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Planning Ahead for College: Preparing for College in Middle School

Gifted Education and Support

This article provides middle schoolers advice on laying the groundwork for future success in high school, college, and beyond by solidifying academic knowledge and skills, developing good study habits, exploring interests and more.

Disclaimer: The appearance of any information in the Davidson Institute’s Resource Library does not imply an endorsement by, or any affiliation with, the Davidson Institute. All information presented is for informational and archival purposes only. The Davidson Institute bears no responsibility for the content of republished material. Please note the date, author, and publisher information available if you wish to make further inquiries about any republished materials in our Resource Library.

Author: Brody, L.
Publications: Imagine
Publisher: The Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth
Year: 2017

See also: Planning Ahead for College: College Planning and Preparation – The High School Years

Perhaps you dream of going to Harvard or MIT, your flagship state university, or your mom’s alma mater. While dreams are good, middle school is too soon to focus on choosing a specific college, as your interests and needs are likely to change by the time you leave high school. However, it is time to lay the groundwork for your future success in high school, college, and beyond by solidifying your academic knowledge and skills, developing good study habits, exploring interests, and beginning to define your goals for the future.

You should leave middle school with a solid background in core content areas including math, science, the humanities, and one or more foreign languages. And your classes should be rigorous so that they prepare you for more advanced courses in high school and help you develop the study skills that will be crucial as academic requirements become more demanding. If your school courses aren’t adequately challenging, consider taking more advanced classes at a high school, online, or in academic summer programs.

In addition to what you learn in your classes, use your free time to expand your general knowledge. Take an interest in the world around you: Read newspapers or get news on the Internet and discuss events with your family and friends. Visit museums and historical sites near your home or while on vacation, and be sure your education includes exposure to the arts. Read widely—both fiction and non-fiction—to expand your knowledge of literature and to build your critical reading skills.

Evaluate your oral and written communication abilities. If your school classes don’t adequately meet your needs in these areas, you might take an online writing course, write for your school newspaper or literary magazine, or join the debate team to hone your oral speaking skills. Also, how competent are you with a computer? You should be comfortable with word processing, know how to use PowerPoint and other applications, and be able to search the Internet for information. It might also be a good time to learn a programming language.

If you have studied piano or played soccer for years and know you love it and are good at it, these are talents you will want to continue to pursue and take to a higher level. But middle school is also a good time to explore new interests, so join some school clubs, use summers to delve into new topics, and/or investigate career options by volunteering or working with a mentor in a field of interest. Gradually identify where your greatest interests lie and which activities warrant more of your time, and strive to obtain higher levels of accomplishment, leadership positions, and recognition for your achievements. For example, if you love competitions, work toward winning awards; if it’s theater, seek more challenging roles; if service is your passion, start a new initiative in your school or community.

As you near the end of middle school, you may be in the fortunate position of having a choice of high schools; if so, carefully consider the best option for you and pay attention to admissions deadlines. Regardless of the school you attend, be proactive in choosing your 9th grade courses and develop a four-year plan in consultation with a counselor. Re-evaluate this plan every year.

Finally, while it may be too early to choose a college, it’s not too early to consider the type of college environment you might prefer. If you are attending a summer program on a college campus or happen to be visiting one while on vacation, look around and evaluate whether the atmosphere appeals to you. Is the campus too big or small, too urban or rural, or just about right? Do you like the housing, the food, the athletic facilities, the arts center? Even if this particular college might not be on your list, take advantage of being there to begin to identify attributes that might be important to you when you look more seriously at your college options in a few years.

Permission Statement

This article is reprinted with permission from Imagine Magazine (, a publication of the The Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth.

This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit


Craig Roberson

It's never too early to plan

Craig Roberson

Students should always do what it takes to succeed

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