December 8, 2023
By Jeremiah Shepherd, Associate Director of College Counseling

5 Things You Need to Do to Get Your Middle Schooler Ready for College

This is not an article about getting your middle schooler ready for college with advanced classes, consultants or other stress-inducing (and completely unnecessary) tactics. Please, don’t do any of that. It is about how middle school can lay the foundation for the social-emotional and organizational skills your child will need for college success, and that doesn’t come from test prep and textbooks.

Middle school is an important time in a child’s development. Multiple studies have reported that students display considerable growth and decline in academic performance between the fifth and eighth grades, and these changes can have implications for their future success in high school. Success in high school usually leads to success in college, so a decline at this stage could potentially be problematic down the road. At the same time, middle school students also experience significant milestones in how they view themselves in the ever-changing world around them. They become more self-aware and self-conscious; their peer relationships become more nuanced, and their thinking can become more critical and complicated.

In her book “Head Start to College Planning,” my friend and fellow college counselor, Susan Chiarolanzio, writes: “A child who is confident in [themselves] and [their] ability to make choices is more likely to make [their] own decisions, hopefully good ones, as opposed to going along with the crowd. A child who brings strong study skills, a solid academic foundation, and confidence to [their] the first year of high school will be more likely to find academic and social success, making for a more productive and successful high school career overall.”

So how do you make all of that happen? Here are a few tips:

1. Make sure they have a strong emotional foundation.

Having good study habits is a given, but it’s also important for your child to understand how they learn best, how they handle relationships with teachers and peers, and how they can take ownership of their learning.

2. Encourage a growth mindset.

Throughout my career, I’ve heard students refer to themselves as either “I’m this dumb or this smart.” Having this kind of “fixed mindset” can stifle potential and development, causing students to avoid the opportunity to challenge their abilities and take risks. But a growth mindset teaches students that their abilities can improve and develop with hard work. Instead of feeling defeated by failure, students with a growth mindset view it as a springboard.

3. Partner with your child’s teachers.

Parents and educators have a shared responsibility throughout a child’s time in school, but this is especially true during the transformative time of middle school. Don’t wait for conferences to talk to your child’s teachers. Open the lines of communication early in the school year, but make sure you also find a balance between over-communicating and checking in.

4. Help your child stay organized.

At home, make sure your child has an uncluttered, well-lit space to do homework or study without distractions. Make sure they have all the school supplies they need for each of their classes and tools that line up with the way they learn. And help them learn to manage their time with a daily schedule that incorporates school, personal responsibilities, chores, homework, etc.

5. Get comfortable with them taking risks.

This one is tough but worth it. Encourage your child to try new things and learn new skills outside of their comfort zone. Remind them that it is okay to make mistakes and to fail — we all do. And show your child that learning takes effort, time, and practice. This list could be a lot longer, but these tips will help you get started on the path to helping your middle schooler prepare for the future with confidence, resilience, self-awareness, and a few solid grades thrown in too.

Jeremiah Shepherd is an associate director of college counseling at Flint Hill. He has worked in education in a wide range of areas, including student advising, college admissions, academic support, and educational systems design, for almost 20 years. Jeremiah has an M. Ed. in higher education administration and a B.S. in sociology from Northeastern University.


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