Should You Be Thinking About College in Middle School?

Vice President of Programs, Jack Kent Cooke Foundation

Short answer: yes. Why not? It’s never too early to start thinking about college, because the earlier you do, the more options you’re likely to have. More importantly, how you improve yourself now will increase your chances of getting into the college of your choice. And middle school is the perfect time and place to prepare yourself for a high school career (and eventual college search) that will set you up for a lifetime of success.

Begin the conversation

Talk to your family members about the years ahead so they can start supporting you now. Give yourself time to think about what you might want from college.

  • Discussing college helps you visualize your future, and experts say visualizing what you want (“mental rehearsal”) increases the odds of success.
  • Would you be a first-generation college graduate? Find a role model who went to college and can share their experiences.
  • Who’s your hero? Research your favorite public figures to see their academic and career paths.
  • Explore financial aid options with your family; it can ease the burden of paying for college down the road.
  • Taking a family vacation or a weekend trip? Attending summer camp? These activities can include informal college visits.

Develop good habits

Colleges look at every grading period of your high school career, but almost never middle school. But that doesn’t mean middle school “doesn’t count.” Instead, it’s when you should be developing habits that’ll help you do well in high school from day one.

  • Take care of your health and wellness. Get plenty of sleep, eat well, and exercise. Your body and your mind are growing, and you’ll be happy you developed these habits when you’re older!
  • Manage your time. Stay on a consistent schedule with the same daily routines doing homework, relaxing, playing sports, chores, reading, etc.
  • Learn how to study. Many students do well in the early grades, but their performance declines in middle school. Why? Time spent on homework increases, and how you study matters. When and where do you study best? Figure this stuff out now before the pressure is on when you’re in high school.
  • Practice reading and writing, whether it is schoolwork or for pleasure. Obviously, keep up with reading assignments for class. But even things like Harry Potter or graphic novels and comic books can help. Even spending time online (if you’re allowed to do so) reading articles about fun things like sports and entertainment improve reading. Keep your own blog about a hobby to practice writing. You can never read or write too much!
  • Take it easy on technology. We all love video games, TV, and mobile devices. A little is fine, but don’t go overboard. Learn to maintain balance, because distractions can undermine your academic performance once you’re in high school.

Challenge yourself

  • Work hard to earn the best grades you can, and begin challenging yourself academically right now, even if it means a few lower grades. Get used to rigorous work before high school.
  • Go to a summer program or camp. Whether or not you want to continue exploring that new activity, you’ll learn more about yourself.
  • Join extracurricular activities. And don’t forget that there’s nothing wrong with struggling when you try something new. In fact, it’s good! Develop some skills and interests that will help you continue these activities in high school and college. Some may even qualify you for scholarships.
  • Think about what interests you and explore some of the careers those interests might lead to. Don’t fixate on any one thing; stay open-minded and try new things.

Now that you’d got a ton of ideas to pursue, remember: don’t do everything at once! The advantage of starting in middle school is the ability to try these things slowly over the next several years. If you so, your senior year of high school will be less stressful because you’ll be ahead of the game.

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