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For many parents of middle schoolers, the transition to the often bigger high school can seem overwhelming. There are so many curriculum choices and students are often given more independence in their course selection. College applications require a student’s transcript to display grades since the ninth grade, so the choices they make now may have an impact on their later opportunities. Here are a few of our tips to help your child make a smooth and seamless transition to their next school:

  • First of all, don’t panic! If your child is transitioning to their local public high school, many school districts will send guidance staff from the high school to the feeder middle schools for a few days of orientation and scheduling sometime in the spring of eighth grade. Orientation usually entails a group presentation to all students and may include individual meetings to set a tentative ninth grade schedule. Keep an eye out for communications from your middle school about when these student meetings might occur, as well as any coordinated eighth grade parent nights. Even if you only learn about meetings after they occur, know that most high schools have a system in place where a parent can request changes to a student’s schedule over the summer. If your child will be attending an independent, magnet, or religious high school instead of their local public high school, you can expect there to be a similar orientation process over the summer.
  • Start with the five core courses—and plan ahead. Most high school guidance offices will make their course catalog available online or in printed form. When choosing high school courses, start first with the five core subject areas that admissions offices prefer to see: English, math, science, social studies, and foreign language. The level of each core course (college preparatory, honors, and so on) will depend on past academic performance, prerequisites, and sometimes, a recommendation from eighth grade teachers. It’s a great idea to map out your child’s course selections for all four years of high school early on to see what their path leads to in later years. This map can be your general guideline for high school, but be prepared to respond flexibly over the years as your student’s academic needs and goals may change. A successful student is one who is performing well in courses that challenge them.
  • For electives, look to interests and requirements. After you child has selected their core courses, it’s time to pick electives to fill out their rest of their schedule. The number and type of electives varies school to school, but first consider areas of interest. There will likely be electives across the visual and performing arts, as well as practical arts classes like carpentry or cooking. Feel free to allow your student to pick electives of greatest interest, but do keep an eye out for state graduation requirements. For example, a required financial literacy course and/or fine arts course is not uncommon for state requirements. Although students may get a few choices to fulfill these areas, it is good to get them out of the way early on in high school so that it is one less thing to worry about later.
  • Finally, don’t forget the importance of activities. When speaking with incoming freshman families, I often advise them to also plan ahead for their activities. What are two or three activities that your freshman would be excited to try out? Are they interested in sports, playing in a band, or do they see themselves as a future writer or engineer? During those orientation meetings, ask if there is a list of activities available. Take some time to review the list with your student and encourage them to pick a few to plan on joining during freshman year. They may immediately find their perfect activity, but more likely, they will try a few before their find their niche. A strong extracurricular profile is often important to colleges in the admissions process, and the most meaningful commitment to activities tends to begin early in a student’s high school career.

Above all, remind your freshman that nearly everyone on the planet feels nervous and excited when entering a new environment. It’s okay if it takes some time to find their groove, both academically and socially. With a little bit of planning, and some initial family conversations about goals for higher education, the transition to high school doesn’t have to be so scary.


Written by Mary Sue Youn
Mary Sue Youn is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions consultants. Prior to joining College Coach, Mary Sue was a senior admissions officer at Barnard College and Whittier College. Visit our website to learn more about Mary Sue Youn.