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How to Prep Your Kid For College: A Preschool through High School Guide

Given that research shows that more “enrichment” activities do not further kids’ academic success, how can parents influence children’s academic achievement?

“After declining for decades, the amount of time that parents spent on childcare started to rise in the 1990s and then skyrocketed in the 2000s, especially among college-educated moms. Why? [Researchers Gary and Valerie Ramey] found a surprising answer: college. Specifically: the increased competition for kids to get into good colleges. These high-end parents weren’t simply babysitting; they were chauffeuring their kids to the kind of extracurricular activities that look good on a college application.”—from Freakonomics Radio“The Economist’s Guide to Parenting”

Are you one of those parents who has been thinking about your kids’ schooling since birth? Are the researchers mentioned above talking about YOU? (If you’re not sure, here’s a litmus test: Does your baby have a onesie from your alma mater that reads “Class of 20XX”?)

Or maybe your kids are in high school, and you are starting to worry about their college prospects, perhaps even wishing that you’d started thinking about it all a bit earlier.

In my post before Labor Day I agonized over my kids’ after-school schedule, coming to the conclusion, thanks to the help of a handful of economists, that more “enrichment” activities do not further kids’ academic success.

Which begs the question: How can parents influence children’s academic achievement, besides by being intelligent and well-educated themselves? (The economists in this overview of the topic deem genetics the most robust predictor of academic success).

The economists, all concerned with raising their own children, clearly didn’t examine how happiness influences kids’ success (if they had, they would all be taking my online courses). They missed the good news: there are a plethora of studies which make it abundantly clear how to best help your children reach their potential in school, on the athletic field, and in virtually all of their extra-curricular pursuits.

Greater Good contributor Sonja Lubomirksy and her colleagues conducted an enormous meta-analysis of research (evaluating 200+ studies involving nearly 300,000 people) about success. This is what they found: “Happy individuals are successful across multiple life domains, including marriage, friendship, income, work performance, and health.”

Read more about this on my Greater Good Science Center post!