Navigating Your Child's Education: Grades 6-8

6 min read

Starting High School with a Plan

Jan 12, 2023 8:00 PM

The middle school years might seem too early to begin conversations about college planning, but I recommend that students and their parents begin high school with some idea of a plan. The primary reason for this is so that students know what courses they need to take throughout their high school careers. When high school students wait until their junior or senior year to begin their college search/admissions journey, they sometimes realize that they have not taken the classes they needed in order to gain admission to their preferred college or program. 

Beyond the applications, essays, and standardized test scores often associated with college admissions, there is an underlying factor that can either help or hurt students in their process: academic rigor.  

With the recent changes to the college admissions landscape, academic rigor is perhaps more important than ever. The movement toward test-optional admissions has made the process much more qualitative than quantitative. University and college counselors are not simply looking to see if an applicant has a certain test score or has properly completed the application. They are now more thoroughly reading essays and transcripts, looking to see if students have challenged themselves throughout high school. They are also looking for evidence that students are ready for the academic demands of collegiate study.  

Varying Requirements

Each state sets forth graduation requirements for all high school students—a certain number of math, science, social studies, English, and elective credits. Yet it is sometimes the case that college admissions requirements are different—often requiring courses beyond a state’s minimum graduation standards. For example, the state of Ohio does not require high school graduates to complete any foreign language courses, but The Ohio State University requires that students have at least two years of study in a foreign language (with preference for additional years beyond that minimum). This is part of the reason why it is so important for high schoolers to begin exploring colleges and universities that may be the right fit for them before they get to their last year or two of high school.  

Varying Opportunities

One way that students can demonstrate their pursuit of academic rigor in high school is through the varying course opportunities offered in their school context. Depending on the school, high school students typically have opportunities for honors classes, Advanced Placement courses, the International Baccalaureate diploma program, and university-level programs such as Ohio’s College Credit Plus. Each of these options carries varying degrees of expectations and rigor, and each school assigns them a range of “weight” in calculating student grade point averages. Many colleges are adopting a new tool called the Self-Reported Academic Record (SRAR), to which applicants upload their transcript course by course. The tool creates a standard system for leveling all student transcripts since each high school formulates student GPAs differently.  

Upper School Girl

A Common Misconception

One misconception I encounter among high school students in their parents is that students need to take the most challenging courses offered by their school in every possible subject/discipline. This is not necessarily advantageous to students. I recommend students prioritize the pursuit of more challenging coursework in areas of study they may want to pursue in the future. For example, a student who plans to become an engineer but struggles with essay writing may want to consider rigorous math and science pursuits but take a more general language arts course load.  

Outside of the "Box"

Not all students are afforded the same course offerings depending on their school context. In other cases, students may struggle to flourish in traditional school settings in a way that demonstrates their passion and capacity. In either case, the good news is that taking “hard” classes is not the only way to demonstrate academic rigor or showcase a student's passions or interests. 

Summer programs, community clubs, volunteering or job shadowing, work experience, and specific field-related activities (such as a robotics team) are all ways that students can both explore their interests and demonstrate them once they are in the college admissions process. 

One of the most fundamental elements of the college admissions process and the years of planning that can take place within that journey is this: Parents need to know their students and know what their dreams are. The more deeply we understand and know our students, the better we can encourage them along the best path for them. 

[Editor's Note: This blog post is adapted from a podcast episode with Dr. Bethany Schweitzer on Navigating Your Child's Education, a podcast for parents. To hear more on that topic, check out the full episode.]




Dr. Bethany Schweitzer
Written by Dr. Bethany Schweitzer

Bethany is one of the founders of College Ready, LLC, a Columbus-based organization that supports students through the college admissions process. She found her way into higher education at the end of law school, working in the admissions office. She knew that she didn’t want to practice law and applied for a job in the admissions office. Since then, she has worked in the admissions field in undergraduate, graduate, and law school admissions offices. She is passionate about helping students find their right fit college.