College Admissions and Middle School
Some low-stress tips to help your middle school child start preparing for the college admissions process.
As the college admissions process has become increasingly competitive, so has the pressure for parents to start preparing their children for it while they are still in middle school (or sometimes even earlier). More and more parents are signing their children up for intensive SAT preparation courses and as many educational summer camps and volunteer activities as they can cram into their schedules. But does this really give your middle school child a leg-up on getting into the right college?
Middle school is a time of transition. Students are learning to cope with changing schedules, multiple teachers, lockers, etc. Pressuring your child to start preparing for college admissions tests and packing her schedule with impressive-looking activities can cause her to become overwhelmed and frustrated. This, in turn, can lead to burn-out by the time she gets into high school – just when she needs to be the most focused and engaged.
So is there anything you can do to help your middle school student get a head-start on college admissions without becoming overwhelmed? Thankfully the answer is yes! There are several things you can do now to help your child get ready.
Develop strong study habits - Encourage your child to develop strong organizational skills and productive study habits that will benefit her through high school, into college and beyond.
Take challenging classes - If your middle school offers advanced classes, take advantage of it! This is an excellent chance for your child to get a taste of what will be expected of her as she gets older and it could allow her to enter high school with some credits already on her record. Additionally, colleges like to see that students have challenged themselves by taking advanced or honors courses. Getting a head-start while in middle school will make it easier for your child to take these types of classes in high school.
Try out new activities and pursue new interests - Colleges prefer to see students who are deeply committed to one or two interests or hobbies over students who pad their applications with dozens of clubs and committees. Middle school is a great time for children to try out different things and discover what they are the most interested in. Let your child try a variety of groups, clubs and sports. Then in high school she can narrow down her participation to one or two activities that she is really passionate about.
WHAT ABOUT SAT/ACT PREP?
Unless your middle school child has completed algebra, geometry, algebra II and grammar, it is unlikely she will get much out of a prep course at this time. Even if she has completed those subjects, any test prep she does in middle school is likely to be forgotten by the time she gets to 11th grade, which is when she’ll actually take her college entrance exams. Additionally, these tests are revised periodically and there’s a chance that they will have been changed by the time your child gets to high school. That said, middle school is a good time to start building some basic test-taking skills:
Read - Encourage your child to read as much as possible. This will help her to do better academically as well as on the reading comprehension portions of the SAT and ACT. Try to get her to read more challenging books if possible, but encourage ANY reading she is interested in doing.
Build critical reasoning skills - Have your child choose one or two short articles from a magazine or newspaper. (Time Magazine and Sports Illustrated are both good options.) Then have her analyze the content by picking out the main points.
Build vocabulary – Middle School is a good time to work on building your child’s vocabulary. Memorizing the dictionary isn’t practical, so instead try using vocabulary lists specific to college admissions tests. You can find a number of lists online. For more in-depth vocabulary building I recommend the book “Word Smart,” which contains a collection of vocabulary words that tend to pop up on tests like the SAT and ACT. Word Smart also provides students with not just primary definitions, but also secondary definitions that are often used on standardized tests. This will allow your child to build her vocabulary in a more focused, beneficial way.
Take a practice test - If you are really concerned with giving your child some exposure to college admission tests, have her take a practice SAT or ACT. Most test preparation companies offer free practice tests under proctored conditions and will give you a detailed score report that will pinpoint your child’s strengths and weaknesses. You can also find books with practice tests that you can score at home. Regardless of how your child does on the test, don’t stress out – and don’t let your child get stressed either. Remember, these tests are typically taken in the 11th grade so there’s plenty of time for your middle schooler to improve.