Get Started Early on College Planning

At many high schools, counselors don’t start engaging with students about planning for college until spring of junior year. That’s logical in some ways, because counselors are stretched thin at many high schools. The average high school in the U.S. has one counselor for every 470 students, and those counselors often have many responsibilities besides college counseling. So focusing on the time when college admissions work kicks into high gear makes sense.

But if you’re a parent or student, waiting till spring of junior year makes college planning harder for many reasons. In fact the best advice for parents is to start early, in freshman year if you can. College planning really starts the first day of high school. Its when all the work your teen will do starts making a difference.

As counterintuitive as this advice might seem, starting early is the best way to reduce stress in college admissions too. Starting early means more time to build a great college admissions portfolio, and to choose courses in high school wisely.

The Benefits of Starting College Planning Early

If you start early, here are some ways to make sure that pays off:

  • Choose your courses wisely: Academics makes the biggest difference in college admissions. Colleges want to know you’re capable of the work they’ll expect from students. If you start early, you can choose carefully and spread out the workload of AP, Honors, or IB courses over four years instead of overloading yourself junior and senior year.
  • Build a focused, well-defined portfolio of extracurriculars and sports: Colleges are much more likely to admit you if they can see at a glance what a student is passionate about. As college admissions coach Steve Wells puts it, “Imagine a super-simplified scenario in which an admissions officer is looking at five applications that are identical in all academic respects. He can only choose one. Now ask yourself, ‘What can I do to increase my chances of being the one selected?’ The answer is that you need to find what I call your ‘bullet,’ the one element that makes you special.” That’s much easier to do for students and parents who start early and prioritize your extracurriculars and sports to focus on the thing that the student is most passionate about.
  • Get to know yourself and your interests: Much of the stress of college admissions comes from the competing pressures students and parents face. The stress of wanting what your friends want, of comparing yourself to neighbors and relatives: all are unhealthy pressures for a student, and for a parent. Starting early allows each student time to explore their interests, build well-defined career and life goals, and succeed without working as hard.
  • Build a financial plan: College costs between $80,000 and $120,000 after financial aid on the average, so whether you’re a high-income parent whose children will not receive much financial aid, or a low-income parent who will struggle with the cost of college, or a middle-income parent who might fall through the cracks of the financial aid system, starting early to build a financial plan is critical.

Build a Four-Year Roadmap

The real benefit of starting early is that you can build a four-year roadmap to college. That way, you’ll have plenty of time to complete each step as a child goes through high school. So don’t wait till junior year when the pressures of standardized testing, AP exams, essays, and applications start to feel overwhelming!

This article is part five of a five-part series. Part four is at this link!

 

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