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It’s Never Too Early to Start Planning: Top College Prep Tips from Former Admission Officers

What’s the best way to increase your chances of admission to your top choice colleges? Start planning early!

Many families don’t start planning for college until junior year, and by then many students have missed valuable time to develop teacher relationships, explore interests, take challenging courses, and more. By starting to think about college freshman year of high school – or even in 8th grade – students can set themselves up for a rewarding high school experience and a successful college admissions process.

The team at IvyWise is made up of former deans and directors of admission from some of the country’s top colleges and universities, and they have some college prep advice for students and parents on why it’s important to start planning for college as early as possible.

Start Early to Relieve Stress
The number one college prep tip that everyone can agree on is the importance of planning early. But what about putting too much college pressure on students too soon? Planning for college during freshman year doesn’t include drilling students on SAT or ACT questions or asking them to pick a top-choice college their first day of school. College prep at the start of high school should be simple and should ease students into the rigor of balancing coursework, activities, and test prep down the line. This is as simple as choosing challenging courses, exploring different interests and activities, and focusing on making good grades.

By setting students on the right path now, they’ll avoid a lot of unnecessary stress in the future because they will have laid a sold foundation that can be built upon as they continue their college preparation throughout high school.

Use High School To Learn More About Yourself
While it’s important to start thinking about your college plans freshman year, no one wants students to go through high school just focusing entirely on the end-goal of college. This is a critical developmental time for students. They’re learning who they are, what they want to do in the future, and thinking about goals that extend far beyond just getting into their top-choice college. Use your time in high school to learn more about yourself and how that feeds into your college plans.

Do What You Love and Be Who You Are: Colleges Want Genuine Applicants
As you learn more about yourself, pursue those interests that really matter to you. In the end, colleges don’t want packaged applicants who are just doing things that make them “look good.” Colleges want specialists, but they want that specialty to be a genuine interest. Colleges can tell when students are not being genuine or sincere in their applications, and it’s not a good thing.

Start Simple: Evaluate Your Courses and Interests
Kicking off college prep is as simple as looking at the courses you’re taking and seeing if adjustments can be made. Do you really like your science courses? Plan to take honors and AP science and math courses over the next few years. Do you love music? Think about joining the band or using your musical skills to give back to the community in some way. By evaluating the classes you’re taking and the activities you’re participating in you can better focus your interests and goals – which will come in handy when you start to research colleges and majors.

Stay Informed Because The Admissions Process is Always Changing
The college admissions process isn’t what it was 20, or even 10, years ago. Parents and students should stay informed on things like application options, test-optional colleges, what colleges are looking at and looking for, and more. Information is key when applying to college, so stay informed by following relevant publications, like Inside Higher Ed or the Chronicle of Higher Education, and following blogs and sites like the College Board, Common Application, and even the IvyWise College Admissions Blog.

Parents: Be Involved But Let Your Student Drive the Process
One of the top tips that counselors always give to parents is to be involved, but don’t take over. As a parent it’s important to help guide students, make sure they’re on track, and help them develop their goals, but don’t get in the way of students learning more about their interests and eventual college choices. Parents want the best for their kids, so it’s not uncommon for parents to try to push their students toward a path they really don’t want to be on because parents think it’s in the student’s best interest, but this is just setting everyone up for disappointment. Be active, be supportive, but let your student be in charge.

Starting early is the key to college admissions success, so it’s never too soon to begin planning. At IvyWise, we work with students as early as 8th grade to help them get on the right track from the first day of high school. To learn more about our team of expert counselors and our team-based approach to college counseling, contact us today.