Should you be worried about a low grade you got in middle school hurting your future college applications? Do middle school grades count for college? With college admissions getting more competitive and students preparing for college earlier and earlier, many people wonder if colleges look at the middle school grades of applicants.
Will that C you got in 6th grade math hold you back from getting into your dream school?
In this guide, we explain if colleges look at middle school grades, which grades colleges are most interested in, and everything you can do as a middle school student to prepare for the college application process.
Do Colleges Look at Middle School Grades?
Your middle school grades will not be part of your college application. No college, even a highly-competitive one, is going to be looking at what grades you got in middle school.
There are several reasons for this. The main one is that, when you apply to college, your middle school grades will have occurred too long ago to give colleges an accurate idea of the student you are now.
If colleges see that you got a D in science when you were 12 years old, that really doesn’t give them any insight into the type of student you are at 17 or 18 when you’re applying to schools. You’ve had years to improve your study habits and master new material, so penalizing you for something that happened years ago would be unfair. Middle school grades simply happened too long ago to be very useful.
Additionally, middle school grades are often more subjective than high school grades. One middle school may have a very different grading scale compared to a different school, while some middle school teachers may give everyone A’s while others are much more strict.
Things like this can happen in high school too, but it’s more prevalent in middle school, which makes it harder for colleges to compare grades of students who went to different middle schools.
Colleges also have plenty of better information to figure out what kind of student you are that they don't need your middle school grades. Colleges ask for a lot of materials when you apply, including your high school transcript, standardized test scores, the extracurriculars you were in, personal statements, and letters of recommendation. This is enough for them to get a good idea of who you are and what type of student you are. Middle school grades wouldn't add any useful information.
Which Grades Do Colleges Look At? Which Year of School Is Most Important for College Applications?
Colleges won't be looking at your middle school grades, but they will be very interested in all the grades you got in high school. When you apply to colleges, you’ll submit a transcript that includes the grades you got the first three years of high school, and many schools also require you to submit your senior grades once you get them.
Colleges will look at every grade you got in high school, so ideally you want your entire high school transcript to be strong. However, there are some grades that are more important to colleges than other grades. Generally colleges care most about the grades you got junior year. These grades are the most important because, when you apply in the fall of your senior year, they’re the most recent grades the college has access to, so they give them the best idea of your current abilities.
If you got a few low grades your freshman year but turned around and got high grades the rest of your high school career, colleges will see that maybe you struggled a bit in the beginning, but then you overcame those issues and were able to maintain a high GPA afterward. That gives them confidence you’re on track to be a successful college student.
On the other hand, if you began high school with a strong GPA but have gradually gotten lower grades, especially in your junior year, colleges may be more concerned that you’re struggling as classes get more difficult, you’re losing motivation, or both. Having high grades your junior year will give colleges confidence that you can succeed as a student that their school.
How important are your grades from other years of high school? Senior year grades are probably the next most important, although some colleges make admissions decisions before your senior grades are out. However, many colleges will ask for your senior grades even after they’ve accepted you, so don’t fall prey to senioritis and start coasting your final year of high school. Sophomore grades are most important after that, then freshman grades.
What Can You Do in Middle School to Prepare for College?
Even though colleges don’t look at your middle school grades, there's still plenty you can do in middle school to prepare for college. It’s not required to start thinking about college in middle school, but if you’re really motivated, there are several things you can do as a middle schooler to put you in the best spot when it comes time to apply to college. Here are three things to focus on.
#1: Get the Best Grades You Can in Your Classes
Even though colleges won’t be looking at your middle school grades, you still want to get the best grades you can during those years. Having strong middle school grades increases the chances of you being placed into advanced classes as a high school freshman, which colleges will see.
Additionally, by working hard in middle school, you’ll acquire good study and testing habits that you can continue to use in high school, making it easier for you to get high grades in your high school classes. You don’t want to enter high school without knowing how to properly read a chapter in a textbook or study for a big test. Learn these things in middle school so you’ll be as prepared as possible for your high school classes and can start your freshman year off strong.
#2: Think About Which Subjects You Enjoy Most
You absolutely don’t need to know what you’re going to major in as a middle schooler (most high school students have no idea what they’re going to major in!), but it can definitely be helpful to start thinking about what your favorite subjects are and which of them you’d like to continue taking.
If you know that you enjoy, say, math and science classes more than English and social studies classes, once you get to high school you can begin aiming to take more advanced classes in math and science to show colleges that you’re skilled in them.
It’s totally fine to change your mind about which classes you plan on taking in high school, but by starting to think about it in middle school, you can be better prepared when it comes time to choose classes in high school.
#3: Participate in Different Extracurricular Activities
Your middle school grades may not be part of your college application, but extracurriculars you participate in during this time might be! If you’ve been taking piano lessons since you were in 2nd grade or been volunteering at a nursing home since you were 13, you can include that on your college applications as long as you continued those activities through at least part of high school.
This means your middle school extracurriculars can show colleges your commitment to an activity, and participating in an extracurricular in middle school can help you get a leadership position in that activity as a high school student.
If colleges see that you’ve stuck with an activity since middle school, it’ll show them you’re passionate about it and can really dedicate yourself to an activity. Similarly, obtaining a leadership position in an extracurricular also shows you’re passionate about it and that you have leadership skills (a big plus to colleges).
As with tip #2, it’s completely fine to change extracurriculars between middle school and college, but if you’re looking for a way to strengthen your future college applications, sticking with at least one can help.
Conclusion: Do Middle School Grades Count for College?
Do colleges look at middle school grades? No, your middle school grades occurred too long ago to really give colleges an accurate idea of your current academic abilities. Colleges have many other pieces of information that are much more useful for figuring out which applicants to accept, so they don’t use middle school grades.
Which grades do colleges look at? Your high school grades will be very important for your college application, particularly your junior year grades since these give colleges the best idea of what kind of student you are now.
Even though your middle school grades won’t be used in the college application process, you can still begin preparing for college applications in middle school by getting high grades (to prepare you for the best high school classes), thinking about which classes you want to continue with in high school and beyond, and participating in extracurriculars you’re interested in and want to continue with in high school.
Thinking ahead to your high school grades? Learn the average high school GPA so you know what to aim for.
Beginning your college search? Check out our guide on how to choose the best college for you.
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Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.