Being accepted to a prestigious school isn't easy, which is why parents and experts say kids should be hitting the books before they reach high school.

Prep for college should start in junior high, experts advise

By: Abby Hayes, April 1, 2016

For parents, the tuition savings process often begins as soon as their child is born. Estimates on college loans can vary, but the earlier an education fund is created, the easier it is to pay for higher learning.

But what about for kids? When should they start hitting the books in order to adequately prepare for college studies? It may be earlier than you think, based on the results of a recent survey.

Approximately 6 in 10 parents say that in the ideal situation, kids should start getting ready for college life as early as the eighth or ninth grade, according to a newly released poll conducted by C2, a tutoring services firm. This aligns with what most education experts recommend as well.

"SATs are still used for approvals, but many no longer require them."

The application and admissions process tends to vary from one university to the next. Some institutions put a heavy focus on standardized testing. However, several aren't putting as much weight into these assessments as they have in the past. According to U.S. News and World Report, these schools include Wake Forest University in North Carolina, Bates College in Maine, Smith College in Massachusetts and Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Boards do use them when provided, but SATs aren't required as precondition to applying.

Others place more significance on how students perform in the classroom, believing it to be a better indicator of how students will perform over their college career.

Acceptance hard to come by
In several schools, however, particularly the Ivy Leagues, acceptance is increasingly difficult. This stems from the sheer volume of applications colleges receive each semester, many of which come from students boasting stellar grade point averages. At Harvard University in Massachusetts, one of the more prestigious universities in America, the overall acceptance rate for the class of 2017 was 5.8 percent, according to data compiled by private college counseling firm IvyCoach. Cornell University, located in New York, has the highest acceptance rate among the Ivy Leagues averaging 14 percent, according to Business Insider.

David Kim, CEO at C2, indicated that one of the ways high-achieving students can improve their chances is by taking practice tests whether for the SAT or ACT.

"Cornell has the highest Ivy League acceptance rate at 14 percent."

"Taking practice tests allow students to become familiar with the test and gives them the opportunity to strengthen areas of weakness," Kim explained. "The earlier students can merge the fundamentals with critical thinking and advanced problem solving, the easier the academic path will be."

Guidance counselors and education experts agree that one of the obstacles to performing well on standard tests boils down to nervousness. Because strong scores can be highly influential, students may underperform due to elevated stress and being worried about what to expect. Taking practice exams can put test takers' minds at ease.

Most parents worried about ability to pay
For parents, meanwhile, the worries revolve around how they'll pay for their kids' education. According to a poll conducted by Gallup, nearly three-quarters of parents with children under 18 are stressed about having the money to pay for the cost of tuition.

To help ease their anxiety, many parents are turning to private lenders for college loan quotes. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, newer product offerings include parent loans.  These loans enable parents to pick up the tab for the cost of tuition rather than the student applying. Additionally, fees are lower for parent loans than traditional student loans.

Parents who have used the loans say that they want to help their kids avoid what they had to deal with after they graduated from college.

"My husband and I got out of school with debt," Beverly Lowry of Dallas told the Journal. "It's a hard way to start life."

Including room and board, the annual cost to attend a private university over four years averages more than $43,920, according to data from the College Board. That's a 53 percent increase over the last decade.