5 Reasons to Start College Planning in Middle School

Your child just stepped through the doors of middle school, and into a land of braces, growth-spurts, and real lockers. You watch them grab their backpack and walk through the door, and dust off your hands, secure in the knowledge that they've still got a long way to go before high school--or even college, for that matter.

But you start getting emails and seeing headlines. Start Planning for College in Middle School, they say. You want to scream. "No! Why? It's so soon!"

Well, yeah. But here's the thing. It's actually pretty sensible.

To clarify, we're not talking about going on college tours, or looking at dorm rooms, or even picking up a brochure. But since your student isn't in high school yet, this is the perfect time to make sure they're headed in the direction of success.

Here are five specific reasons why you should start planning for college now.

Reason 1: Your student needs a solid foundation.

Foundation in what? Well, the stuff they're learning in school. Reading, writing...and especially math.

The mathematics taught from kindergarten through 7th grade are the basics that are used for every future math and science class--Algebra, Pre-Calculus, Calculus, Statistics, Chemistry, Physics, etcetera.

Right now, before they get into high school (and higher level math), you can make sure that they fully understand these fundamentals, to save them from years of struggling.

Reason 2: GPA carries an unexpected amount of weight.

Colleges look at GPA (Grade Point Average) when they're deciding whether they should admit your student...and whether they should give out huge merit-based scholarships.

But did you know there are two GPAs? Yep--there's a weighted GPA, and an unweighted GPA.

Unweighted GPA is the one you know and love. Each class grade is assigned a value from 0-4. (A=4, B=3, C=2, D=1, F=0.) Then, the average of these "grade points" is your student's GPA. So, if your student gets all A's, they'll end up with a 4.0. Piece of cake.

Weighted GPAs will come into play in high school, when they start taking AP and Honors courses. In an Honors course, an A is worth 4.5 points instead of 4... and an AP A is worth 5 points. That also means that a B in an AP class looks the same as an A in a regular class, if you look at the weighted GPA.

But colleges just look at unweighted GPAs. So your student needs to make sure they're getting A's in every class if they want that unweighted 4.0.

Reason 3: You have time to make a standardized test plan.

PSAT, SAT, ACT, SAT subject tests...it's all kind of a blur, right? Here's the thing. If you're on top of the benefits of these tests now, your student will soar through them, with a great shot to snag scholarship money and gain acceptance to great universities.

You already know that high SAT and ACT scores can get you in the door of high-level educational institutions. But did you know that the PSAT isn't just a "Practice SAT"? It's actually a qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship, which pays for full-tuition at 53 schools across the U.S.

Also, subject tests can help your student stand out and prove that they're serious about a particular area. Are they passionate about studying math at MIT? They should take the math subject test!

Knowing things like this ahead of time will help you better prepare for these opportunities.

Reason 4: You can figure out how to fund their college education without racing against the clock.

Billions of dollars in scholarships are given out each year. (Not an exaggeration.) And often, they're at least somewhat based on GPA and SAT scores.

"The truth is there are funds available for all kinds of students from all walks of life - you don't have to be a top performing athlete or win the academic decathlon championship to get them."

As long as you're aware of that now, and if you begin your scholarship research now, you and your student will know what to do to save thousands of dollars down the line.

Reason 5: Your student has time to build a fabulous resume!

Trust me, I know. "My student needs a resume in middle school? What is this??" But elite universities have gotten so competitive that the only way your student can really differentiate themselves is through the stuff they do outside of school.

It's not for everyone. But right now, you and your student can start casually talking about their interests, ideas, and so on. Are they always curled up, reading something new? Maybe they could start a book review blog. Do they love making fancy grilled cheese sandwiches? They could consider starting a cooking club at school or do some volunteer work.

"Student volunteer work has the most direct effect on college costs: the more community service a middle school or high school student does, the more impressive their college and scholarship resume will be."

The point is that they can start gently moving in this direction now, instead of trying to scramble and scrape something together their senior year of high school.

Conclusion

Yes, it's only middle school. But now is the perfect time to start looking ahead, just so you can familiarize yourself with the waters to come. That way, when high school starts, instead of battling a hurricane...it'll be smooth sailing.