When we discuss beginning the college planning process in junior high, we are sometimes greeted with laughter and disbelief. Many junior high parents simply think it is too early.
While your junior high child may not be ready to tackle the decisions and questions of high school, it is never too soon to begin college planning. We are not talking about attending college fairs or dragging your family on college visits. That would definitely be too much, too soon.
What we are recommending, however, is that you become aware of the tasks and timeframe involved in this decision-making process. Knowledge alone takes away some of the enormity of it all and will help you guide your child. In addition, there are specific areas that can be developed in middle school to provide a strong foundation for high school.
Course selection is one of the most important factors in selective college admissions. Most junior high students do not realize that course selection begins in seventh grade. Teachers make eighth grade placement recommendations for students in the spring of seventh grade. Eighth grade honors enrollment is based on the grades and work ethic shown in seventh grade as well as standardized test scores. This comes as a surprise to many, especially to those who do not understand the impact it has on college admission.
Please help your child understand this, but keep in mind the developmental experience of the average 13 or 14 year-old. Junior High students typically spend very little time thinking about their future plans. Your child may understand that seventh grade may impact eighth grade course selection and that this course selection will impact their college choice. If he or she is typical, however, this may not result in a work ethic adjustment. Immediate rewards are the best way to motivate a junior high student. This reward might be something as simple as praise (which students can never have enough of) or offering a special privilege (treat them to a fun experience). Because junior high students live in the here and now, their motivation needs to be in the here and now. Explaining how their work ethic could hurt their college plans is not typically an effective motivator.
Outside of the academic arena, your middle school student can be laying the foundation for college by exemplifying leadership skills and serving others. All students do not have the desire or ability for leadership. Those who do should develop this ability as early as possible through student government, church youth groups and athletic teams. We encourage students to try leadership roles in junior high to see if they are a natural fit. We also encourage serving others. Not only is it biblical, but our school feels it is a foundational character trait. Service is also highly valued by colleges. There are many different ways to serve. As a parent, try encouraging your child to try several types of service to discover which ones they enjoy the most.
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