When Do I Need to Start Planning for College?

By IvyWise on Monday, March 8, 2021

Young student man using computer serious face thinking about question, very confused ideaLearn More About When You Should Start Planning for College

“When should I get started with my college prep?” is one of the first questions on many students’ minds when they look ahead towards their college application process. While some may be tempted to put off their preparation until the second half of junior year, we recommend beginning your admissions journey at the start of high school to avoid any last-minute stress. 

If you’re not exactly sure when to get started with your college admissions journey or what to prioritize first, you’re not alone. Keep reading for some of our top advice for students when it comes to beginning their college admissions journey. To learn even more, check out our recent Just Admit It! episode on starting your college application process. 

Build a Strong Academic Foundation 

Our college admissions counselors compare high school to running a race: just as there are typically four laps in a mile, there are four years in your high school journey and each of them will count during the college admissions process. Consequently, students should hit the ground running and build good habits during their freshman year of high school. In addition to establishing a consistent study schedule and staying on top of your coursework, it’s important to get comfortable talking to your teachers and reaching out for help when needed. Eventually, students will need to ask teachers for letters of recommendation for college applications, so focus on building good relationships with your instructors from the beginning. 

Think About Course Rigor From the Start

One of the earliest steps you can take in your college admissions journey is prioritizing course rigor. Admissions officers are looking for students who are eager to challenge themselves and those who excel in the most advanced classes that are available to them. Consequently, from the start of high school, students should select their courses with care. Aim to take challenging classes, such as Advanced Placement or honors courses when available, to demonstrate your academic prowess and commitment to taking on a challenge. When it comes to electives, aim to pick classes that align with your interests and passions and make sure to give every single class your all. 

Start Showing Your Interest Early

While freshmen and sophomore year may be too early to write your personal statement, it’s definitely not too early to start researching colleges and weighing various options. Consider scheduling college tours, either in-person or virtually, to begin to picture yourself at various campuses and get a feel for what environment might suit you best. Make sure to sign up for an information session, which is typically hosted by an admissions officer, to learn more about the application process and convey your interest in attending a specific college. Students can also start following colleges that they are interested in on social media channels to learn more about what’s going on on campus and stay updated on school news. 

Be Strategic About Test Preparation

For many students, test preparation is a significant component of their college admissions journey. And while many colleges are implementing test-optional policies for the next one to two years, it is likely that current 9th or 10th graders will have to submit SAT/ACT scores by the time they need to apply. We encourage high school students to begin studying for the SAT or ACT exam at least one year before they plan to sit for the test. We recommend that students typically take the SAT or ACT by the beginning of their junior year, which means it’s not too early to begin test preparation as a freshman or sophomore.

While the college application process can feel overwhelming, preparing early can help you gain confidence throughout the admissions process. If you’re looking to get started and hoping for personalized advice, get in touch with our team of college admissions experts. 

Related Topics
9th Grade, College Application Tips, College Prep
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