College is the springboard to a career and adult life, and it can take up four (or more) years of a young person’s life. It’s an incredibly important decision. Many students start their college search and application process in earnest during the summer following their junior year, or the fall of their senior year. But there are several reasons to start earlier – much earlier.
- The selection of high school courses is a huge factor in college admissions. Students need to plan all four years of high school with care. How many foreign language, math and science courses will they take? What difficulty level (college prep, honors, AP) will they select? These decisions can have a major impact on which colleges will be interested in them.
- Likewise, making good grades a priority throughout high school will pay off later. Starting in ninth grade, this means balancing schoolwork with social life, family responsibilities and (of course) screen time.
- Which standardized tests will your child take? ACT? SAT? Did you know that your child can win scholarship money for a high PSAT score? Or that some colleges suggest taking two, and sometimes three, SAT subject tests? In any case, it’s wise to leave plenty of time to prepare for the tests and to retake them if needed.
- Extracurricular activities can really pay off. While not as important as courses, grades and test scores, colleges look for a pattern of activities suggesting dedication and growth. Trying a variety of camps, clubs, hobbies and jobs is not nearly as impressive as a steady job with increasing responsibility or another consistent pursuit.
- If your child hopes to win an athletic scholarship, it’s essential to actively promote him or her to college coaches early in high school. Other families are doing the same, and much of the scholarship money will already be spoken for by senior year.
- Financial aid applications may ask questions about family finances going back to January of the student’s sophomore year in high school. Decisions about how to allocate and spend money at that time can affect the child’s chances of receiving financial assistance two years later when applications are due.
These are only some of the reasons to plan far ahead. Thoughtful decisions may reap great benefits for your child – and your checkbook.