For the student who is really serious about college, early planning is the key to the whole college selection and application process. How early? During the sophomore year of high school, students should begin the college search process. What does that mean?
1) At the start of the sophomore year, student and parents (don’t forget mom and dad!) should have a good, long meeting with a guidance counselor ― no matter how uncertain the student’s plans are about college. This is how to start, the place to get the college wheels turning in general, and get the student’s planning wheels turning as well. It’s a time of discovery and a time of expressing hopes and aspirations. And a time for asking questions. What interests the student? What would the student like to “be”? Does the student have a particular college in mind? How about a major? Talk about what the student knows about college and how the admissions process works. The guidance counselor can take a lead, detailing what he or she ― and the Guidance Office, in general ― can do to help students along in exploring colleges and determining strategies for application and admission.
2) By the end of the sophomore year, student, parents, and counselor should develop a list of at least three to five colleges the student might want to attend. Using the Internet and other references, the student should carefully research at least three colleges, preferably different types ― large, small, private, public, etc. What’s the cost of tuition and living expenses? What are the specific admission requirements, grade point averages and SAT or ACT scores are expected? What types of financial aid are available? Look for information about the size of enrollment; campus facilities (classrooms, labs, dorm rooms, libraries, recreation centers )
Special note: even though a family may have long ago agreed that a certain college is “the one,” they should study other schools for comparison. (And NEVER apply to just one college.)
3) Since SAT and ACT scores are as important as grades to college admission (one of the requirements the student researches), the sophomore student and counselor should plan when and how often to take these tests. Students taking honors and advanced placement courses should consult the guidance counselor about SAT II tests and advanced placement exams. Find out about options for test preparation courses and programs. Does the high school offer them?
4) The family should visit at least one college in the summer between sophomore and junior year. College visits are VERY IMPORTANT. To make at least one visit before the junior year helps both student and parents develop a set of questions and a “who-to-see-list” that they can use when visiting other campuses the summer before senior year. With regard to everything that college planning entails, the words of the poet are so true, “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”
Decisions about college are far too important to be made lightly or carelessly. Not only is college an expensive proposition, it is probably the most important four years in a young person’s life. College planning that begins in the sophomore year will take a lot of pressure off everyone — and put the well-organized student way ahead of everyone else!