Do colleges look at middle school grades? Do middle school grades matter for your college application?

Grades in middle school, while not directly influencing college applications or acceptance into top colleges, play a critical role in setting up a student’s educational trajectory. 

They form the basis for acquiring good study habits, exploring interests, developing essential skills, and getting good grades in high school courses, all factors that significantly count for college. So learn as much as you can in your high school classes

Whether you’re a concerned parent, a curious middle schooler, or a high school student preparing for college, this blog will help you understand the importance of middle school years and how they prepare you for the college application process.

Here, we debunk the myth, “do middle school grades matter,” and provide strategies to maximize the impact of your middle school experience on future academic endeavors. Read on to explore the map of your high school career, starting from the middle school years.

How important are middle school grades or college?

Middle school grades can play a significant role in a student’s academic journey.

Middle school grades do not directly impact college admissions, including for potential PhD students.

However, they serve as a foundation for developing essential skills, values, interests, and habits that can influence one’s high school performance and future career choices.

To make the most of middle school experiences, focus on cultivating effective study habits, pursuing subjects aligned with your interests, and engaging in extracurricular activities that provide insights into potential career paths.

This will ensure a stronger foundation for high school performance, which has a more direct impact on college and PhD applications.

So, how do middle school grades affect college applications?

Middle school grades do not directly affect college applications, as colleges focus on high school grades, GPA, test scores, and other accomplishments.

However, middle school experiences can indirectly influence college applications by shaping future interests, habits, and opportunities in high school. For potential PhD students, the following strategies can maximize the lasting impact of middle school experiences on academic success:

  1. Develop strong study habits: Effective study techniques, communication skills, and time-management practices during middle school can set the foundation for academic success in high school and college, leading to better performance on college applications.
  2. Pursue interests and hobbies: Middle school can introduce students to subjects, activities, and hobbies that become lifelong passions. Demonstrating a strong commitment to a particular field can strengthen college applications.
  3. Engage in volunteer and community service: Middle school is an excellent time to start building a record of community involvement, which can continue into high school and potentially improve college applications.
  4. Explore future career possibilities: Middle school students can begin considering their skills and interests to establish career goals. Clear objectives enhance the focus and purpose of high school experiences, ultimately strengthening college applications.

While middle school grades do not directly factor into college applications, the habits and experiences formed during this stage can indirectly impact prospects for PhD students by shaping their high school accomplishments and creating a strong foundation for future academic success.

What grades do colleges look at the most?

Colleges look at a variety of factors when considering applicants, but some grades are weighed more heavily than others.

Colleges primarily focus on high school grades when evaluating college applications. Here’s a table categorizing the factors that colleges consider in the application process, organized from most important to least important:

High School GPAFreshman YearFoundational
Sophomore YearImportant
Junior YearMost Critical
Senior YearImportant (ensure consistent performance)
Standardized Test ScoresSAT and/or ACTStill relevant despite some test-optional and test-blind policies
Rigor of High School CoursesAdvanced Placement (AP) courses
International Baccalaureate (IB) program
Honors classes
Dual enrollment courses
Personal EssaysPersonal Statement
Supplemental Essayse.g. “Why Us?” or “Why Major?”
Extracurricular ActivitiesAthletics
Volunteer service
Community involvement
Letters of RecommendationTeachers

It is essential for students to perform well consistently throughout high school, with a particular emphasis on junior year grades, as this showcases the student’s most recent academic abilities. In addition to GPA, standardized test scores, and coursework, aspects such as essays, extracurricular activities, and letters of recommendation play a significant role in showcasing a well-rounded applicant.

Getting into college with low grades a case study:


The student in this case study was a high-schooler who struggled with math, receiving a ‘C’ in the subject alongside her ‘A’s in other subjects. She perceived her low math grade as a significant barrier in her journey to get into a top college. However, through resilience and determination, she managed to turn her weakness into a source of strength, ultimately securing acceptance into a prestigious university.

Challenges Overcome:

1. Overcoming poor math grades: The student consistently received low math grades, including ‘E’s, ‘D’s, and even an ‘F’. Despite these setbacks, she continually worked hard and eventually improved to a ‘C’.
2. Applying to colleges amid self-doubt: The student had significant self-doubt because of her low math grade and was initially hesitant to apply to top universities. However, she eventually chose to give it a shot, encouraged by the fact that it could lead to a successful outcome.

Strategies and Turning Points:

1. Embracing uniqueness and resilience: Instead of viewing her lower grade as a negative aspect of her application, the student embraced her struggle as a testament to her resilience. She leveraged her essays, interviews, and short answers to show that her perseverance in the face of an academic challenge made her a stronger candidate overall.
2. Crafting a compelling story: The student wisely used her application materials to present her academic journey, from failing initially to progressing to a ‘C’, as an engaging, memorable narrative. This unique story helped her stand out from the competition and showcased her commitment to personal growth.
3. Balancing strengths and weaknesses: The student also made sure to highlight her strong grades and achievements in other subjects, effectively communicating that despite her struggles with math, she possessed a well-rounded academic profile.


The student’s ability to turn her low grades into an asset ultimately helped her get into a top university. By highlighting her resilience, focusing on her unique story, and effectively presenting her strengths, she was able to overcome her academic hurdles and achieve her college dreams.

What can students do in middle school to help with college applications? Prepare for college

To prepare for college during middle school, students can focus on the following strategies:

  1. Get good grades: Although colleges do not look at middle school grades, maintaining high grades can help students get into advanced placement classes in high school, which colleges will consider.
  2. Develop effective study habits: Building strong study habits in middle school, such as taking quality notes, eliminating distractions, and creating study plans, will be beneficial in high school and college.
  3. Identify strengths and interests: Middle school students should start exploring subjects they enjoy and excel in, setting the foundation for future courses and potential career paths.
  4. Participate in extracurricular activities: Engaging in hobbies, sports, and volunteer work during middle school allows students to develop dedication and passion for these activities. This can later be included in college applications.
  5. Familiarize with college expectations: Understand the factors that colleges look for in applicants (e.g., GPA, standardized test scores, essay writing) and use this knowledge to plan high school goals accordingly.
  6. Time management skills: Utilize planners and organizational tools to manage daily tasks, deadlines, and long-term projects.
  7. Seek tutors if needed: It’s never too early to get extra help in weaker subject areas, ensuring a strong foundation for high school courses.
  8. Focus on personal growth: Address academic and personal challenges head-on, developing the confidence and skills needed for high school success.

Middle school is a time for self-discovery, growth, and laying the foundation for future academic achievement. 

By developing good habits and focusing on personal interests and strengths, middle school students will be well-prepared to succeed in high school and beyond, ultimately improving their college applications.

Wrapping up – Do middle school grades matter?

While middle school grades are not directly scrutinized by colleges or count for college applications, they play a pivotal role in shaping a student’s academic future.

Middle school and eighth grade experiences help to foster good study habits, establish interests, and shape essential skills, all of which lead to high grades and a competitive GPA in high school, factors that colleges do consider.

Middle school is the prime time to start preparing for college.

So, if you’re a middle school student or parent wondering, “do middle school grades matter,” the answer is yes, in terms of setting up for high school and beyond.

This lays a strong foundation for the entire high school career, making it easier to navigate the college admissions process later. So, remember to give middle school the importance it deserves.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.