College Prep Timeline

As a parent, you know that college is one of the most important milestones in your student’s life. Writing a strong essay and scoring high on the SATs can be crucial when it comes to getting accepted. However, it is often the case that students, and parents as well, do not put much consideration into the application process until senior year. At this point, students are involved in so many activities and worrying about keeping up with schoolwork that it can make the whole college selection process very stressful.

So when is the right time to begin planning college? Numerous studies and college websites indicate that students should start thinking about college the moment they enter high school.

Students may argue that they do not know what they want to do for the rest of their lives upon entering high school, or that it is too early to be thinking about such long-term plans. This may be true; however there are some simple, no-pressure steps your student can take to ensure they are on the right track.

Here are some easy things your student can do each year of high school to help prepare them for college:

Preparing for College in Freshman Year

At this time, college may not be the top priority in your mind, however it is still a good idea to start educating yourself about the college process. Colleges like to see if you are on a certain track in school, whether it be math intensive or even business related (taking marketing or economic classes). Think about the classes and electives you’ve enjoyed taking in the past, and try to incorporate these interests in a diploma program that works best for you.

Also, take the time to have some fun and join a bunch of clubs and extracurricular activities. Don’t think about it too much, just join whatever seems interesting or what you think would be exciting to try. Maybe you have always wanted to learn how to cook, so you decide to join the culinary club. This may also spark an interest and open new doors to future careers that you may not have considered before.

Preparing for College in Sophomore Year

After experiencing a good amount of clubs and extracurricular activities, it is time to start narrowing them down to the ones you think would have an impact on your future. If you love writing and you are part of the creative writing club, then it may be beneficial to seek a leadership role within the club. This looks great on a college application, and shows how passionate you are about a certain subject if you would like to major in it. Also, research scholarship opportunities that relate to your interests or competitions where you can enter your work for awards.

If you feel it is manageable, discuss taking challenging academic courses with your parents and counselor. Make sure that the classes you decide to take on are something you are thoroughly interested in and can excel in; taking advanced classes without much consideration can damage you GPA if you are not ready to handle the coursework and load.

And don’t forget to take the PSAT!  This is extremely important in order to figure out a baseline and help you prepare for the upcoming SAT.

Preparing for College in Junior Year

Okay, now this is the time to get serious! You will want to research schools that offer majors you are interested in, and learn about what they can provide in terms of campus life and activities. Take campus tours and familiarize yourself with the college atmosphere, and select a few schools that you feel you could succeed at. Learn all you can about their application processes, and what they look for in potential candidates.  If possible, sit in on an actual class in order to really get a taste of the college experience.

Colleges find a student’s junior year to be the most crucial when it comes to grades, and you will want to make sure you are performing to the best of your abilities. Study diligently for upcoming midterms and exams, especially if you are taking AP classes. Do not slack off or lose focus on your goals, and always ask for help from teachers, tutors, or parents as needed.

This is the year you will take the SAT. Many students dread taking this for the first time, however it is not uncommon for students to achieve lower scores than expected during their first take. You can familiarize yourself with the test and get an idea on what to focus on improving before taking it for the second time. It is always beneficial to get a tutor to help prepare your student for the SAT and provide important test-taking strategies.

Preparing for College in Senior Year

It is time to apply everything you have learned in the past three years and begin your college application process! Narrow down the list to the top few schools you are interested in, and figure out what is needed for each school. You will need to fill out applications, prepare essays, and gather letters of recommendation from teachers and counselors. Have a plan in mind for completing this in the beginning of the school year in order to avoid rushing and last minute submissions.

If necessary, retake the SAT after taking the time to prepare, study, and improve your areas of weakness. Colleges will only consider your highest scores out of each section, so it is best to take the test more than once. Be sure to sign up for the test early in the school year, as it may be too late to take the test after the fall.

Taking these steps will help prepare you for college well beforehand and make for a smoother application process. Your senior year is not meant to be the start of the process, but rather a way to fine-tune and tie up any loose ends that you have been preparing for. Selecting the best school does not need to be a stressful; you just need to plan out your steps beforehand and make decisions that will work best for you.