- The SAT (or ACT for that matter). Some schools and tutoring centers offer middle schoolers the chance to sit for the SAT in 7th or 8th grade, and many families wonder if this is worthwhile. First of all, the SAT is not an intelligence test, so why would you take a test before you’ve ever learned the material? Middle school students haven’t been taught the level of math that is tested on these exams, namely advanced algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. And reading and writing abilities are cumulative and develop significantly in high school, improving your abilities naturally over time. But getting a low score, even if there are good reasons for it, can be really demoralizing, especially for students who are academically strong and typically do well on standardized tests. There’s plenty of time in 10th and 11th grade for students to figure out which test they should take, to prepare for that test, and to sit for that test a couple of times. Waiting until you’re academically ready will only improve your scores, and make the process much more efficient.
- Finding your passion in life. Many students feel like they need one primary activity on their resume to demonstrate depth of commitment, and they worry that if they haven’t found that by the time they get to high school, they won’t have enough years to show their deep investment in something. But the wonderful thing about high school is how many different sports, clubs, and activities there are that you never had access to before. Freshman year of high school is a great opportunity to dabble in a wide range of extracurriculars, exploring all your interests. Once you’ve had a chance to try some new things, you can think about where to devote more time and energy next year. There is no number of hours you have to hit for an activity to be considered meaningful. Having something specific and compelling to say about why you joined and why you stayed involved is much more important to colleges.
- What you’re going to do when you grow up. I talk about this a lot when beginning the college research process with my students. You don’t need to know what you want to do when you grow up, or even what you want to major in, to start the college search process. Filtering by major is only one way to organize colleges. So if you don’t need to know your future profession when you start looking at colleges in your junior year, you definitely don’t need to know it when you’re in middle school. And focusing so intensely on one career or one field might cause you to miss a wonderful opportunity. Instead, think about where and when you feel intellectually engaged. Is it a particular subject, an especially compelling teacher, maybe just one really good book you read? When you find something you enjoy academically, find ways to do more of it. If you do that throughout high school and college, that will translate into a major and a career.
I’m giving a presentation on college admissions to a group of 8th graders this weekend, and I’ve been thinking about what I want them to walk away knowing at the end of it. This kind of event can seem like a sign of the ever-expanding reach of college admissions (if 8th graders are stressing out about getting into college now, where will it end?!), but the thing I like most about presenting to younger kids and families is how many things I get to tell them not to worry about. Here are three things you don’t have to do or think about or feel anxious about:
What is the When I Was 17 Project?
When I Was 17 is a blog series dedicated to collecting the varied stories of people's career paths, what they envisioned themselves doing when they were teenagers and how that evolved over the course of their lives. I started this project with the goal of illustrating that it's okay not to know exactly what you want to do when you're 17; many successful people didn't, and these are a few of their stories.