Students are often overwhelmed by the thought of going to ninth grade and entering high school. Starting ninth grade involves obvious changes related to school setting, instructional content, and policies and procedures. Changes in role and status as well as interpersonal relationships are less obvious but equally important. Proactively developing a plan to address the new social, emotional and academic demands can help minimize the anxiety. Successful transitions are marked by students who feel prepared and have a support system in place to handle all the changes that are coming their way.

Start Early

Beginning in sixth grade, find out whether the student’s middle school offers high school courses for credit to eighth graders. Courses that are commonly offered in middle school are foreign languages, algebra, health, integrated physics and chemistry, and biology. For instance, students who plan to take high school algebra in eighth grade take courses in sixth and seventh grades that are specialized to cover sixth- through eighth-grade standards over two years and ensure that students avoid gaps in their learning.

Front-loading the courses in eighth grade this way creates opportunities, like internships, for students during their junior and senior years. This type of planning will allow the ninth-grader to begin high school with credits and one or more ninth-grade courses completed.

Develop Study Skills

When students transition from middle school to high school, they are expected to be less dependent on the teacher and more self-directed in their learning. Middle school teachers and parents can start preparing students by explicitly teaching and evaluating study and organizational skills. Breaking long assignments into smaller tasks, using the Cornell note-taking system and organizing graded assignments in a binder are skills that will prepare students for ninth grade. Developing an evening study schedule to do homework and review the text or notes taken in each class during the school day is another good habit that creates a strong foundation for high school.

Learn the System

Freshmen often enter high school without grasping the concept that promotion is based on credits. Low grades can cause a ninth-grader to fail a class and not earn credit for the course. A passing grade with too many absences can also keep a student from earning credits. By the time they do learn about credit and graduation requirements, opportunities to pass the courses may have passed. If the high school offers prospective freshmen an orientation or camp prior to the start of ninth grade, students should attend to get acclimated to the school, attendance policy, credit system and graduation requirements.

Extracurricular Activities

Preparing for ninth grade includes addressing the extracurricular activities that often enrich a student’s high school experience. Once the student has decided on a high school to attend, contact the school to find out all of the extracurricular courses, clubs, organizations and activities available to students. There are strong pressures on students to find their place in a new social system, and finding a niche is a large determinant of success.

Students seek a sense of connectedness to others in extracurricular activities. In addition to finding peers with their same interests, students find sponsoring adults or coaches who can serve as mentors and advocates. Strong and mutually respectful connections with adults are a huge support to success in ninth grade.