Is Middle School the New High School? - Rye & Rye Brook Moms
By Sara Harberson

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Mom of three. Founder of, which provides personalized advice to college applicants and their families,, a free, on-demand video membership that demystifies college admissions, and Application Nation, a private Facebook group that teaches parents to think like an admissions officer. Former University of Pennsylvania associate dean of admissions. Former Franklin & Marshall College dean of admissions and financial aid. Empowering students to achieve the best version of themselves through the college admissions process.

Last week, I attended my oldest child’s middle school parents’ night. I had just gotten home from a business trip, quickly changed out of my wrinkled suit jacket, and ran out of the house with her saying, “Mom, don’t forget to meet all of my teachers!” I replied, “Of course, Honey. I will meet all of them.”
Of course I will.
I know middle school is important to her. She knows things have changed. Grades seem to matter more and she’s already talking about high school. Goodness.
As I arrived late for the welcome speech to parents, I looked around at the packed gymnasium. I had never seen so many parents. I didn’t realize her school was that big. In fact, it isn’t very big, but everyone was there even the school’s college counseling team. Geez.
One of my daughter’s friend’s father saw me in the hall as we switched classes just like our kids do during the school day. He knows what I do for a living. When he greeted me, he said, “Middle school is the new high school, right Sara?” I nervously chuckled back. But in my mind, I know better.
No matter what anyone tells you, middle school IS middle school.
The grades, activities, and even classes taken have no bearing on the college admissions process. As much as my almost-13 year old is four inches taller than me and light-years ahead of where I was when I was her age, she needs to use 7th and 8th grade as a chance to just discover herself.
I’ll be honest, I was nervous about this parents’ night. My daughter’s schedule was confusing: Block A, B, C, D, E, F, G. Different classes. Different teachers. Different locations. My head was spinning. How does she do all this? She’s only 12.
But as I settled into listening to her teachers, I started to realize that they—I mean these middle school educators—are the ones that are keeping all of us in check. They know more about what middle school kids can handle and should handle than even we parents do.
My daughter’s advisor talked to us about creating an environment where the students learn from each other outside of traditional academic classes. How to treat each other is at the top of the priority list. Yes.
The math teacher made me feel at ease. She said that every student gets a 100 on their homework as long as they do it. If they don’t understand the concepts, she will meet with them. Sigh.
The English teacher held up the books the students would be reading for the year. It was impressive, if not a bit intimidating. But I was struck by what the teacher said. That middle school isn’t about getting the highest grades; it’s about getting organized and figuring out how to stay organized. Bingo.
And just as our mock school day was about to conclude with Block G, I realized I had messed up. I had gone to one of the wrong classes earlier in the program instead of going to science class. I hadn’t read my daughter’s schedule as carefully as I should have. It was a reminder to me that we can’t put so much pressure on our kids for things that they do right and things they do wrong. They are trying to do their best just as we do as parents every single day.
I knew the takeaways from that parents’ night even before I stepped foot into the school that night. But hearing, experiencing, and seeing what my daughter is living on a daily basis put it all into perspective.
As America’s College Counselor and the proud parent of a 7th grader, here are the most important things to know:

  • Middle school should be a time to take classes that feel right. If the student can handle a more challenging class or two, they should go for it. But only if they are truly ready for it and want it.
  • Teachers are not just there to teach.They are there to help. When students feel comfortable speaking to their teachers outside of class, they gain a friend and a mentor. Great practice for high school and college.
  • Grades in middle school have no bearing on college applications. Colleges don’t care about middle school grades, ever.
  • Activities are important. They keep kids busy and out of trouble. But activities should not be done at the expense of sleep or fun.
  • No matter what accomplishments our kids get in middle school, it’s never going to dictate their college admissions decisions. It’s what they do in high school that matters to colleges. So kids should be kids. There’s plenty of time for finding cures, saving the world, and making the Olympic Team.
  • And, finally, how our kids respond to academic challenges, friend issues, and time management during middle school sets the stage for high school, college, and adulthood. This is when we as parents need to communicate with our kids, their teachers, and each other on how to help them navigate this new frontier.

When I arrived home from the parents’ night, I immediately confessed to my daughter that I had mistakenly gone to the wrong class and thus never got to meet her science teacher. She gave me a hug and told me it was okay. She’s right. It’s going to be okay.

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