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When Should I Begin Thinking About College Applications?

We advise that the right time to begin considering college applications is October…..of your freshman year. Don’t panic; this advice will reduce your stress, not add to it. Organizing the college application process over a longer period of time will maximize both outcomes and choices, but most importantly you will be defining your future, not accepting the limited options that result from poor planning. 

There are many ways to take small but effective bites out of the college application apple. 

  • Begin the college search no later than freshman year. When you are travelling, make a point of touring colleges of varying size and geography. This will help you narrow the search considerably. Keep a notebook with names, dates, impressions. The summer before senior year, revisit your top choice colleges to finalize the list.

  • Most high school students are given a Naviance or Family Connections account as a freshman. This is a great tool to do some career exploration, as well as check out the statistics for colleges that interest you.

  • Build a resume early and keep it up to date. Most colleges claim to look at each student holistically, but some resume items carry more weight than others. Are you building a balanced portfolio of Academic, Extracurricular, Community Service and Work experiences? Check out Building Blocks of Merit Awards.

  •  Honors and awards do matter to colleges, particularly a state or national award that is given to a small number of recipients.

  • Sports matter, but most students will not play college level sports, so consider if the time commitment and if it is hurting other aspects of your resume, most importantly your grades.

  • Take the PSAT both sophomore and junior year to measure your current outcomes vs. those needed for your preferred schools. Develop a study plan early junior year to get your scores up.

  • GPA and the rigor of your classes both impact college choice. Check out College Application: What is "rigor"? Do I have enough "rigor"?    You should not wait until senior year to take your first AP or honors class. Challenge yourself to find the right balance of rigor from freshman year forward.

  • Summers should be well spent. If you start early, you can have a number of high impact  summer experiences. Holding a job is great and if you can find an academic summer program as a supplement, even better. Your college admissions interviews will certainly focus on what you did last summer. 

  • Use a calendar everyday to plan your assignment deadlines and activities. An effective college application strategy is all about meeting deadlines, so this should be second nature by senior year.

  • Great college essays take 4 times longer to write than you are planning. Start early and keep writing.

If you follow these guidelines, college application season should be nearly (not completely) stress free.

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