Do Colleges Look at Middle School Grades?

Do middle school grades matter when it comes to college admissions? Find out the answer and more about what colleges look at.

Do Colleges Look at Middle School Grades?
Pedro Gandra

A lot of factors go into college admissions decisions and which applicants are the best candidates for acceptance. Academic achievement — such as having a high grade point average (GPA), good scores on the SAT or ACT exams, and the rigor of the classes that you’ve taken — as well as extracurricular activities, leadership roles, college application essays, and much more all are factored in.

An interesting question that prospective college students have wondered about is how far back college admission boards look. For example, do colleges look at middle school grades? In this BrokeScholar article, we will address the very common question of whether or not colleges look at your middle school grades when they are considering your application.

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Do Colleges Look at Middle School Grades? 

The question of whether colleges look at middle school grades is a common concern among students and parents alike, given the increasing competitiveness of college admissions. In general, college admission officers typically do not look at middle school grades directly. Their main focus usually rests on high school performance, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, personal essays, and letters of recommendation.

Primarily, colleges consider high school academic records because they tend to be more indicative of a student's intellectual maturity, focus, and potential for success in a rigorous academic environment. High school courses are generally more challenging and diverse, providing students with the opportunity to explore various disciplines and excel in specific areas of interest. The rigor of classes chosen, the grades received, and the consistency of academic achievement throughout high school play significant roles in the admissions decision-making process.

Do Middle School Grades Matter?

This doesn't mean, however, that middle school grades are entirely insignificant. For instance, the academic habits and skills that students develop in middle school often set the foundation for their high school performance. A student who thrives academically in middle school may be better prepared for the challenges of high school. Additionally, some high school programs may look at middle school grades for admissions into specific advanced placement or honors courses.

What’s more, middle school performance may indirectly impact college admissions through its influence on a student's self-perception, motivation, and educational trajectory. Excelling in middle school can inspire confidence and ambition, encouraging students to aim for higher-level courses in high school, participate in extracurricular activities, and pursue leadership roles — all elements that can strengthen a college application.

In the end, while colleges do not directly consider middle school grades in their admissions process, the experiences and habits formed during this period can significantly influence a student's high school performance and overall readiness for college. Therefore, it is essential for students to take their middle school years seriously, not necessarily for the sake of their middle school GPA, but for the long-term academic and personal growth they can achieve during this critical developmental period.

Situation Where a College Might Look at Your Middle School Grades

Though it's relatively rare for colleges to directly consider middle school grades during the admissions process, there are unique situations where they might become relevant.

Let's consider a hypothetical situation involving a highly specialized early college or dual-enrollment program. In this scenario, a student may apply to such a program during their middle school years, seeking to start taking college-level courses in high school. The program is highly competitive and seeks to admit only students who demonstrate strong academic potential, maturity, and readiness for advanced coursework.

In this case, the early college or dual-enrollment program might review middle school grades as a component of their admissions process, as these grades might be the most substantial academic record available for the student at the time of application. The program would likely evaluate the rigor of the courses taken in middle school, the student's performance in these courses, and their overall academic progression.

This information, along with standardized test scores (if available), letters of recommendation, and potentially an interview, could help the program gauge the student's readiness to handle college-level work at an earlier than typical age.

Still, it's critical to remember that such situations are the exception, not the norm. Most colleges and universities primarily consider a student's high school record, standardized test scores, and other elements such as personal essays and extracurricular involvement.

What Grades Do Colleges Look at Most?

The short answer is: 11th grade, your junior year of high school. When it comes to the grades that carry the most weight in college admissions, the spotlight tends to shine brightest on the 11th grade. This academic year is considered the pivotal point in a high school student's academic journey because it represents the final opportunity for colleges to evaluate a full year's worth of academic performance on the transcript. It's during this year that students are often encouraged to excel academically and maintain a strong GPA since the 11th-grade transcript plays a pivotal role in shaping their college applications. Colleges use these grades as a critical indicator of a student's potential and dedication to their studies.

Furthermore, the significance of 11th-grade grades stems from the fact that they are typically the last set of full-year grades that colleges will consider before making admission decisions. While senior year grades still matter, colleges may only see one semester's worth of these grades at most before they make their decisions. Therefore, students should strive to achieve their best academic performance during their junior year, as it can have a substantial impact on their college prospects. A strong 11th-grade transcript not only showcases a student's academic prowess but also demonstrates their commitment to excellence, which can be a valuable asset in the competitive college admissions process.

What Year of High School Is the Hardest?

The high school journey is marked by various academic and personal challenges, but if we were to pinpoint the toughest year, it would likely be the junior year, 11th grade. While some students may initially struggle with the transition to high school during their freshman year, it's often the junior year that stands out as the most demanding and pivotal.

During this critical year, students face a multitude of pressures and responsibilities that can make it a particularly challenging period in their academic career. Not only are they navigating rigorous academic coursework, but they're also juggling a plethora of extracurricular activities, all while diving headfirst into college preparation. It's a year where maintaining a balance between these demanding aspects of life, including sustaining a social life, becomes a significant and intricate challenge.

Junior year is often seen as the most intense because it sets the stage for college admissions. The academic load intensifies as students delve into advanced courses and standardized tests, striving to secure strong grades and impressive test scores to bolster their college applications. Simultaneously, they're actively participating in extracurriculars to showcase their talents and interests, all while meticulously planning and preparing for the college application process. The pressure to excel academically, craft compelling college essays, and manage the logistics of college applications can be overwhelming. Yet, it's also a year of personal growth and resilience-building, as students learn to manage their time effectively, make difficult choices, and develop valuable life skills that will serve them well in the future.

Which Grade Is the Hardest in Middle School?

When it comes to the middle school experience, 7th grade often emerges as a challenging and transformative year for many students. It's a stage where students, regardless of their intelligence or academic prowess, commonly encounter various hurdles and obstacles. It's a year where many students face significant adjustments and find themselves navigating through a maze of academic and social challenges.

7th grade often stands out as a critical year in middle school due to the various changes and transitions it brings. As students transition from elementary to middle school, they encounter increased academic rigor, social dynamics, and personal growth. The curriculum becomes more complex, demanding students to adapt to new learning styles and study habits.

Moreover, 7th graders are at an age where they are forming their identities and dealing with the emotional ups and downs of adolescence, making it a year ripe for personal development. These factors, along with the typical challenges of peer relationships and self-discovery, contribute to the notion that 7th grade can be a tumultuous and transformative phase for many students.

The Bottom Line on Do Colleges Look at Middle School Grades

Technically, colleges almost never consider your middle school grades when making a decision on admission. All the key factors that college admissions offices consider are primarily related to your high school career and activities you’ve performed during your high school years, for example, taking on a leadership role in an organization unrelated to your school. 

So, while colleges do not typically look at your middle school grades, your middle school academic career is very important for your own self-development. Middle school is the bridge between elementary school and high school, and therefore, is a critically formative time in the life of a prospective college student. If you do not maintain good academic standing in your middle school years, this could easily carry over into your high school career — and thus potentially hurt your chances of getting into the college you want to go to.

Andrew DePietro

Author: Andrew DePietro

Senior Researcher, and Content Strategist

Andrew DePietro is a finance writer covering topics such as entrepreneurship, investing, real estate and college for BrokeScholar, Forbes, CreditKarma, and more.