Published on 07/02/19

The road to college starts in middle school, experts say

By Sadie Lackey

College acceptance is not typically at the top of a middle school student’s to-do list, but preparation for higher education should begin somewhere between after-school practice and math homework at this age.

Believe it or not, students should be thinking of their future career paths before they tackle high school, said Katie Murray, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences admissions counselor for the University of Georgia Tifton campus.

"I do think middle school students should be aware that the classes you take in high school will affect what college you get into in terms of GPA and rigor," said Murray. "Middle school students do not have to know what they want to be when they grow up, but it is a good time to explore their interests." 

The best tools for this sort of planning may not be a laptop or notebook, but rather real-life, hands-on experiences that give students a better idea of what they are passionate and excited about, said Murray.

While it might not be easy to convince a middle school-aged student that it is time to build their resume and begin collecting community service hours, youth development organizations like Georgia 4-H can help and even make the process fun.

“In general, 4-H gives youth many opportunities to develop skills for the workforce, and those opportunities often result from participation in 4-H summer camp,” said Charlie Wurst, UGA Extension 4-H specialist and camping coordinator. “Many 4-H’ers pursue service and education-related careers as the result of relationships with caring adult leaders who nurtured and supported them. Many of those relationships were first built at 4-H camp, and those experiences encourage youth to want to serve others.”

Other career exploration opportunities are available through specialty camp programs such as Marine Resources Camp. 

“It’s not uncommon to hear 4-H’ers indicate they want to explore a career in the sciences after being exposed to unique activities in areas in which they are passionate, whether it’s in an area like marine biology or in engineering after building robots in a STEM class at camp,” Wurst added.

Georgia 4-H provides experiences for young people to “learn by doing” through completing hands-on projects in various focus areas. Through 4-H, youth develop lifelong friends and mentors through engaging in various programs and experiences. 4-H programs can be found in every county throughout the state.

For more information about Georgia 4-H and how to get involved, visit

Sadie Lackey is a student writer for the CAES Office of Communications and Creative Services.

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