|Even though high school graduation is years away, planning for college should start in middle school. Establishing goals now and working toward them will pay off in the admission process later.
To accomplish this, students should:
1. Establish good study habits
Students can start by establishing effective study habits, developing a homework and study routine, and getting organized. Student must master the art of completing assignments on time and paying attention to communication sent from their teachers and school. These habits will serve the student well before the work notches up in terms of rigor.
2. Choose challenging courses
Colleges pay close attention to the courses an applicant has taken. They want to see that a student is enrolling in rigorous courses–-and doing well in them. Students who challenge themselves in middle school will have more opportunities to choose the high school courses that colleges like to see. One goal might include taking full advantage of the Advanced Placement (AP)/ International Baccalaureate (IB) or other upper-level courses your high school offers.
To ensure that the door to their future goals stays open, parents and their students should meet with their guidance counselor and their International College Counselors advisor to discuss which courses a student should choose in middle school. For example, if a student interested in engineering does not take algebra in middle school, achieving the high school math sequence that engineering programs require will 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 on their world language, as many colleges require students to take it in high school. During seventh and eighth grades, students should be setting themselves up for the strongest possible start in high school.
That said, don’t be in a hurry to put your child in high school level classes while they’re in middle school if you’re not sure how they might do, as those grades will appear on the high school transcript (and will therefore affect the high school GPA). Grades for middle school level classes don’t appear on the transcript and therefore won’t be part of the college application. Discuss the possibilities with your child’s teacher/s and counselor.
3. Get caught up and/or ahead
Students should seek extra help and tutoring if they are not doing well in a particular academic area. Improving academic performance in middle school will position them to earn better grades, which will help keep academic options open in the coming years. Parents should stay on top of their child’s grades and stay in contact with teachers and counselors, so they can more easily be informed about any changes in their child’s behavior or schoolwork.
4. Explore extracurricular activities
On a college application, students need to show depth and leadership in at least one or two extracurricular areas. By starting to explore their interests in middle school, students will maximize their chances to figure out what activities and community service they enjoy most. Students should talk to different people about their careers, and explore sports, hobbies, and volunteer opportunities that match their interests. A child who enters high school committed to one or two activities or with a possible career goal in mind will find it much easier to build their resume during their four years of high school.
5. Read, read, and read some more
Reading strengthens a student’s verbal, writing, and critical thinking abilities. Reading also improves memory, focus, and communication skills. Reading also prepares students for the SAT, ACT, and high school reading assignments. Almost any reading material–from graphic novels and newspapers to books and blogs–will improve vocabulary and introduce new ideas.
6. Discuss college and career options
Envision the future with your child. Talk about how college can translate your student’s dreams into a career. Help them understand how different high school and college are from middle school. Parents should also share their expectations with their student; your expectations have a huge influence on what your children expect of themselves.
7. Familiarize yourself with college costs and how to save money
Start learning how to make college affordable. Options to cut college costs include scholarships, low-interest loans, work-study, or attending a community college before going to a four-year school. Students can also cut costs by earning college credits through AP, IB, and/or dual-enrollment classes at a local community college while in high school. Knowing how the system works can save families a lot of money.
While we’ve offered several tips for middle schoolers and their parents in terms of starting the college journey, neither parents nor students should stress about it now. Most important is getting study habits, academics, and extracurriculars on the right track so there will be less stress in high school. We highly recommend thinking about these things now, before high school and the real pressure of college applications begin. Doing so will mean that the process will be that much easier.
Ease the journey to college even more. Get your student started by working with a college advisor who can help guide the process from course selection to extracurriculars. Contact International College Counselors at 1-954-414-9986 or www.internationalcollegecounselors.com.