But He’s Not In High School Yet!


By Dr. Belinda Leon, Senior Advisor with USP

Para leer en Español

Parents will ask me if their student should start preparing for college in 11th or 12th grade? My usual answer is, “You start when your child is born. From day one you need to invest in some type of college savings.” However, it’s usually too late for that piece of advice by the time a parent is asking the question. The second typical answer I provide is regarding the important academic points in third and fifth grade for reading and math, respectively, that could have repercussions in high school and the pursuit of college. Given that it’s also usually too late when I am asked that question, I then focus my answer on actions a student can take in eighth grade:

  1. Take the PSAT.
  2. Track out your math level path.
  3. Analyze your academic choices.

The PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test) is a practice exam for the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) which is a common exam students take for college entry and scholarship consideration. The PSAT is only offered in mid-October and students can take it as early as 8th grade. Standardized tests are best conquered through practice so, by taking the PSAT you can do better on the SAT. You can practice by taking it in 8th, 9th, and 10th grade. When the student takes the PSAT in 11th grade, it is the last time, but it is also when their score can be considered for the National Merit Scholarship. This scholarship not only offers funds, but it makes students extremely attractive to colleges. Note, you may have to specifically request your child’s school for the PSAT in grades 8-10 because not all schools offer it to all students.

In a world where STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers are high in demand, your child’s level of math in school becomes very important. Students who score well on standardized math tests in 5th and 6th grade will be tracked into Algebra before they enter high school. This means their high school grade point average (GPA) could start as early as 7th or 8th grade. If a student completes Algebra in 8th grade, they start high school a year ahead in Geometry. Algebra II follows in their Sophomore year and that allows for Pre-Calculus and AP Calculus during the last two years of high school. Students on a path to study a STEM-related major would have the levels of math needed for college. An advanced level of math also shows off academic achievement to top schools. Ivy League colleges love students who take Calculus.

Finally, students and parents need to evaluate the different academic paths available in high school. Students need to look at the courses that they can take in high school over the four years as well as the types of programs they can enroll in for high school. For example, in regards to coursework, students have to determine if there are pre-requisites in order to take future Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Before graduating 8th grade, students pick classes for their first year in high school. Picking electives is fun, but they must also consider the levels of English, Math, Science, and History. Good colleges want to see that students took tough courses. But students also need look at programs overall – does the high school offer an honors program such as Cambridge? International Baccalaureate (IB)? AP Capstone? Dual Enrollment? These programs have specific entrance requirements with certain benefits for applying to college. Some will give free college credit- as much as two years’ worth!


Even though college applications open August 1st of 12th grade, there is a lot of careful planning that students should be doing early on. To get to a specific college or major, there are specific steps each year of high school as well as in 8th grade so that students increase their chance of being accepted at their college of choice. Think it through, plan it out, and then take the right steps. Your student will be grateful that they did when they walk onto their dream college campus.


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