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When should you start planning for college? These FAQs will help parents start the process

College planning should start when students are in middle school, according to Allen Anderson from Education Opens Doors, a Dallas-based non-profit.

DALLAS — Planning for college can be a daunting task for parents and students. The key to a stress-free experience is to create a plan and know the milestones you need to hit so you keep the process moving.

Allen Anderson is the Director of Strategic Partnerships and Talent at Education Opens Doors, a Dallas-based non-profit organization that focuses on guiding middle school students through educational and career planning, as well as life skills.

Anderson, a former middle school principal, answered a list of frequently asked questions about the college planning process and explained the five major planning milestones every parent needs to know.

I'm a parent of a teen student, when do I start helping them plan for college and a career?

When we think about college and career planning, we typically think about junior and senior years in high school. In fact, the planning process should begin much earlier -- in middle school. Beginning as early as 8th grade, parents make pivotal decisions about their child's future. Starting earlier ensures a stronger footing on the path to college and a successful career.

If I'm a parent of a high school student, does that mean I'm behind the curve? What do I need to do to catch up?

The good news is there's always time to catch up. Given your student's age, you may need to work more urgently than others. 

Here's how to catch up:

• Talk to school leaders about AP/IB/dual-credit courses

• Find out more about the true value of GPA. Remember - every class matters.

• Have your student take a college/career inventory test.

• Sign up for an SAT/ACT prep course. Kaplan and Khan Academy offer free resources.

Ok, that's helpful. But, how do I do all of this effectively during a pandemic? 

We're all in this together. Lean on others for support. The majority of the resources you'll need are at your fingertips.

• Schedule virtual office hours with counselors and teachers

• Check out SAT/ACT prep courses online. Some are exclusively online.

• Consider virtual study groups and college tours

RELATED: Did you miss a lesson? Catch up on WFAA Academy

Here are the five planning milestones for parents, students from middle school to high school.

For students in middle school who are transitioning to high school, families should strongly consider:

8th grade: Choosing an endorsement. It's like a college major, except it's in high school. Endorsements include STEM, business, arts and humanities. These endorsements guide your student's path through high school graduation.

8th - 9th grade: Take the PSAT or pre-ACT. These tests will highlight strengths and growth areas in the core subjects. The tests will determine your student's focus areas going into taking the SAT and ACT in 10th through 12th grades.

8th - 9th grade: Take pre-Algebra, Algebra 1, Biology 1, Foreign Language in middle school. Taking these classes early sets the foundation and allows your student to get acquired to a rigorous workload.

In 9th through 12th grades, parents and students should consider these two milestones:

GPA and class rank

Every class matters in high school. Stress this importance to your child. Encourage your child to check his/her class rank at least twice a year.

Extracurricular activities

Get involved in school groups and activities. Because some universities no longer require ACT or SAT scores, they, instead, put more focus on GPA, class rank, and extracurricular activities.

For more information about college and career planning information, check out Education Opens Doors.

RELATED: WFAA and Education Opens Doors