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Articles / Applying to College / When is it too late to start college planning?

When is it too late to start college planning?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Feb. 11, 2002

Question: When does it become too late to start college planning?

Within limits, the sooner you start planning for college, the better off you'll be. Unfortunately, many students and their families don't begin making college plans until after the senior high school year has begun. This leads to much rushing around, confusion, and--worst of all--wrong choices.

In the best of all possible worlds, the foundation of college planning should begin in ninth or tenth grade. The precise college or university doesn't have to be selected at this early stage. Some students, however, may have an idealistic vision of one particular school upon which they have set their sights. This is fine, but the best way to approach the beginnings of college planning is with an open mind. You can have a favorite school picked out early, but be open to new information about the many fine schools available.

The key to planning for college is the high school schedule. Some students who are unsure of their plans tend to schedule easier courses rather than take challenging ones that will prove beneficial at college application time. This is where parents, students, and high school counselors should spend serious time together. Some colleges look only at the tenth through twelfth grade academic record. Others look at grades nine through twelve.

By ninth grade, a plan should emerge that determines a student's path through high school in an honors, academic, tech-prep, or other such curriculum. It's generally always possible to move down in curriculum level if necessary. If you are looking to go on to college, however, it will always be to your advantage to be in the most challenging curriculum possible. Colleges and universities will look to your performance in a quality schedule as the number one evaluation criterion. That's why it's smart to get on the right track early.

If you are a senior and haven't made any college plans yet, it's very important for you to take stock of your situation now. Sit down with your family and high school counselor as soon as possible and take an inventory of what you've done and where you are with your senior year. It's not too late to make some quality upgrades to your schedule. Don't panic. There are a number of options open to you. This is where your counselor can be a big help.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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