An alarm clock next to a pile of coffee beans

8 Advantages of Starting Your College Search Early

Senior year is a stressful time for most students. You can make it a little easier by starting your college search early in high school. Here are eight reasons why!

If you’re wondering when the best time to start the college search process is, you’re not alone. While early in your high school career may feel a little premature, it’s actually a great time to dive in and begin exploring post-secondary options. Just remember to keep your stress levels low and enjoy the process. Here are eight advantages of starting the college search early. 

1. Senior year is stressful enough

If you have an older sibling or friend, there’s a good chance you already know how stressful senior year can be. Between athletics, extracurricular activities, work, difficult course loads, dances, senior pictures, and class meetings, balancing all the to-dos from September to June is a full-time job. But if you do the majority of your college research during the first two to three years of high school, you’ll have more time to devote to filling out college applications and finishing your admission essays come senior year.

2. Get to know your school counselor's office

In many high schools, the counselor's office is considered the hub of the school. This is where you’ll spend the majority of your time during the second semester of your junior year and a good chunk of your senior year completing all the requirements for college admission. That’s why it’s an excellent idea to get to know the counselors and support staff. They will be the ones helping you choose your classes, request transcripts, and apply for scholarships, supporting you along the way.

Related: When to Ask Your School Counselor These Questions

3. Learn from an older classmate

If you’re taking steps to learn all you can about college in your sophomore or junior year, one valuable thing to do is partner with an older classmate as they complete their applications. Learning through watching is one of the best ways to make sense of all the nuances of the college search and application process. If you have a senior friend, ask if you can observe them while they complete parts of their applications. Take notes and ask questions so you can develop a cheat sheet to help you when it’s your time.

4. Maximize your academics

Spending a few hours researching colleges in the summer before or during your freshman year can pay off exponentially later on. Having a general understanding of college entrance requirements early in the game can help you plan your high school schedule. Research both private and public colleges in your state and make a list of the courses needed to meet the minimum requirements. Then meet with your high school counselor to review the list and map out a plan for the courses you should take.

Related: Tips for Choosing Your Senior Year Schedule

5. Come up with a financial plan

Once the shock of a school’s sticker price wears off, you can start thinking about how to pay for college. Starting your search early means you’ll have a better understanding of college costs and the various ways to fund your education. Carve out some time to learn about scholarships and financial aid. Take notes about application requirements and important deadlines for loans, grants, and scholarships.

Sophomore or junior year is also a great time to talk with your family about any contributions they plan on making. Having a clear picture of the amount of money available and how much you may need in loans or scholarships will help you make realistic decisions about where to apply.

6. Visit college campuses

One of the top reasons to start your college search early is to allow enough time to take a few campus visit road trips. The purpose of these trips is to get a feel for each school and decide if they’ll make the final cut. Ideally, you will have visited each college you’re considering before you apply during your senior year.

Related: College Visits That Can Be Turned Into Vacations

7. Time to take standardized tests

There’s nothing worse than deciding to take the ACT or SAT at the last minute. Not only does it cost you more, but it also leaves you with less time to prepare. In order to do well on these costly exams, you’ll want to prepare, take practice tests, and talk with your teachers about any gaps you may have in study material.

8. Round out your life outside of school

Your high school years aren’t just about what you learn in school. This is also a time to explore your interests, get involved with a volunteer opportunity, play sports, get a job, or participate in school-sponsored activities. Most colleges will want to know about your life outside of high school, so why not set yourself up for success now?

Related: How to Get Involved in Extracurricular Activities in High School

Wait—I’m already a senior!

Let’s make one thing clear: while there are many advantages of starting early, it’s never too late to start your college search! While there may be a few steps you’ll need to fast-track, the good news is senior year isn’t too late to consider college. Depending on the time of year, you may still have time to apply to a college or university as long as you’ve met the admission requirements, including entrance exams such as the SAT or ACT.

If deadlines have passed or you’re not able to meet the minimum requirements, you should start looking at community colleges, which are an excellent option for any student. Make an appointment with an advisor at a local college to discuss your options. Community colleges offer a variety of programs and paths for students to start working on undergraduate requirements. Also, make sure to check the fine print. Some four-year colleges and universities have rolling admission, which means you may still have time to apply.

Get a head start on your college search (and scholarship search) right here on CollegeXpress!

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

college admission college prep college search high school students planning for college

About Sara Lindberg

Sara Lindberg

Sara Lindberg is a freelance writer and former secondary school counselor. She has a Master of Education in Counseling and 20 years of experience working with middle and high school students and their parents. 


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
CollegeXpress Logo


Are you our next winner?

Register now for our scholarship giveaway

Rhiannon Teeter

Rhiannon Teeter

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner, 2012

I have spent a lot of time aggressively searching for scholarships. It was a long and frustrating process until I found the CollegeXpress network. This site made my search so much easier. With the simple check of a few boxes, the site sorted out scholarships I was eligible for and led me directly to the correct websites. Winning this scholarship has definitely given me and my family some financial relief, and CollegeXpress has allowed me to improve my chances of winning further financial aid. Thank you so much!



High School Class of 2023

Being a sophomore in high school, I never really worried about college. I thought it wasn't important to worry about until senior year. Through this program opportunity I came across, I realized how important it is to start looking at colleges early and start planning ahead. CollegeXpress has opened my eyes to what colleges require, what colleges are near me, and what they offer. The daily emails I get from CollegeXpress really help me look at the different options I have and what colleges I fit into. Without this website, I would not be taking the time out of my day to worry about what my future will be nor what opportunities I have. I could not be more grateful for such an amazing and useful website. It's thanks to CollegeXpress that not only me but my family now know how much potential I have in to getting into these colleges/universities that we thought were out of my reach.

Jada Bohanon

Jada Bohanon

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has helped me find scholarships for the colleges I applied to. It was very hard for me to find scholarships in the beginning that I was qualified for. My teachers recommended this website to find some, and not only did I find some scholarships but I also got to look into some schools I hadn’t heard of before. I was very happy to have discovered this website, especially with the coronavirus spreading all over as I can’t really go visit many colleges.

Emilie Delgado

Emilie Delgado

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner, 2013

CollegeXpress has tremendously helped me in my search for financial aid opportunities as I enter my college career. It is easy to navigate and quickly narrowed down scholarships that I could apply for. Being awarded the scholarship will greatly help me in my finances regarding books and tuition. Thank you for this opportunity. Without CollegeXpress, it would have been more difficult to apply. I would recommend this site to everyone!

Chris Bell

Chris Bell

Bell College Consulting

The college lists on CollegeXpress are indispensable for sussing out creative additions to a student’s list, and the college-specific pages provide terrific commentary and suggestions for related schools. CollegeXpress is among the most trusted sources I use for information for my students.

College Matches