In general, you don’t need to worry too much about college when you are in middle school. Parents who aggressively try to mold their 13-year-olds into Harvard material may do more harm than good.
Nevertheless, although your middle school grades and activities won’t appear on your college application, you can use seventh and eighth grades to set yourself up to have the strongest record possible in high school. This list outlines some possible strategies.
Work on Good Study Habits
Middle school grades don’t matter for college admissions, so this is a low-risk time to work on good time-management and study skills. Think about it—if you don’t learn how to be a good student until your junior year, you’ll be haunted by those freshman and sophomore grades when you apply to college.
If you find you have issues such as procrastination, test anxiety, or reading comprehension, now is the time to develop strategies for addressing those issues.
Explore Several Extracurricular Activities
When you apply to college, you should be able to demonstrate depth and leadership in one or two extracurricular areas. Use middle school to figure out what you most enjoy—is it music, drama, government, church, juggling, business, athletics? By figuring out your true passions in middle school, you can better focus on developing leadership skills and expertise in high school.
In general, colleges are more interested in depth than breadth when it comes to extracurricular activities. That said, a breadth of activities in middle school can help you zero in on the one or two areas that truly motivate you.
Read a Lot
This advice is important for kindergarten through 12th grade. The more you read, the stronger your verbal, writing and critical thinking abilities will be. Reading beyond your homework will help you do well in high school, on the ACT and SAT, and in college. Whether you’re reading Harry Potter or Moby Dick, you’ll be improving your vocabulary, training your ear to recognize strong language, and introducing yourself to new ideas.
Regardless of your major, writing is going to be central to your future success. Good writers are always good readers, so work on building that foundation now.
Work on Foreign Language Skills
Most competitive colleges want to see strength in a foreign language. The earlier you build those skills, the better. Also, the more years of a language you take, the better. Among the country’s most selective colleges, most will say that they require two or three years of a language, but the reality is that the top applicants will have four years.
Keep in mind that while middle school grades generally don’t matter for college admissions, foreign language grades are sometimes an exception to this rule. At some high schools, 7th and 8th grade language classes count as one year of the high school language requirement, and the grades from those middle school language classes are factored into your high school GPA.
Take Challenging Courses
If you have options such as a math track that will eventually end in calculus, choose the ambitious route. When senior year rolls around, you will want to have taken the most challenging courses available at your school. The tracking for those courses often begins in middle school (or earlier). Position yourself so that you can take full advantage of whatever AP courses and upper-level math, science, and language courses your school offers.
Get Up to Speed
If you find that your skills in an area such as math or science aren’t what they should be, middle school is a wise time to seek out extra help and tutoring. If you can improve your academic strengths in middle school, you’ll be positioned to earn better grades when it really begins to matter—in 9th grade.
Talk to your school counselor about options for getting help. Many schools have peer tutoring programs, so you shouldn’t need to pay for an expensive private tutor.
Explore and Enjoy
Always keep in mind that your middle school record doesn’t appear on your college application. You shouldn’t stress about college in 7th or 8th grade. Your parents shouldn’t stress about college either. This is not the time to be calling the admissions office at Yale. Instead, use these years to explore new things, discover what subjects and activities really excite you, and figure out any bad study habits you may have developed.