Each year it seems the level of anxiety grows, thousands of frantic high school seniors are faced with a major decision–choosing where they will send their college applications and, ultimately, where they will go to college.

Ideally, however, this decision-making process needs to start much earlier. The junior high years are not too soon to start thinking about college plans. What can a family with a 13-year old do to help eliminate last minute senior year panic?

This is the time to reinforce your own involvement in your child’s education. Typically, in his push for independence, the junior high school student discourages your attendance at school open houses or parent-teacher conferences.

He may resent questions about whether or not he has completed his homework or concerns about bad grades. However, it’s important to stay involved, even at the risk of annoying your child.

Keep in touch with teachers. Insist on completed homework as a prerequisite to television privileges. Get help at this point if your child has any learning difficulties or deficiencies in basic skills.

Whether or not he ultimately chooses to go to college, good basic reading and math skills as well as discipline and good time management will serve him well in later adolescence and adulthood.

As your child progresses on to high school, check with school advisors, counselors and, at your library, with college guides to determine basic entrance requirements, including essential high school courses.

Make sure that your child is aware that, if he chooses a less challenging high school curriculum–such as only minimum requirements in math or science or no AP or Honors classes–he may not be able to get into the college of his choice, even with excellent grades.

The sophomore and junior years are the best times to explore college options by sending for literature, by attending College Fairs and school visits by college representatives. If possible, visiting colleges that your teen feels he might like to attend can also be helpful during these years.

This can also be a time to take the SAT test for practice leaving time for your child to re-take the test later on if scores need improvement. (Colleges tend to consider the highest score achieved if the student has taken the SAT several times.)

All of this planning and preparation can take much of the panic out of your child’s senior year!