By Amy Herzog and Debbie Kanter
North Shore College Consulting  

For many of you, college is a good few years down the road. So you are probably wondering, why now? The truth is, it is never too early to start planning for college.  Far too often, we see families come at the beginning of senior year asking a lot of good questions that should have been asked earlier in a student’s high school years.  While it is not too late to apply to college, obviously, it is too late to make sure: the right classes have been taken, the best fit activities have been followed, and even the right tests have been taken at the right times. 

By beginning the process too late, we become reactive instead of having a strategy.  Having a strategy puts us all in control and makes everything less stressed, clearer, and less prone to last minute rushed decisions. 

A national survey found that while 92% of seventh and eighth graders said they planned to attend college, 68% said they had little or no information about which classes to take to prepare for it.  Counselors and organizations like the National Association for College Admission Counseling emphasize that parents should start planning for college no later than middle school.  Their reasoning is simple: your child needs strong preparation in middle school to take the high school classes that colleges require.   Teens need significant time to unleash their full potential, bring out their authentic best and maximize their chances for admission to the universities of their choice.

It is important to remember that the courses a student chooses to take as a freshman set the stage for course selection for the rest of high school and even college. Ninth and tenth graders need to realize that their classroom performance as freshmen and sophomores influence their cumulative GPA, class rank (if applicable), and course selection for eleventh and twelfth grade. Students must hit the ground running-HARD-the very first day of their freshman year.  Remember, at the time they apply to college, a student’s freshman year grades will constitute one-third of their overall GPA. 

In addition to having a strong academic curriculum, by the time junior year arrives, students should already be well settled in to their favorite activities. College admissions officers have a sixth sense when a student pursues an activity they are truly passionate about or when they are just padding their application. College admissions officers are looking for commitment. This means several years of participation in an activity. The high school years used to be the years to experiment with different clubs, interests, and activities. Today, the high school years have become the years to develop areas of expertise.

The lesson here really is start early to avoid the stress later. Students who do this are able to enjoy the college selection and application process and even relax a little during their senior year.