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Four Ways to Teach Kids about College

By Alycia Zimmerman on October 24, 2012
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

If you ask any student at my elementary school what he knows about college, his eyes will light up. He will eagerly tell you about “his” college, about dormitory life, and possibly the latest scores for his collegiate teams. Yes, college may be ten years in the future for this child, but at my school college is an eagerly awaited eventuality — and a constant presence in our daily lives.





College in Kindergarten?! 

As teachers, we’re on the frontlines of a sea-change in our country — an all encompassing push to ensure that our future workforce has the post-secondary education necessary for the high-skilled occupations that will help our country thrive. This is what the increased rigor emphasized by the Common Core State Standards is all about.

But enough of the political-speak (you can turn on the TV for more of that). In teacher terms, we know that we teach and plan “with the end in mind.” Backward design is a cornerstone of our pedagogy. And if we are to take the very long view, college and career readiness is ultimately the “end” to bear in mind.

It makes sense, then, to let our students know about this important goal. Our students deserve to have big dreams and to know about the paths to achieve those dreams. Plus, when we teach them that college is necessary, expected, and important, we are also telling our students that we have high expectations for them because we believe in them!


#1 – Get Some Team Spirit!

At my school, each class “adopts” a college for the year. We decorate our classrooms with college regalia, the students write their college’s name on the heading of their papers, and each class proudly sings their college alma mater songs at school events. This ensures that after seven years at our elementary school (beginning in pre-K,) our students will have studied seven different colleges at great depth! (To watch my students proudly sing Princeton's alma mater song, visit my class website.)

In this "University of Michigan classroom," the teacher calls her students to attention with a "Go Blue" chant.

A college themed door welcomes my students to my classroom. 


#2 – A Fabumouse Read-Aloud 

In 2005 actor, author, and Harvard class of ’67 graduate John Lithgow wrote a lighthearted rhyme about a college-bound mouse for his Harvard commencement speech. Two years later he published this beautiful picture book for a younger audience — or perhaps for audiences of all ages. Mahalia Mouse Goes to College tells the story of a young mouse who accidentally attends a college lecture while searching for food scraps. The mouse becomes so enamored with learning that she ends up matriculating with the college students.

The rollicking rhyming verse paired with extravagant vocabulary makes this book a blast to read aloud to students. And the take-away message is a winner:

“An epic account on a miniature scale,

Of a mouse who set forth on life's bumpy trail

And succeeded by simply refusing to fail.”


#3 – Hold a College Fair

Every spring we hold a “junior college fair” at my school, a culmination of a year of learning about specific colleges. Each class prepares a display of student work and general information about their college. The students visit the college fair in the gymnasium. Special visitors also attend the fair to interact with the students — college professors, college students, musical performing groups from local colleges, and more.


The students add their college research to display boards for the college fair.


Last year, my class made a "Guess Where I Went to College" flap board. Students enjoyed raising the flaps to read my students' research about where famous people went to college and what they studied.

 Teachers get into the spirit of our college fair, showing off their own college pride.


#4 – Go Visit!

There’s nothing quite like walking around a college campus to make college “real” for young students. I’ve had students who have graduated from my school come back and tell me that our class trip to my alma mater was one of the most memorable experiences of elementary school.

When I plan our college-day, I reach out to the education department at the school to connect us with college students to talk with my students during our visit. I ask professors to give my students behind-the-scenes tours. And I make sure to leave time for plenty of kid-friendly fun!

Sitting in an old fashioned lecture hall is a novelty for 3rd graders.

Meeting a chemistry student and snooping around the lab was a highlight of the trip.


What does your school do to promote a college-bound culture among your students? Do you plan to use any of these ideas in your classroom? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!


Comments (7)

Yes, come join us in the NEU network! The more schools, the greater the impact we can make on the future. Check out NEU on Facebook and interest as well. Feel free to connect with us all.
www.vvsd.org/jrt. We're on the Road to College!

Great tips Alycia! Thanks for keeping the focus on college readiness at an early age!

Check out the No Excuses University Network of schools if you have not heard of them. Love everything you are doing.

Yes, we're a network of 175 schools across the country that promote college readiness in a comprehensive way beginning in pre-school. www.noexcusesu.com

Dear Alycia, 
I loved your article; your excitement and dedication for teaching is very apparent. We are also excited that the new Common Core State Standards are going to be implemented to help children become prepared for College.

We at TeacherStep, a company focused on making teacher recertification simple, offer professional development graduate courses for Teachers, created by Teachers!

We have just developed new CCSS education courses, and we would love to have you check them out. Here is our website: http://www.teacherstep.com.

Hope to hear back from you soon, our email address is below.
And thank you so much, your articles are wonderful!

Warmest Regards,
-The TeacherStep Team

OMG--this is the best article I have read about getting kids excited about college. And at such an early stage--it's just so important to get kids thinking about going on to college--even in primary grades. They have to know that this is an option--that college is a possibility.
Question--do teachers all promote their alma maters for this day?
It is so refreshing to see a teacher and a school that seems to go above and beyond the normal daily curriculum and pressures to participate in a project as exciting as this! I wish I could visit a school--yours!

Hi, thank you for the lovely feedback! I am very excited about the college focus at my school, and it's great to hear from a like-minded reader! To answer your questions, yes, most of us promote our alma mater colleges with our classes. It makes for a more personal connection when we can talk firsthand about our experiences back when we were college students. Some of the teachers do pick other colleges when there are duplicates, or when they want a nearby college to make visiting easier. In those cases, the teacher tries to make a personal connection with the college and invite students from the college to visit our school. This helps to keep it personal and relatable for our young students.

All the best,

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