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10 Things Middle School Students Can Do to Prepare for College

As parents and mentors of middle school students, we tend to hover over them a little to see the study skills they struggle with and enjoy their full-time love of learning. What we tend to push to the back of our minds is the reality that, in a few short years, they will be serious about getting ready for, and being admitted to, the college of their choice, or of their dreams.

What then should we be doing to help our middle schoolers at least start thinking about college? What should we do with them and what should we encourage them to do by themselves in order to be ready when crunch time hits and college applications are due? In answer to these questions, here is a list that will give your middle school student a start on thinking about, talking about, and preparing for college.

1. Read, read, and read even more

Immerse yourself in good books. Reading will prepare you for standardized tests and advanced schoolwork. Find great book lists in each Challenge Project. Don’t limit yourself to books! Read magazine articles, blogs, newspapers, and online news articles, too!

2. Expand your vocabulary

Now is the perfect time to capture the challenging vocabulary words from all the books you are reading. Write them down so you can use them in your writing and speaking. You and your family can have daily vocabulary words or use an app that challenges you to learn new ones. Here is a list of top vocabulary-building applications.  Use one. You will be amazed at the words you learn! When you take the SAT or ACT to get into college, that work you’ve put into learning vocabulary can’t help but increase your scores. Remember too that a good performance on the PSAT in 10th grade can earn you scholarships.

3. Develop solid study skills and good work habits

In today’s world, many students struggle to maintain focus on important things, like schoolwork and tasks, because of technology. It rewards short attention spans. To combat that, use your SAR to plan all you need to accomplish each day and then stick to it! Keep yourself from getting distracted with a distraction-free learning zone in your home so you can focus on schoolwork. Remember also to take clear notes during class and while you read, study thoroughly for tests, and read to understand, not just to finish (even if that means you read some parts again).

4. Do extracurricular activities

Sports, clubs, art contests, youth groups, and other activities are important! They help you learn who you are and what makes you happy. If you participate in lots of different activities during middle school, you will know what one or two activities to focus on in high school – a focus that will help you find leadership roles and personal growth.

Do you have interests or hobbies that make you happy?  If you love animals, consider becoming a dog walker or a pet sitter or volunteering at an animal shelter. Love to cook? You could create cooking videos and post them online. Can’t wait to get outdoors? Think about starting a blog about your adventures. Hate putting down a good book…always? Consider starting a book club in person or online. The ideas are endless. Meaningful extracurricular activities will help you choose high school electives and extracurriculars. You will become a well-rounded young adult and good colleges will want you.

5. Identify personal strengths and weaknesses

We all have them – things we do well and things we struggle with. You may already know your particular challenges and talents.  Look at this list with your parents. Which are strengths? Which need more work? Do you have others that aren’t listed?

  • Understanding mathematical concepts – knowing what you can figure out on your own and when to ask for explanations
  • Writing clearly and grammatically – try reading your writing out loud. Does it make sense? Work on it until it does.
  • Comprehending concepts and events in reading – similar to the writing one…does what you just read mean anything to you? If not, read it again.
  • Reading speed – read slowly enough to understand, but quickly enough that  you can finish your schoolwork
  • Asking for help appropriately – try to work it out for yourself first, but don’t wait too long (until you’re frustrated and don’t want to do it) to ask for help

6. Identify careers you might like

Some students know (and have known since they were kindergartners) what they want to do with their lives. However, if you are like many, you don’t really have any idea what you want to be when you grow up – or it changes all the time. You know you have talents, but can’t narrow down your focus, so check out these sites. They will suggest possible careers based on your interests.

  • Print out this survey of interests from collegecareerlifeplanning.com
  • Go to Utah Futures. Click on ‘Interest Profiler’ and answer some questions to see what careers might work for you.

7. Resubmit assignments and projects

One thing that many middle school students at Williamsburg do is turn in assignments and projects once and then never look at them again, no matter what grade they get. Don’t do that!  If you go back and look at your work, often you will be able to improve it for a higher grade. Not only that, but you will see what you did well and what you can improve on. That is the key – learn to perfect your strengths and to improve your weaknesses.

8. Explore music

We’ve all heard that the study of music – instrumental as well as vocal – is connected with success in school, with self-leadership, and with self-confidence. So pick up a musical instrument, or learn to sing or dance to music. In addition to enlightening your mind and organizing your thoughts, music uplifts, heals, and calms. Music practice is a great addition to daily routines. Also, consider finding music that plays in the background while you study. If you find the right music, it helps…promise. There are many online free music streaming services that are useful. Check out their ‘Classical for Studying’ options.

9. Choose classes now that will prepare you for high school

If you are already taking Williamsburg’s core curriculum of Leadership, STEM, and Humanities and Math,  you’ll be mostly prepared for a well-balanced high school course load. Work hard to earn good grades. It matters. To improve your chances of getting into a good college, you need to also aim for a college prep emphasis in math, writing, and second language.

Algebra 1 in middle school is a great plan. It will allow you to pursue higher math starting with Geometry in 9th grade, and to take high school chemistry.

Take a second language course in middle school OR get started with a free application such as Duolingo or another online resource. Colleges require 2-4 years of another language. If you spend time learning one now, you will understand it better and your high school language study will be easier and more fun.

Writing skills are simply a must. Get lots of writing practice along with the core curriculum. Consider taking Writing in 8th grade, if not earlier. Middle school writing courses are easy ways to practice the writing skills you will need in high school and throughout life.

And last, but DEFINITELY not least is an ongoing one:

10. Talk with your parents about college and why it can be important in the life of a leader

The idea of talking with your parents about college right now may seem a little strange, but we are not suggesting that you choose a certain college or even a major area of study, simply that you bring it up. Is college a priority for your parents? For you? If so, set a goal. Is it important to your parents that you attend a certain school or a certain type of school? Setting that goal will help you when you are tempted to think that middle school grades don’t count. Know that the things you learn (or don’t) in middle school will determine your high school grades which will influence your college options. Start thinking about what you need to do to get into college and ask for your parents’ support on the way.

October 26, 2017