A recent New York Times article talked about 1st graders preparing for college. Which raised the question, what do students need to do before 9th grade to be competitive candidates for highly selective colleges and/or BS/MD programs.
And the answer, for most students is … absolutely nothing.
Colleges do not care what students do before 9th grade. When you are completing the common application for instance they only want to know what you did from 9th grade on. If you start reciting your achievements and accomplishments in 7th and 8th grade you will most likely hurt your chances of success because the colleges just don’t care about those early years. They want to know what have you done in high school.
Now, when I say absolutely nothing, that is a bit of hyperbole. If a student studies hard and does well in middle school, they typically learn good study habits. This will hopefully continue into high school and result in good grades in high school. Getting started in volunteer organizations before high school can also teach the student the joys of helping others which they will continue in high school.
There are also two academic areas where getting a strong early start can help in high school. The first is in math. Colleges want to see students taking calculus as some point in high school. A typical sequence of math is algebra 1, algebra 2, geometry, pre-calculus and calculus. If you just take one math each year, taking algebra 1 as an 8th grader will make sure that you can talk calculus as a senior.
The other possible area for early classes is with foreign languages. Selective colleges like to see students with at least 4 years of each core subject, one of which is a single foreign language. If you start a foreign language in 8th grade, as many schools do, you may finish by junior year freeing up some time senior year for other subjects. Alternatively, if your school offers an AP class in your foreign language that is often the 5th year of the language which you could take as a senior.
Despite these possible considerations, do you need to worry about where you might go to college before 9th grade? Absolutely not. Even with the high achieving students I deal with all of the time, we don’t worry about the college selection process until after junior year. Why? Because until we have junior grades and test scores from the SAT or ACT, we don’t know what level of college the student will be competitive for.
If your student is younger than 9th grade encourage them to enjoy school and explore their options both academic and extracurricular. But try not to get too stressed. There will be plenty of time for that after 9th grade.