keep visiting colleges. Spending time on college campuses is a great way to find the right school for your scholar. Try to visit a few colleges each year.

The Junior Year Checklist

If senior year is the highway to college, junior year is the on-ramp. A strong junior year is key to a successful senior year. Start checking items off your child’s college application list with these junior year tips:

  1. Make college lists. Have your child review his or her campus visit notebooks and favorite college websites, then start making the official list of prospective colleges.
  2. Discuss college summer programs. Check the schools on your child’s list for summer programs. Students who attend these programs get a little taste of college; they usually live on campus and work directly with professors. A college summer program also looks great on the resume. Be sure to look into financial aid options – many programs offer scholarships or flexible financing.
  3. Ensure your child takes the PSAT in October. The PSAT prepares students for the SAT and puts them in the running for a National Merit Scholarship. It’s only offered once a year, so be sure your son or daughter signs up.
  4. Help prep for the spring ACT or SAT. Many students wait until senior year to take standardized tests. College Bound recommends taking them junior year. That way, there’s time to prepare for a higher score if necessary.


Senior Year: Smooth Sailing

By following these guidelines, you and your child will be more than prepared when senior year rolls around. To find out more about the senior year experience or preparing for college in general, reach out to Ali and her team at College Bound College Bound makes it easy to start early, stay focused, and stick to the game plan. Because remember – it’s worth it.