Friday, February 4, 2011

Preparing Middle Schoolers for College

I've said before that Jay Mathews of the Washington Post is one of my favorite education journalists.  He has been their education reporter for decades, so he has a deep background in personalities, policies, programs, and research in the field.

This week he wrote an article right up our alley that was called "8 Subtle Ways to Prepare Middle Schoolers for College."  He has long been an advocate that their are great educations to be had at all sorts of different colleges, and generally works to relieve the pressure students and parents put on themselves in terms of having to get into ONE particular college.  So his is not going to be a "Tiger Mom" type of list of intense academic achievements.  In fact, much of his list, which he compiled from talking to college admissions experts, he says is really more geared to making middle schoolers into better people, which will help them in college along with the rest of their life.

The Mathews/Educational Experts list is:
1.  Notice what they enjoy, and help them do more of it.
(Colleges like students with depth, and students should spend time doing what is important to them, not racking up achievements to look good.)
2.  Make sure your child knows that B's are fine in middle school and that fun is important.
(Don't start the pressure too soon, especially for overachievers.)
3.  Enroll them in Algebra 1 in eighth grade.
(This prepares them for high school level work.)
4.  Insist they develop some practical housework skills.
(They are going to have to balance taking care of themselves with their college workload.)
5.  Flavor family trips with a bit of college atmosphere.
(My husband makes fun of me about this, but my family's vacations always included stopping by a local campus or two.)
6.  Encourage children who are curious about the world to take a foreign language.
(My son and I just participated in an online class this afternoon with students from three different continents.  It truly is a global world.)
7.  Character counts.  Encourage its development.
(Mathews admits this can be hard with emotional early adolescents, but suggests we start by being good role models ourselves.)
8.  Do everything you can to encourage reading.
(One of his experts says the highest correlation among the very best test-takers is a strong background in reading.)

That's a pretty good list, I think.  But some of his readers added a few others:

--More sleep for teens/preteens
--Teach listening skills
--Raise career awareness and preparation requirements(in both college-required and non-college fields)
--Have them write
--Make sure they spend time outdoors in nature

Any other suggestions you have for low-key ways to help prepare 10-14 year olds for their college experience (if they choose to have one)?


  1. - Create strong project and personal connection/networking/mentorships within academic circles
    - Develop information literacy
    - Develop computer skills, including social media, computational and modeling software, programming and gaming
    - Autodidact skills (though these may make people want to avoid colleges, lol)
    - Well-being, psychology, time and task management, flow management (meta-skills)

  2. That's a great list, Maria. I especially like your one about autodidact skills! I have that situation with my son--he so prefers homeschooling to what he sees going on in formal learning environments that he can't imagine why he would want to put himself in that environment, even for college.

    I guess I need to start being meaner or more boring or something...