Believe it or not, eighth grade is not too early to start college planning. Did you know that eleventh grade may be too late for some students? There are a lot of reasons to hit the ground running in the 8th grade. Before you know it, college will be here and understanding what lies ahead is important to understand before you start high school. So what do you need to know to be prepared in advance?

Grades and Test Scores: First of all, you need to understand that grades and standardized test scores (ACT/SAT) rule when it comes to choosing your college. The better your grades and the higher your test scores, the more choices you will have. Higher grades and test scores also equate to more financial aid as well. So start early to get into good study habits for high school. Be consistent with your study habits. Stick to the schedule and follow a calendar of things you need to be doing.

Rigor: Always take the most challenging courses that you can handle. Although the challenging courses are more work, the payoff is worth it! These courses will help you develop college level writing skills, problem solving abilities, time management skills, good study habits, and self-discipline. But you must develop these skills beginning in middle school. If you take AP courses in high school, not only will you get a GPA “bump up,” but you also have the opportunity to take the AP Exam and earn college credit. That can be a time and a money saver. Colleges want to see that you challenge yourself academically and they will look at your high school’s profile to see if you have taken the most challenging courses available.

Involvement: Colleges like students who have been deeply involved in activities for their entire high school years. It is best to pick your favorite activities and get deeply involved. So if you can begin to develop your interests and activities in middle school and sustain them throughout high school, you will improve your portfolio for your college applications. So join clubs, volunteer, participate in sports, get involved in music or art, or donate your time to others. Have fun in high school and discover your interests and passions in middle school!

By the time you hit 11th grade, your path is set. If you have bad grades, you cannot go back and fix them. If you have not been involved in extracurricular activities and volunteer work, it is almost too late to get them started since the colleges want “sustainability;” that is, the same activities all four years of high school. If you have not developed good study habits and an intellectual vitality in high school, it will be hard to do so in college.

So get started early so you can set your course. Embark on your journey to an incredible four years of high school, college, career, and life. Go for it!