Keep college prep out of elementary school

Even though some elementary school students might still be too small to get on the “big kid” rides, it doesn’t mean they’re too young for campus tours and serious contemplation of their futures. 

At least, that’s been the trend at elementary and middle schools throughout the country that have already begun encouraging college readiness and taking field trips to campuses such as Rice University, the University of North Carolina and the University of Maryland, as reported in a recent New York Times article. Not only do teachers implement activities that help students plan the steps to college, but students are encouraged to think about their career goals as young as 5 or 6 years old.

In addition to the common concern that the race to college acceptance starts too early, students also shouldn’t be bombarded with college preparation when they’re still trying to sign their name in cursive or learn their times tables. 

Many children — even college students — are asked what they want to do when they grow up. However, asking this question is quite different from expecting them to aim toward the same goal throughout their time in K-12, or even in college. Yes, having any career goal shows that children do think about their futures, but that doesn’t mean they need to know exactly what they want to do. 

For instance, as reported in the NY Times, one college planner compares preparing for college to starting Olympic training at a young age rather than at age 17. Yet, as mentioned in the article, one of the major concerns surrounds what happens to childhood exploration when making serious career goals trickles down from high school to elementary school. 

Making decisions so early limits children from having the freedom to develop their own interests later. A child with a dog may only want to become a veterinarian temporarily until a new interest arises.

Just as important, one has to ask what happens to childhood or adolescence in general when students are molded into perfect college applicants from the time they learn to tie their shoes. 

Probably the only benefit of early college readiness comes from programs that help bring college awareness to minority and low-income students, especially since a recent report from the Pell Institute found that the number of low-income students earning bachelor’s degrees has only risen from 6 to 9 percent since 1970, as mentioned in the NY Times article. 

In the past, USF’s Office of Admissions has held Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) Days in support of the Hillsborough County middle schools’ AVID program, which helps first-generation, minority and lower-income students. However, USF generally accepts high school and transfer students for guided tours.  

One of the components of the College Board’s National Office for School Counselor Advocacy is to communicate to all students — starting in elementary school — that they can do well in college. This is the type of encouragement that students should have from a young age. 

While younger students should be aware of the option to attend college, their formative years shouldn’t be spent hypothesizing about the major or school in which they will end up.

Isabelle Cavazos is a junior majoring in English and Spanish.