This is another question that I often get from parents of high schoolers. The truth is, it’s never too early to think generally about college, but a better question would be to determine when to start thinking actively about schools.
How am I defining general thought compared to active thought? Well, generally thinking about someday going to college means doing long term things like taking challenging courses, setting aside a college savings account, and various projects that will come to fruition by the time application season officially starts.
However, active thought requires, well, a bit more action. This is when students need to create school lists, connect with admissions officers, begin test prep, request recommendations, and start brainstorming essays.
As with any long term process, thinking about applying to college is something that can be done as early as a student’s 9th grade year, but should start no later than a student’s 11th grade spring. Spread the work out over the four years of high school — use freshman and sophomore spring breaks to visit local schools, and then visit farther campuses as graduation approaches. Admissions essay topics can be derived from any meaningful life experience, so it never hurts to stay alert and aware for any potential adventures that could be used.
The important thing to consider is that college is the next step in a student’s academic journey, and all previous stages should be aligned with that final goal. While the actual steps of putting together an application can start later, the overall goal should never be far removed from a student’s academic journey.
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