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Ask An Academy Expert: Justine Worthington

Preparing for College at Every Stage

For many families, planning for college begins in high school, but to be proactive it’s advisable to begin laying the groundwork sooner. While Lower and Middle school students certainly don’t need to start brainstorming college essays or piecing together their resumes, there are plenty of enjoyable ways your student can become better prepared for when it is time for essays and resumes.

Lower School Families 

Learning Is Fun

Students begin to create their perceptions of education during the early learning years. The adults in their lives can help to shape a healthy relationship with learning by providing them with many opportunities to explore, question, and become empowered in their academic journey. 

What Is A College? 

Even students who are aware of college through their supporting adults may not fully grasp what college is. Taking students to athletic or arts events is a natural way to introduce them to a college campus. Even then, they may not know why those students are there. Explaining to children that the grown-ups they see on the soccer field or in the orchestra are also “students in school” helps them begin to create those connections and to see that learning is a continuous process, taking many forms.

Take A Walk Around A Campus

Taking a walk on a college campus is one of the easiest ways to introduce the concept of college to young people. Many college campuses are perfect for a stroll - some even have fun spots to take a break. Starbucks cake pops, anyone? Families can enjoy the University of North Carolina Wilmington Teal Trail here in Wilmington. Take a detour to let young children closely examine the many plant species growing in the old-fashioned Southern Heritage Garden. Not only can you enjoy the plants and their history, but also it provides a setting in which to explain what a long and valued part of our local and national history colleges are.

Middle School Families

Creating Good Academic Habits

Middle school is still a time for children to enjoy their youth, but this is also when they should be solidifying good work habits. Finishing homework on time, self-advocacy, time management, and good study strategies will help your student build the foundation they will need to succeed in upper school and college. 

You Can Try It All; You Don’t Have To Do It All

Students have opportunities to try new things in middle school. This is a great time to do just that - try! Students should not feel compelled to do everything. Middle schoolers could seek volunteering opportunities, identify a mentor, ask someone to job shadow, and explore hobbies and interests.

Understand Upper School Academic Pathways

Middle school course grades are not required in the college admissions process. However, placement in courses during the middle school years can have an impact on future high school classes. CFA families should familiarize themselves with the academic pathways available to students in Upper School, especially students who may want to dive deeper into math and sciences. Use these links to look at the educational tracks of CFA’s Math and Science Department.

Upper School Families

Educational Planning

With the help of the college counseling team and an advisor, students begin to plan their general high school academic plans. At CFA, we utilize the Four-Year Academic Plan to help our students visualize their high school careers and set goals for themselves. 

Depth Not Breadth

A common misconception among high school students and their families is that students must do “everything” to be competitive in college applications. But that is not the case. Colleges urge students to identify their interests and dive deeper into those opportunities–not try to add more to an already robust resume. If you enjoy playing a musical instrument, have you considered giving lessons to a younger player? Do you enjoy soccer? Consider being a referee for the local YMCA. Students focusing on the depth of their involvement rather than the breadth remain among the most competitive applicants in a college application pool.

Build Relationships And Take Advantage of Resources

We hope all students will stop in, regardless of their grade, to meet us. We are eager to begin building relationships with our students and share the plethora of resources available to them. We encourage all supporting adults to join in this journey and invite you to attend one of our many events and programs. To see future happenings check out our Important Dates document. 

Editor’s Note:

At CFA’s Upper School, each student engages with a college counselor for detailed, personal support and guidance. With an enviable ratio of 1 counselor per 30 students, our counselors write effective letters of recommendation for every senior. This is just one invaluable service they provide; other services range from workshops to test prep, and the results – college admissions and on time graduation rates – speak to the success of those personalized services.

About the author:

Justine Worthington is Director of College Counseling at Cape Fear Academy. She has a BA in Psychology from Otterbein University and an MS in Instructional Leadership and Organizational Development from Jacksonville University. Worthington has been in the college admission profession for over 11 years, previously serving as Director of College Counseling at an independent school in Florida. Currently, she serves as a Governance and Nominating Committee member and as the Sweet Tea Tour Chair of the Southern Association of College Admission Counseling, North and South Carolina Regional Chair for the Association of College Counselors in Independent Schools, and Co-Founder of the Wilmington Counselor Consortium.