It's never too early to start preparing for college. Learn how colleges treat middle school records, how to help your child think about their major, and how you can start saving.
For many families, college is a goal that takes years of planning to reach. Financial tools like 529 plans can help to cover the cost of tuition, room and board, books, and other critical expenses, but it takes more than money to get into a good school. Because of the wide variety of factors at play in any admissions decision, parents have to consider many aspects of their children’s academic careers, making it tough to judge what might be relevant and what might not. An especially invested mother or father may even wonder, “Is middle school too early to start thinking about college?” For answers to this common question, keep reading as we explain.
Middle school is often a tumultuous time for children and teens, as hormones run rampant and high school looms. Even with all these personal and academic obstacles to overcome, it’s not uncommon for students and their parents to start thinking about college, and one of the most fundamental steps in this process of choosing an institution of higher learning is the classic college visit.
As any parent who has traveled the country touring one campus after another can attest, visiting colleges can be an expensive and time-consuming process. Of course, it can also be worth the effort; many students find that they’re much happier attending a school that they’ve been to before because they know what to expect and are able to pick the college that fits them best.
However, the value of college visits becomes questionable when we talk about a middle school student. A 12- or 13-year-old is likely to change quite a bit between then and their junior or senior year of high school, meaning that what appeals to them today could be quite different when college rolls around. Plus, colleges themselves often evolve with time; alterations can be made to the campus, new majors could be added, and new sports introduced, all of which could change how a school looks to a student. Put simply, middle school is probably too early to start visiting colleges.
From a very young age, kids are faced with the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In some cases, a child’s answer may stay the same from one year to the next, but most students will develop new interests as they grow, which is why the answer to the aforementioned question typically shifts over time.
Thus the difficulty with selecting a college major in middle school: What interests a child in 8th grade may not be what interests them in 10th or 12th. Because it can be tough to switch majors in school, many families find it simpler and more effective to hold off any major-related decisions until their children mature a bit more. That said, it may be worth introducing your young one to different aspects of a field they’re interested in to get them thinking about what they might want to do – for example, giving your child the biography of a famous astronaut if they want to go into space – then transition into a discussion about majors when they get a little older.
Perhaps the biggest question regarding whether middle school is too early to start thinking about college relates to the expectations of the colleges themselves. An admissions officer will likely look at documents as diverse as a student’s high school transcript, letters of recommendation from teachers, certificates of achievement, and other testaments to that student’s character and capabilities. So, will their middle school records play a part?
Generally speaking, the answer is no: The college your child is applying to will almost certainly not care about what their grades looked like in middle school. Conventional wisdom states that it’s the grades from their last two years of high school that will get the most attention, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t think about your child’s middle school grades when planning for college.
Although those last two years may be the most important, colleges will still take into consideration how your child did as a freshman or sophomore, so it’s important for a student to enter high school as prepared as possible for the challenges they’ll face. A student who does poorly in middle school may start high school behind their peers, and if that trend is not reversed quickly, it could jeopardize that child’s ability to get into the school of their dreams.
In addition to preparing for high school, students may also want to sign up for some extracurricular activities in middle school, as these activities look good on a college application. Getting involved early on can also help your young one reach a position of leadership in the organization – another potential feather in their cap – and can demonstrate a willingness to commit.
Getting your loved one ready for college requires taking on a lot of responsibilities, not least of which is the task of saving up for the inevitable expenses associated with higher education. One of the most popular ways to do so is through the use of a 529 plan – a tax-advantaged investment account that can boost the value of your college savings while encouraging contributions from family and friends. To learn more about 529 plans or start an account of your own, visit us online or download the free Sootchy mobile app today.