For parents of middle school students, the idea of college might seem distant and abstract. However, it’s not too soon to start preparing. At International College Counselors, we start meeting with students as early as 7th grade. Laying a strong foundation early on can greatly enhance your student’s chances of success when the time comes to embark on their collegiate journey.

Here are some essential steps and tips for middle school students to prepare for college:

1. Explore Interests and Extracurricular Activities: Middle school is the perfect time for a student to explore their interests through activities that spark their curiosity and passion, like clubs, sports, arts, and community service projects. Colleges value applicants who demonstrate commitment and leadership in their extracurricular pursuits, so the sooner a student can connect with their interests, the better.

2. Prioritize Academics: While it’s important to explore various activities, academics should be the top priority. Striving for excellence in coursework and aiming to maintain a strong GPA throughout middle school and high school is paramount. A solid academic record is one of the most critical factors in college admissions. Grades in middle school will likely affect your chances of being placed in honors or advanced classes when you enter high school, so they can affect your academic trajectory.

Parents need to also examine the middle school curriculum. In some schools, students can start taking high school courses and dual enrollment courses in middle school. Why is this important? If, for example, a student interested in engineering or business or STEM) doesn’t take Algebra I in middle school, finishing high school with calculus (which most engineering/business/STEM programs want) might be difficult. A middle school student likely doesn’t know what they want to study, but they’ll want to keep their options open. Students should also consider starting their world language, as most colleges require students to take it in high school. During 7th and 8th grades, students can set themselves up for the strongest possible start in high school.

Colleges also pay close attention to the rigor of a student’s classes. Students who challenge themselves in middle school will have more opportunities to choose the high school courses that colleges like to see. Schedule time with an International College Counselors advisor to discuss course options for your middle school student.

3. Start College and Career Exploration: Talk with your student about their interests, strengths, and career aspirations. Help them envision the future. One way is by researching different professions and industries to gain insight into potential career paths. College Board offers a website that helps with that. Early career exploration can guide informed decisions when selecting a college and major later. Additionally, openly communicate your expectations with your child, as they greatly shape their own self-expectations.

4. Develop Strong Study Habits: Building solid study habits now will pay off immensely in high school and college. Students should dedicate time each day to complete homework, review material, and cultivate effective study techniques. Focusing on understanding concepts—rather than simply memorizing information—will be invaluable, as colleges value critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

5. Stay Informed About College Preparation: Familiarize yourself and your student with admission requirements, standardized tests (such as the SAT or ACT), and college application timelines. Start attending college fairs, information sessions, and workshops to learn more about different colleges and universities. Do a college search on websites like College BoardUnigo, or College Data.

6. Stay Organized and Plan Ahead: Balancing academics, extracurricular activities, and personal commitments requires effective time management skills. Learn to prioritize tasks, set goals, and manage your time efficiently. Stay organized by keeping track of important deadlines, assignments, and commitments. Use planners, calendars, or digital apps to stay on top of your schedule. Developing these skills now will help your student thrive in high school.

7. Cultivate a Growth Mindset: Embracing challenges, learning from failures or obstacles, and adopting a growth mindset builds a resilient student. Intelligence and abilities can be developed through hard work, perseverance, and dedication. Adopting a positive attitude towards learning and self-improvement will serve a student well in high school and beyond.

8. Pay Attention to Your Child’s Progress. If your student is struggling in school, consider having them tested for a learning difference. If there is an issue, helping them understand and work with the learning difference can mean stronger self-confidence and greater success in high school and beyond. The website Understood offers resources to help people discover their potential and stay on positive paths. Another resource is Learning Disabilities of America.

Remember that the journey to college is not just about reaching a destination but also about the growth, experiences, and opportunities along the way. Start early, stay focused, and embrace the exciting possibilities ahead.

For those who are not yet clients, International College Counselors is ready to provide expert guidance and support tailored to your family’s unique journey. Schedule time with an International College Counselors advisor to discuss course options for your middle school student. Contact us at International College Counselors or call 1-954-414-9986 for personalized assistance.

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