When is the right time to start planning high school courses? If you’re the parent of a student in late elementary school or middle school, you’ve probably asked that question. Knowing when to start planning for high school is hard enough, but throw in the wrinkle of how best to prepare for college, and it gets even harder.

Today, we’re making the process less intimidating by sharing seven quick and easy tips.

If you’re fortunate enough to start planning early in your student’s middle school years, that’s great! Early planning gives you and your student some time to evaluate the options and learn and grow together. Particularly heading into 8th grade, you’ve reached a pivotal point and it’s definitely time to get started.

If your student is already in high school and you feel behind the eight ball with planning, don’t worry. You can still glean a lot of insight from these tips. Also be sure to check out our conclusion below for more planning resources.

Let’s get started!

1. Plan around your student’s gifts, abilities, interests, and learning style

By now, your student probably has a fairly good idea of the subjects he or she enjoys and best learning style. Look to tailor a course of study around these interest areas and giftings.

Now is also an ideal time to help your student do some dreaming about what life after high school will look like. At this stage of life, does he or she want to go to college? Pursue vocational training? Start their own business? Take a gap year?

Your student’s goals might change after entering high school, but this exercise is a great way to help young people think about their strengths, dreams, and ambitions through the lens of practical, after-graduation planning.

The Ultimate Homeschool Guide to Creating a High School Transcript

2. Help your student develop strong study habits

It goes without saying that independent study skills are crucial for college and high school, and middle school is the time to begin cultivating them. One question to consider right off the top is where your student likes to study best:

  • At the kitchen table
  • Sitting in a comfy chair
  • In a quiet library
  • In a noisy coffee shop

Another question: At what time of day does your student concentrate best? Is he or she a night owl, an early bird, or maybe somewhere between?

Planning and pacing are crucial, too. Help your student budget time for assignments, learn how to pace study time heading toward a deadline, and then meet the actual deadline. This can put a kink in the natural flexibility that many homeschoolers prefer, but it’s important preparation for high school, and especially for college.

One final tip for study habits: Help your student develop the art of focus. With so many distractions today—particularly for young people—learning how to focus on a single task (like studying) is a crucial skill to master.

3. Start thinking about how to pay for college

It’s never too early to begin figuring out how to pay for college. You have several options:

  • Financial aid: Familiarize yourself with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and research grants and support from federal or state sources.
  • Scholarships: Explore potential academic- or need-based scholarships.

For more, check out our 36 tips for saving in college: Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, and part 6.

4. Explore fun and worthwhile extracurricular activities

Beyond academics, what hobbies and pursuits does your student enjoy? These can become a great basis for extracurricular activities in high school.

It’s also never too early to start thinking about how these activities could translate into useful items on your student’s transcript and college application materials. For some more ideas on how summer can be a great time to discover extracurricular activities, click here.

5. Encourage your student to read widely

As a homeschool parent, you already know that being well-read is essential for your student’s long-term success. Middle school is the perfect time to place even more emphasis on this great habit. Here are some more ideas for cultivating a love of reading in your student.

6. Know what colleges want

Is middle school too early to think about college? The answer is clearly no. When evaluating what coursework to take for high school, it’s never a bad idea to identify a handful of colleges that your student might attend and see what they require.

Alternatively, if your student plans to head into the military or directly into the workforce, plan a course of study around these goals. In the middle school years no one expects your student to know exactly what he or she wants to do, but you can start laying the groundwork in small ways.

7. Plan with your student’s high school transcript in mind

Aside from required coursework in English, math, science, history, social studies, and foreign languages, you have some flexibility in which electives to take on. Just remember to think about what courses will look like on paper when it’s time to assemble your student’s high school transcript. It can be helpful to write down a plan of action and stick to it.

Wrapping Up: It’s Never Too Late to Start

If your student is already in high school and you’re late to the planning game, don’t worry. You can still bring everything together. Here are a few resources to help out, including record-keeping tips, some ideas on how to assign credits, insights on which year of high school is most important, and a tutorial on writing course descriptions. Additionally, the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) has this comprehensive PDF that covers just about everything you need to know for planning high school courses.