When Should I Start Thinking About College?

when should i apply to college

High school can seem like an eternity (because it kind of is). Perhaps you’re anxious to leave, or having the time of your life – but either way, it’s important to view these four years as a stepping stone. Whether you’re in 9th grade or in your senior year, it’s always a good time to think about the next big step: college.

When is the right time to start considering your options? It’s ideal to begin *thinking* about your future during your freshman and sophomore years of high school. In a very general way, this may mean learning about your options, narrowing your academic and career goals, and understanding what you need to achieve academically in order to get there. What would you enjoy studying? What career can you see yourself flourishing in? Checking in with a guidance or college counselor early on can set you up to meet your goals once you’re ready to tackle them. Developing close relationships with your teachers will also steer you well for great letters of recommendation down the road.

When it comes to the actual application process, it’s best to consider this step at least a year in advance- or during your Junior year of high school. Making such a major decision involves time, planning, and even travel as you visit different college campuses. By the early spring of your Junior year, you should begin to think about what colleges might be a good fit for you and begin to research them in detail. Below is a rough timeline to follow as you plan for your college career during Junior and Senior year of high school.

Junior/ Senior Year Planning Calendar

Junior Year, January/February: Think about who you are and what you are looking for. What are your interests and goals? What types of clubs, athletic programs, and academic subjects are you interested in? Keep a journal detailing your interests and dreams for the future.

It’s also a good time to think about how you see yourself growing as person over the next few years, and what might help you along the way. Do you thrive in urban environments, or small towns? Big classes with a lecture-style lesson, or one-on-one discussions in an intimate setting? Make a list of what you are looking for—this will help narrow your search down when you turn to Google!

Junior Year, March/April: Create a list of 10-20 schools that fit your criteria- it is important to consider location, as this will be your new home away from home for the next four years. Always keep in mind your classes and GPA: keep your list realistic. Your final college list should have a good mix of schools that are competitive, schools that you have a moderate chance of gaining acceptance to, and also schools that you feel confident you would be accepted into.

Junior Year, April/May/June/July: Visit the websites of each school and request information. It’s never too soon to build a relationship with your admission counselor- visit the admission page of a college and email an admission officer. You can also call each school’s admission office and ask questions, or even schedule a tour of the facilities over spring break or summer. While it’s preferable to visit campus while school is still in session so you can catch a glimpse of college life in action, you can still get a feel for the campus even over the summer—student tour guides will be able to answer some of your questions or point you in the right direction.

Senior Year, August/September: Continue to learn about each school and begin to narrow your list down to about 7-10 colleges that fit you best. Keep in mind that it costs money to apply to college- be sure to discuss this aspect of your application process and planning with your parents so you are on the same page. If financing your applications is a problem, talk to your guidance or college counselor. It is possible to qualify for application fee waivers if you and your family meet the criteria.

Many colleges require an admission essay and interview to complete your application; find out what different colleges expect from you and begin to draft your essay or practice interviewing with teachers, friends and family members.

Consider what teachers will provide you with letters of recommendation, as well as any other supplemental essays or writing samples you may need to submit. Make a check-list; each school has different criteria and deadlines for submission.

Senior Year, October/November/December: Interview, complete your applications and essays, and submit your materials!

Senior Year, January- June: Remember to keep your GPA and extracurricular activities strong even after the completion of your applications. Colleges do check up on your continued progress even after your submission, particularly if they are considering you as an admitted student or they have already accepted you.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions along the way! Your guidance or college counselor, and certainly your college admission counselors, are there just for you. Take advantage of your resources!

When did you start thinking about college? Share your prep tips in the comments section!

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