What Your Middle Schoolers Can Do NOW to Be Ready for College

Parents often ask what their eighth or ninth graders should do to prepare for college admissions. They have heard how challenging the process can be and wonder if starting earlier will give their teens an edge. 

We have three words for you: IT’S TOO EARLY. 

boys at school
Middle school is too early to be worrying about college admissions. (Kat Wilcox/Pexels)

Middle school is too early to begin talking to your teen about college admissions

The teen years are a time of tremendous growth in every way, physically, socially, and academically. The 18-year-old you send to college will have done so much growth, changed, and developed in so many ways that believe us when we tell you that your high school senior will resemble his eighth-grade self only marginally, if at all. 

It’s too early to go down this road. It’s too early to put college pressure on your teenager. The goal should not be to make your teen admissions-ready; it should be to make them life-ready.  

If you hear anything we say, hear this: Everything will fall into place eventually, but the eighth grade is NOT the time to dwell on college acceptances, rejections, or any other high-pressure college conversations. 

What you CAN do to help your middle schooler be ready for college

It’s not too early to encourage reading just for fun. Whatever he wants, as long as he’s reading. You can never read too much, EVER. Reading educates but also improves critical thinking, vocabulary, and writing, all skills you can never be “too good” at, no matter where life takes you.

It’s not too early to encourage them to volunteer in the community and think of ways they might be able to make a positive difference in the world that is meaningful to them. Making your child a responsible citizen of the world who gives back to their community should be a priority, not to impress colleges but because it will make them a better person. 

It’s not too early for your student to find ways to stretch themselves academically. This does not mean taking every accelerated or advanced class. But it does mean finding those areas where they can comfortably challenge themselves. 

It’s not too early for them to play a sport because they love it, and it’s great to learn to be part of a team. NOT because it’s a way to get into college. For the vast majority of high school athletes, college recruitment is not a realistic option, but the benefits of getting exercise and being part of a team can’t be overstated. 

It’s not too early to encourage your teen to get the best grades they can and to figure out if there are areas where some extra help would be beneficial. Now is a great time to ensure your child has all the educational support they need. Sometimes it takes many years of school to determine your strengths and weaknesses and if there are problems like executive function issues. Now is a great time to get your kids the help they need. 

It’s not too early to start throwing a few hundred bucks a month into a 529 plan. There is so much new information on the paying for college piece of the puzzle. It is not too early to start thinking about the cost of college and how you will pay for it. Learning about paying for college may take some parental research; it is not too early to begin. 

It’s not too early to encourage her to participate in some extracurricular activities that interest her. It is never too early for your teen to engage in things she loves or thinks she might love. In ninth grade, my son said he didn’t want to try an activity because he’d never done it before, and he was afraid that the other kids had more experience. Nope. Try all the new things you want to try because that’s how your teen will find out what they’re good at and what they enjoy. 

It’s not too early to think about what he’s interested in because any given interest might not get you into college but might set you up for a lifetime of mastering something you enjoy. 

It’s not too early to teach your children to prioritize their mental health. Finding what strengthens and weakens your mental health is a lifelong process. Learning about self-care should begin now.  

It’s not too early to teach your teen that there is no such thing as the perfect school. That, what you do when you get to college matters far more than what school you get into. And there are alternatives to colleges that also have great merit and might be the correct answer. 

It’s not too early to teach your child that life is full of rejection and disappointments, but what they do with it matters in the long run. As we all have learned in the last three years, the key to success is being resilient and developing plans B, C, and D when life doesn’t unfold according to plan. 

It is too early to think about college admissions, but it’s not too early to start making sure his high school career is the best high school experience he can have. Each of us gets to have those wonderful high school years only once, and, in our opinion, they should not be simply a path to college. As parents, we know how meaningful and memorable these years are and that they need to be a time of growth, development, and fun! 

Above all else, it’s never too early to remind your child that you are there to support them, that home and family are a refuge from the pressures of school and life, and that there are many paths to success in a journey that is long and full of twists and turns with many ups and downs. 

More Great Reading:

12 Ways to Reduce Stress During the College Admissions Process

About Helene Wingens

Helene Wingens has always been passionate about painting pictures with words. She graduated from Brandeis University with a degree in psychology and three years later from Boston University School of Law with a Juris Doctor. In a year long clerkship for an appellate judge Helene honed her writing skills by drafting weekly appellate memoranda. She practiced law until she practically perfected it and after taking a brief twenty year hiatus to raise her three children she began writing a personal blog Her essays have been published in: Scary Mommy, Kveller, The Forward, and Grown and Flown where she is Managing Editor. You can visit Helene's website here

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