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The Eight-Year-Old Prospective College Student

Marcia Kramer

by Marcia Kramer, MA, IECA Member (NJ)

Recently on a tour of Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas I had to back up at the entrance to the library to let a group of about 25 children pass out the front doors. These children, probably 3rd or 4th graders, all wore the same red t-shirt with the logo of their school and their school’s mascot. I assumed they were doing some sort of project (like the way I used to take art classes at our local college when I was in third grade). On our way to the dorms, the same 25 children came pouring out of a room (yes 25 children in a single dorm room—but they were little). Their guide, clearly a Trinity student, urged them to stay together and hurry up. I turned to her and asked, “What are they doing?” She knew what I meant. These children, no more than eight or nine years old were clearly not on the college tour circuit. “It’s never too young to start looking,” she said in a perky voice.

So it was with sad recognition that I opened the Education Life section of the New York Times (February 4, 2015) to see an article on ABC, Already Bound For College, as the cover story. Here, first grade teachers have their students choose their favorite mascots and talk about what college they want to go to and how it will help them reach their career goals. I had thought the sight on the Trinity campus was an anomaly, but I was clearly wrong. It’s happening all over: UC Santa Cruz, University of Maryland (who can’t find enough time slots for all the requests from elementary schools for tours), and Rice University—to name a few.

I’ll get right to the point: the idea we have to prepare seven year olds is lunacy. Children, whether in first grade or third or fifth, need to be doing age appropriate activities: playing on the play ground, working in small groups to learn collaboration, developing reading and math skills (of which our country does a pretty poor job for a developed nation—and if our children can’t read and add, they certainly can’t go to college).

So why does our culture feel it’s necessary to take seven year olds to see a college? How can an eight year old understand that college is about more than chicken fingers and pizza in the cafeteria or Testudo the terrapin (or any other mascot that might catch their fancy)? Answer: they can’t.

So while it’s cute to see a group of 20 children in their red t-shirts, I’d certainly rather see them on a field trip to the zoo or an outdoor education center, especially those urban children whose connection to nature is slim. Let’s save college tours for high school students. And for underrepresented students, there are successful non-profits like College Summit or the Posse Foundation (though there are many more students who could go to college if there was more money and these organizations could handle more students) addressing the achievement gap and helping to get underrepresented populations to college—at an appropriate time.

3 Responses to The Eight-Year-Old Prospective College Student

  1. Mark Sklarow Mark Sklarow says:

    Marcia, while I join you in your frustration that we see younger and younger students pushed into the college search and the frenzy that accompanies it, I found myself with the opposite feeling about this college tour by elementary school kids. I think it can be a great thing. Let me explain…

    Research shows that by Middle School, a student has made their mental determination about whether “people like me” go to college, or not. The result of this early awareness is that millions of students—particularly those from working class and poor communities dismiss college as a realistic option long before college readiness or anxieties set in.

    Programs that allow children, especially from first generation families or those living in under-represented communities, to visit colleges early on may be able to provide that spark. What might a 9-year old see? A magnificent urban park, hundreds of students—diverse in so many ways—sharing lunch and laughs in the dining hall, classrooms outfitted with the latest technology, massive gyms, auditoriums, science centers and more. Imagine seeing dorm rooms, a campus radio station, art labs.

    Chances are, they’ll see students that “look like them” sending a subtle message: you belong here.

    Marcia, like you I don’t want students to think: ‘I must go to a particular, highly selective college someday.’ But what I hope for is that they’ll think: I want this! I want to go to college! I’ll work hard so that I can live in a place like this some day!

  2. Marcia says:


    I thought a great deal about low income and first generation students when I wrote this. In fact, the original blog had two more paragraphs about such students. I understand your point of view; but I still believe there are other ways to reach these particular students. While there are not enough programs like College Summit and the Posse Foundation, these are two examples of programs that help college able but not college bound students to put college into their future in a very real way—later than at seven or eight years old. I strongly believe in a developmental model of growth for children. I wish the world were different and that bias, economics, social class were not a part of determining who receives a college education. The sad fact is that they are. If research bears out your point, that these children in fact do get to college and graduate because they have been exposed to college campuses at an early age, then I’ll change my mind. But for now, I want to see these kids in a park, or at a summer camp where they might be exposed to the same values as what you suggest but in a more age appropriate environment, Places like Frost Valley YMCA of the Catskills does exactly what you suggest (minus the thrill of a college campus). They take students from low income homes and put them in a community where they learn from their peers about options available to them early on. Then with the support of a diverse group of friends, mentors and role models, these young people may find their way to college.

  3. Allison Kimmerle says:

    OK, I can imagine the situation and it inspires the warm fuzzies, but…I’d be happier if the kids were walking through campus with mom and dad, just for fun. If this is a program inspired by the colleges themselves, I don’t like it. If it happened because students from these colleges mentored these kids, or coached their teams, or read with them and as part of the deal the kids got a tour of their mentor’s/coach’s/tutor’s college campus, then cool! Thanks for sharing Mark and Marcia…provocative!

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