How young is too young?

This is an interview with 4 2nd graders and their views on their future.

Photo of Edwin Lagos

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I read Chris' post "Meet Marcella" and it made me think about college readiness all the way down to the lower grades. I was really interested by her passion for getting kids college-ready at the elementary level, where I teach. Her work brought to mind Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children Zone and how they also focus reaching out to young elementary-level students and their families. That led me to wonder about what my students know and have to say about college. 

Before I dive into their views its necessary to understand their context. They attend a k-12 private school in Singapore and their parents are all foreigners living and working there. The vast majority of parents in my class, and school, have received college degrees and very few of our students will be the first to go to college in their families. My students are not disadvantaged, are well traveled, have been exposed to many different cultures at a young age and live in one of the safest places in the world. 100% of our students go on to universities all over the world. They have many factors in their favor that will one day help them to attend college. 

About the interview: I sat down with all four students at the same time and asked questions so that anyone could answer. It felt like one of the "kids read to" videos. 

Students being interviewed:

Yosei, 8 years old, from Japan.

Zac, 7 years old, from Australia.

Neyo, 8 years old, from Germany. 

Molly, 8 years old, from the U.K.


Mr. Lagos (me): Have you guys ever thought about where you will go to university?

Yosei: Yeah I think so. That's after high school right?

Zac: Yeah, like when you graduate high school you go to college. My dad went to the University of Technology in Australia. 

Neyo: Yeah, I want to go to college like my dad. 

Molly: My mom showed me pictures of when she went to Uni and told me some stories. 

What kind of stories have they told you?

M: All about how nice it was to go there and she learned about her job. 

Z: That's where you learn a job?

N: Yeah my dad learned about solar panels. 

Y: Can you learn how to be a soccer player in college? That's what I want to be.

Not sure about that actually, but you can learn how to do different jobs there. (Here we got sidetracked by questions about professional soccer players and jobs in general)

Do you think you'll go to college?

N: Of course!

M: I've never thought about it but if my mom did, I probably will too. 

Y: Yeah, my dad went to college so I'll go too.

Z: My mom said I'll go after high school.

N: But if you don't go to university you won't get a good job. I'm going to university to be an actor. 

Why do you think some people don't go to university?

N: Because they're lazy and they never do any work. 

Z: Some people don't study enough but I will.

Y: Yeah I'm really good at math so I'll go to university.

M: I think they don't go to uni because they can't pay for it. 

N: My parents will probably pay for it. 

Everyone: Mine too!

Since you say you'll go, where do you think you'll go to university then?

N: Not sure, probably Germany.

Y: I think I'll go to Japan or maybe the United States because I lived there before.

M: I'll go somewhere in Singapore or maybe the U.K. That's where my mom went. 

Z: I'm going to where my dad went. 


Going into this collaboration I thought it would be hard to find something that I would want to (or be able) to try out with my students. College can seem so far away from second grade. However, throughout our conversation I learned that college for them is just the next step. That mindset was created by having strong role models who went to college and talked to them about their experiences. Their parents will continue to talk to them about it and it will become just what you do next, rather than "will I or will I not." 

I was also encouraged by our conversation about jobs and the excitement that the idea of university brought when they expressed that they would learn to be things they dreamed of.

This mindset can be fostered in all students, no matter their background. Strong role models that educate them about the benefits and challenges of college will go a long ways to convincing students that college is possible no matter what background they come from.  

Finally, I do still have questions about how my students' views compare to other privileged students and to students in disadvantaged settings. Would they think the same way? Differently? if so, why?

[Optional] Synthesize a little! In one sentence, describe what you learned from your empathy exercises or analogous research. (Ex: Good advisors make a difference.)

I learned that students need strong role models from an early age that will make college seem like just another step, rather than an unattainable goal. You're never too young to start having goals.

Inspired by (1)

Meet Marcella


Join the conversation:

Photo of Chris Good

Edwin, this is amazing. I am so glad Marcella's interview inspired you.
It is kind of wild to see how universal it is that these kids simply expect to go to college - without much or any reservation. Especially considering how uncommon that is in many other communities of students.  It makes you wonder how early those perceptions are shaped - and what we can do to set positive expectations that are so universally accepted - even in our most disadvantaged communities.

Photo of Edwin Lagos

Chris, I think the idea of shaping perceptions early on for students is key. How do you think we can get more elementary students exposed to the idea that college is important and possible?

Photo of Chris Good

Edwin, I just watched a video shared by Rachel Wolfe  that was simply amazing

The most interesting thing was seeing how Elementary school kids are so very quick to adopt new ideas and have many passions and are likely very susceptible to the idea that college is important and possible.....but that something happens along the way where they lose that perspective. I wonder what it would take to reinforce those ideas instead of dilute them.

Photo of Edwin Lagos


That's an awesome video! You bring up a really good point that we could tackle together in the next phase. How do we create support systems that help young students reinforce that idea that college should happen. I love how you phrased it as "diluting", because that's what happens slowly over time. 

I see see mentorship and relationships as being a big part of the solution, but there are many other factors to think about as well. 

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