Last Updated: Aug 5, 2020
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.