Middle school can seem light years away from college, but now’s the time to start planning! With the help of parents, teachers, and counselors, you can create your own unique college prep plan to carry you onward through high school and even beyond.
Middle school is often all about fitting in—but college is all about finding out who you are, and that means figuring out what makes you unique. The college application process reflects this. Admissions offices will want to know what makes you different from everyone else when the time comes to apply. So start identifying your unique strengths and specific interests now.
Learn more about the possibilities available to you and what to expect in the years ahead by reading through the sections below, which focus on two main areas of importance during middle school: planning and transitioning to high school.
Begin planning for college in the seventh and eighth grade. Mastering foundational academic skills in middle school can make way for more advanced scholastic opportunities in high school. Colleges are interested in test scores and grades, yes, but they are especially interested in the rigor of your high school profile. Getting the basics out of the way in middle school while also mastering fundamental academic skills like developing strong study habits, balancing academics and fun, and gaining self-confidence will all make room for a more rigorous and successful high school schedule once you leave middle school.
Do what you want. Don’t stay in an extracurricular if you’re not interested. You are young enough to try things until you find something you love, and even if you don’t like it anymore, that’s ok. -Neil K., Duke TIP alum
Middle School Planning Strategies
The following suggestions for middle school can help you become a strong college applicant one day:
- Take algebra in middle school so there’s room in your schedule to take calculus—or even a dual enrollment math class online or at a local university—when you’re in high school.
- Think about getting a tutor for any basic academic classes that are giving you trouble. A strong academic foundation for areas such as language arts, math, and science now will make it easier to handle advanced study in these areas during high school.
- You may want to create a four-year plan to map out your course toward college. Find out more about four-year plans to see if they are right for you.
- Pay attention to which subjects you particularly enjoy in middle school. Enjoying a subject and being good at it are signs that this may be an area you will want to start to specialize in during high school or beyond.
- Read beyond your class assignments daily—the newspaper, fiction, magazines—to build your vocabulary and prepare you to handle the heavy reading load that comes with honors, AP, and IB courses.
- Experiment with elective courses and extracurricular opportunities now. Figuring out what you truly enjoy now will also make it easier for you to select electives and join teams or clubs when you get to high school. It will also help you take on leadership roles in those activities one day, which is something colleges look for in applicants.
- Keep a journal. Studies have shown that people who keep journals are able to reduce their stress and better handle life’s challenges. Writing down your impressions of your school helps you pinpoint what your particular interests are, leading to better choices when the time comes for you to narrow your academic or elective paths.
- Attend high school information sessions or open houses that introduce you and your parents to possible high school programs of study. Finding out what options you will have in high school can guide you in choosing among the electives or other options you have available now.
Ensuring a Smooth Transition to High School
Transitioning from middle school to high school can be tough. But with the right steps and preparation, the transition can not only be easy, it can also be enjoyable.
Here are a few suggestions to help pave the way for high school, both academically and socially:
- Before high school begins, check into whether your new school offers a summer camp or orientation session on-site. Attending one will allow you to check out the layout of the school, meet some of the staff and teachers you will be working with, and ask any questions you may have.
- Sign up for a physical education class or other required courses in summer school prior to your freshman year, if possible, to free up an elective slot later for an arts course, foreign language course, or something similar. You will also learn about the school’s campus, which will reduce some of the stress on your first day of high school.
- Take a mock walk-through of your first day so that your actual day one seems more familiar. Start by waking up when you will have to get up for high school, practice getting to the bus stop or carpool on time, walk from classroom to classroom to see how long it takes you, check out where you will be having lunch, and find out where your locker, the media center, and other resources are.
- Remember that everyone is new at some point, and your friends (both new and old) will help you through any nervous moments. As you make new friends, remember what it felt like to be the new kid, and extend a friendly hand to those around you. You never know: welcoming someone who is sitting alone at lunch to your group may end up being the start of a great new friendship.
- Buy and use a daily planner once you get to high school. Write down assignment deadlines and all upcoming events, school breaks, and formal grading periods. Sign up for notifications of new postings from the school’s website, if possible. Knowing what’s ahead, and when you will have a break, makes it easier for you to schedule your work and avoid cramming at the last minute.
- Ask for help when you need it. The most successful students—and adults—are those who seek assistance when they are struggling. Academic tutoring can help build a strong résumé for college applications by strengthening your skills in your weakest areas. Having an adult mentor you in high school will also help lower stress and prepare you for excelling at a higher level.
With these building blocks in mind, you’ll be off to a great start once the new school year begins. Good luck and be sure to send Duke TIP notices of your accomplishments!
This is exciting— for the first time, you are choosing your destiny and doing what feels right. Try (though I know it’s close to impossible) to think beyond the stresses of high school classes and friends and parents to what YOU want to get out of this crazy experience called life. It’s not selfish – it’s necessary. Best of luck, and keep the faith my friends! -Elizabeth M., Duke TIP alum