College may still feel at a safe distance, but the decisions your eighth grader makes now will build the foundation for later success in their college admission journey.
What should you, as a parent, be discussing with your eighth grader?
March is the time of year when schools begin to plan their academic schedule for the following year. Your eighth grader will be asked to choose courses that will set the path for their future trajectory. It is important to be informed and to ask the right questions of your student’s school before discussing your student’s options:
- How are students placed in honors or advanced classes? If my student is not recommended, is there a process for reconsideration?
- If my student is placed in a regular section, does this limit my student’s ability to move into the honors or advanced track at a later date?
- What is the trajectory for math courses? Can a student take Geometry and Algebra 2 concurrently in order to advance? What AP math courses are offered, and what are the prerequisites?
- Are students able to take summer classes in order to advance, and if so, are the grades from summer classes calculated into the student’s GPA?
- What is the world language requirement? Is a student able to combine fewer years in multiple languages to meet the full requirement?
- Is there a limit on the number of AP courses a student may take in one school year?
- In which AP courses do students typically earn a higher score? In which SAT II Subject Tests?
- If the school offers an IB program, ask what percentage of students earn the IB diploma.
- Does the school provide a description of all elective courses offered?
Once you have this information in hand, you are ready to discuss academic choices with your student. Some questions that may help begin your discussion are:
- What are your favorite subjects, and why?
- When thinking about your favorite class, what makes it enjoyable? Is it the subject matter, the teacher’s approach, the ability for you to see relevance in what you learn?
- How much time are you willing to devote to homework during the week? On weekends?
- Are there courses you have heard about that you want to be sure to take before you graduate?
- What concerns do you have about high school academics?
Next, it is important to have a conversation about co-curricular interests and commitments. Colleges want to see a mature student commitment and evidence of leadership. Talk with your student about their interests thus far, whether it be athletics, drama, music, art, debate, community service, etc. In which areas does your student thrive? Has your student demonstrated a passion for anything? Is your student independent or a team player?
If possible, encourage your student to choose a few activities to which they will commit for all four years of high school. This will show the ability to commit to something long-term. Students also tend to take on leadership roles in areas where they have been involved for more than two years. It is better to devote more time to a few activities than to spread thin over multiple activities.
It is also effective to think about themes in your student’s life. If history and politics are an academic interest, for instance, rounding out the student’s program with the debate team, Model UN, or Mock Trial will indicate a strong interest across different venues. Is your student a stellar English student? The literary magazine or school paper are good choices.
Reaching beyond school is also a positive sign of interest, maturity, and engagement. Look for opportunities within the community to volunteer in areas that correspond with other interests. For instance, if your student loves environmental studies, working with local committees, working with the state park system, volunteering in dune replenishment, etc., can further demonstrate the student’s interests.
As you move through these conversations, help your student envision themselves as a complete picture. Who are they? How would they live a daily life that would demonstrate who they are? What makes them happy? What makes them productive? When the student finds a way to connect academic interests with co-curricular interests, they will find themselves more energized and thus more effective in building a successful high school career.