Feb. 10, 2002
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.
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