Key to college success may begin earlier than you think

A look at starting college prep in middle school

HOUSTON – As your kids head back to school, the last thing on your mind might be college. But did you know the key to college success may begin earlier than you think? We are talking about starting college prep in middle school.

Henry Keculah Jr. has one mission: to help kids get into college. It's why he founded the college prep company 4.0 GPA.

"It brings joy to my heart because I'm helping my community become better and become stronger," Keculah said. "I saw that a lot of students struggled with preparing for college and not having parents that were aware of the process."

"He's always pushing me. He really gave me hope. I'm just pushing for it," Dulles High School senior Isaiah Milton said.

Keculah recommends students start college prep in middle school with a PSAT practice book.

"Parents should start off by doing five questions a day," Keculah said. "If you have a child that is in the sixth-, seventh-grade, eighth-grade level, make sure they are doing five questions a day."

Also in middle school: Pay attention to class selection.

"Kids are able to take pre-AP math, for example. If you take pre-AP Math in middle school and do well, you have the chance of earning high school credit," Keculah said. "Once you get to high school, you already have high school credits, so that allows you to participate in dual college programs that many schools in HISD, Cyfair ISD ... offer."

Another key to college success: Keep track of your grade-point average.

"It's real important to understand how the GPA works," Keculah said. "Request your GPA from your high school counselor. Request an unofficial transcript so you can know where your child stands."

The GPA along with test scores are the top two factors for college admission.

"When you are taking our SAT or ACT, there is no penalty for guessing," Keculah said, "If you are running out of time, bubble in every answer on your scantron."

And don't just think of the professional networking site LinkedIn as a place just for business professionals. More students are signing up, and it's giving them the chance to connect with professors, mentors and potential employers. Among the things to add to your profile: How you're helping out in the community.

"Start going to the food bank and volunteer four hours a month so you can put that on your resume," Keculah recommended.

Other college prep tips:
-Apply early for scholarship opportunities.
-Seniors should try to get applications in by October.
-Sit in the front of the class. Keculah said studies show students who sit near the front have fewer distractions and higher test scores.
-Go to college fairs. Many schools will provide application fee waivers for students they meet.
-Make plenty of campus visits and don't be shy when you do.

"It's very good to talk to the students. Ask them, 'Why did you come here?' So they can explain to you why they enjoy that university," Keculah said.

Keculah said there are some things parents do that can actually hurt their kids chances of getting into a good college.

Ways you may be hurting your child's college chances:
-Having your child take a lot of pre-AP courses or exams for which they are not prepared. Know what your child can handle. If your child does take a pre-AP class, make sure it's something they are strong in.
-Not keeping up with your child's GPA. Even if you check it once, Keculah said, you need to keep checking in on the average every semester to see if changes were made.
-Limiting college searches. Keculah recommends looking past the most popular colleges and apply to smaller schools where you might have a better chance.
-Consider your financial situation before applying. Check with financial aid options and really look at the expense over the months and years ahead.

4.0 GPA offers free courses and other workshops to help students and parents get ready for college.