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Articles / Preparing for College / Starting The College Process Early

Starting The College Process Early

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Jan. 20, 2015

The question I get from a lot of parents is, “When should my child start thinking about and planning for college?" My answer is usually, “As soon as possible."

Of course, this doesn't mean that they should start getting on the waiting list for snazzy pre-schools while their child is yet unborn. Don't laugh. That happens all the time. Don't believe me? Read this post from one Web forum under the title of “Tips for competitive preschool admissions?"

Around here, a lot of moms sign their babies up for preschool waiting lists when they're newborns. I was not aware of this until just recently, and I now find myself overwhelmed by the fact that DD is competing for spots for preschool, as if it's college. I don't think I can compete with moms whose sole mission in life is to get their child into one particular preschool. I've heard that moms repeatedly call/email preschool directors to get a good word in on their child and send in letters of rec from other families. I'm not an aggressive person, but it seems I now need to be.

Anyway, all of these stories have led me to procrastinate, and I now have only a month or two before hitting application deadlines for 2006 admission. And at this point I've still yet to go on any tours or talk to any preschool directors.

I'm finally getting my butt into gear. But I was wondering how many of you have faced similar situations with preschool competition, and what you've done to get through it. Also curious if this just comes with the territory of living in an urban area?

Told you.

Hopefully, your family won't be under pressure like that. My point is this: It's not too early to start thinking about what to do about college admissions when your child is a high school sophomore. High school performance profiles start to form in 9th grade. Tenth-grade sophomores will have had their freshman year to make the adjustment from middle school (or, as some refer to it, junior high school) and also have one more year of maturity under his or her belt.

This is a good time to begin thinking about what requirements need to be met in order to begin a solid and efficient college process plan. I don't need to tell you that applying to college these days is not what it used to be in past decades. It has become extremely competitive and, in many cases, a matter of numbers, such as class rank, grade point average (GPA), and test scores. These numbers become even more critical at large state universities, where there is no such thing as the “holistic"applicant review process.

Speaking of test scores and starting the college process as a sophomore, I'd like to share with you some thoughts by Mark Greenstein, from Ivy Bound Test Prep. Mark has always seen the test-prep aspect of applying to college from a very practical and pragmatic perspective. In a recent mailing that he shared with me, Mark focused on 10th graders. With his permission, I'd like to share some of his thoughts with you here.

Dear Parents of 2017 grads …

This is to help those of you who have yet to do advance college admissions planning. The 10th graders who are already motivated to apply to college are possibly leading YOU to each step. For the rest of the 10th graders, their parents need to take the lead. Don't rely on school guidance counselors – their help typically comes too late.

Tenth graders who will be applying to at least one college ranked in the top 60 need to show two good SAT SUBJECT TEST scores. Subject Tests are offered 6x a year, but the best time for many students to post one of these good scores is May or June of 10th Grade. Subject Tests are straightforward 1-hour tests that let students show their knowledge of a subject. They require relatively little outside study and typically coincide with their study for finals or AP tests. Students can choose the subjects and take 1, 2 or 3 in a day.

“Top 60" colleges generally need to see 2 good (700+) Subject Test scores by senior year. “Top 20" colleges generally need to see two very good (770+) Subject Test scores by senior year. No college cares WHEN you test. Thus, for students who are doing well in a subject this spring and will not be taking it again next year, the best time to post a Subject Test score in that subject is this May or June.

Ivy Bound wants its students who don't have conflicts on those test dates to test on BOTH the May and June dates. Most sophomores (and many freshmen) have at least one subject that will be ripe for posting a good score this spring.

To take that ripe, “low-hanging" fruit requires self-study and SOME tutoring, but rarely more than 10 hours' worth per subject. We suggest studying in April to lead up to the early May test. If you are looking to test on two subjects, enlist a tutor for 2 sessions a week. If you cannot do 2x a week tutoring, consider one subject 1x a week and one subject over 5 days of April Vacation (yes, you can tutor via Skype each morning and still have a day on the beach). Prep school students who lack an April vacation may want to start their SAT Subject Test study in March.

As for SAT study…

There is no NEED for 10th graders to do SAT study, but some might want to do a piece now rather than putting it off until summer or fall. Our favorite time for motivated students to do a chunk of their SAT study is June and July. Let your school year CONTINUE in June. Make SAT (or ACT) study your first summer course. Or treat it as your “part-time summer job" for 3 – 5 weeks.

Finally, we do want 10th graders and their parents to know that the current SAT is in play through January 2016. You may want to take the post-January SAT in its updated form. As of now your best way to study for a March 2016 or May 2016 SAT, is to prep normally for the current SAT and apply the skills you've built to the future format. Unless the majority of colleges demand the new SAT (highly unlikely) we think it is unwise to study for just the new one. You'll have limited time and almost no reliable materials to study from. (When the SAT changed over in March 2005, it pre-published some math materials that were off-base). Most importantly you'll lose opportunities to impress in October through January.


Wise advice from someone in the know …

As a parting shot for my early-college-planning post here, and to further document my point about the parental frenzy over getting their kids into top, way-early-years schools, I thought that I'd throw in some excerpts from this article on philly.com:

Kindergarten battle at Penn Alexander rages on

The kindergarten war continues.

After it halted a longtime first-come, first-served policy for kindergarten registration at one of the city's top public schools, the Philadelphia School District held a lottery late last month to select the 78 children lucky enough to win spots at Penn Alexander for the fall.

That left 10 children denied admission to the K-8 school, which boasts a partnership with the University of Pennsylvania that provides an extra $1,300 per student and low class sizes.

And it left many parents – who had hoped the district would increase kindergarten class size to accommodate every neighborhood family – steamed. Some say they have not ruled out legal action …

With Penn Alexander kindergarten class size still under 20, much lower than the rest of the district, the McNamees say they can't understand why officials don't do what they did the day they stopped the line or admitted students out of the neighborhood – make a decision to halt a policy because they feel it's the right thing to do.

“We can't stand for a lottery or a line," Bryce McNamee said. “That's not what community is all about." …

Santoro, whose oldest is a first grader at Penn Alexander, hasn't yet found a spot for his soon-to-be kindergartner. Although he's long considered himself a die-hard supporter of the city and its public schools, all options are on the table.

“The way things are structured now, it makes it very tough for middle-class families to stay," Santoro said. “Do you want people to pick Philadelphia, or do you want them to pick somewhere else?"


Aren't you glad that you have a 10th grader? I hope you do.


Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles on College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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