Managing Transitions

Preparing for the transition from middle to high school

chalkboardHigh school demands a full measure of both academic skills and strategies as well as “metacognitive skills,” those “executive functioning” skills that help individuals self-assess, select appropriate skills and strategies to complete a task, and self-correct. Competence using these skills and strategies minimizes stress and helps manage the increased demands.

By the end of middle school, students should understand a lot about their own learning.

  • What is easy for me? What is difficult?
  • How should I go about planning a long-range assignment?
  • How do I monitor my progress as I work on the task?
  • How do I review my work and find places to improve it?
  • How should I use the support resources available to me?

For students who have been diagnosed with unique learning characteristics and have received accommodations in middle school, it is important for those accommodations to be put in place at the start of the next academic year. Administrators and teachers will need to determine how best to meet the needs of students in the new environment and reconsider accommodation implementation.


  • Take a tour. Learn as much as you can by touring the high school website and then plan a site visit. The website will have important information about courses, athletics, other sports and extra-curricular activities, such as clubs, leadership and volunteer activities, social groups and cultural activities.
  • Write down what you want to know about your new school so you are ready to ask questions during an open house. Remember, the faculty are there to help you and want to get to know you.
  • Consider the special opportunities that are available to you in high school. Consider engagement in one extra-curricular activity in which you already have an interest and one activity that is new for you.
  • Think of high school as a time to find new friends who may be different from you. This is good practice for college.
  • Remember that high school will require new habits, skills and strategies. You are not alone in finding some subjects more difficult than others. If you need help, ask for it.
  • If you receive accommodations, learn how to use these in high school from the school-based assistance team representative.

See Resources for websites that offer additional guidance.

Transition from high school to college

127395497_library_mediumChoosing a college that is a “best fit” requires research, patience and stamina. There are so many possible “good” choices and there is no “perfect” choice. (You won’t know if it is was “perfect” until you have lived and learned there.) The “best fit” post-secondary institution may be one that is right in your hometown or one you have never heard of before.

Colleges will be recruiting potential candidates with brochures and emails by their junior year or earlier. There are ways to make the likelihood of a successful transition to college occurring by considering your priorities:

  • Is there a particular academic area that you are passionate about?
  • Are you being recruited for a program or team like debate, music or athletics where you have shown promise and do you want to continue in that activity?
  • What type of social environment is important to you?
  • Do you have a value that is a good match for the institution (environmental, diversity of the student body, religious affiliation)?
  • What type of financial aid or support will be available to you through federal, private and institutional resources?



  • Be open to exploring different options, not only those that your friends are considering. Use college guides to read about different colleges. Plan to visit as many schools as possible. If you can’t visit in person, talk with a recruiter at a local college fair.
  • Remember that there are many kinds of post-secondary experiences. Colleges and universities offer different types of learning environments and specialize in different areas of study. Keep your mind open to the possible options, including starting at a local two-year college and transferring to a four-year program once you have a better idea of what you want to learn in more depth.
  • Take time to explore your choices on the Internet. This is the best way to get to know the mission of the university, the curriculum, the faculty in various departments and learn about areas of study that are new for you, such as anthropology or religious studies that might not have been offered at your high school.
  • Keep finances in mind. Schools offer different types of financial packages based on need and on merit. Often there are community scholarships and those offered by a parent’s place of employment. Take time to check these out. Keep in mind that two-year community colleges may result in significant savings as well as a strong foundation. Many colleges and universities accept credits from these programs.
  • Don’t be concerned if you are “undecided” about what you want major in when you enter. Most colleges give students time to figure this out and actually look for students who want a period of discovery.
  • Consider both early decision and regular admission options. Early decision is only for students who have very strong feelings about a college choice. Don’t trade in flexibility for the security of an early decision. You will have choices.
  • Use local resources to discuss the college application process: teachers, guidance counselors, parents of friends and employers if you have had a part-time job.