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Articles / Applying to College / When should I really start planning for college?

Feb. 10, 2002

When should I really start planning for college?

Question: When should I really start planning for college?

You can start to plan for college very early. In some families, planning begins before the prospective collegian is born. Grandparents, relatives, or Mom and Dad begin to provide for the financial needs by setting up college funds.

The majority of families, however, wait until the last moment to start college preparations. By "last minute" I mean right after the senior high-school year has begun. This manages to compress the whole college selection and admission process into about three-to-four months. Those weeks just fly by during the senior year. There are so many activities going on during the fall that most students have difficulty keeping up with class work, let alone the stressful college process.

My best answer to your question is to start thinking about college in your sophomore year. This includes approaching the topic with your parents too. In thinking about college, try to get a feel for where you'd like to go. You don't have to know what field in which to major, just some kind of subjective preferences that can narrow the list of possible candidates.

During your junior year, try to be more specific about your preferences. I like to see juniors develop a list of five or six candidate colleges by the end of the regular school year. Then, over the summer, before the beginning of the senior year, those schools can be visited to get an initial feel for what they offer and how they fit.

The fall of the senior high-school year should be a fine-tuning of the selection and application process, not the beginning of the process. Ideally, a senior's Fall should be devoted to putting together applications and concentrating on academics, not beginning to wade into the unexplored waters of an as-yet untried college process. Preparation is a big part of college success.

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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