As we turn the page on 2014, a whole new class of high school students begin to turn their thoughts toward their college search.
Future college hopefuls and their families may consider putting off their search, as the process can be quite intimidating.
But, keep in mind that the earlier you start, the more information you can gain and better prepared you’ll be when the time really comes. Families with high school students should make a promise to start their college search now–not later.
Here’s what high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors can do now to get a head start and build a plan:
High school freshmen: Consider career paths, keep your options open
Colleges require transcripts which include all the courses you’ve taken since ninth grade. This means the classes you take as a freshman count. Take the classes required to graduate high school, and take honors versions if you can handle them.
If your options for honors are limited, don’t worry too much–you’ll likely have a chance to take more advanced classes later in high school. Focus on getting good grades–remember your freshman grades make up about 25 percent of your grade point average. Keeping your grades up and maintaining a rigorous course load keep your college options open.
As a freshman, you don’t need to know exactly what career you want to go into or where you want to go to college. But, starting to recognize your strengths and interests now will help you choose later on.
This is also the time to find some extra-curricular activities that really interest you. Keep in mind that colleges look for a diverse range of students, but they tend to look more highly on students that demonstrate a deep interest in particular areas and activities, rather than a low level of involvement in a bunch of things.
High school sophomores: Start to move toward your passions
As a sophomore, you should have an idea of what subjects interest you. Maybe you excel in math and science, or you’re more of an art or history fan. Either way, consider taking AP classes in these subjects (and others, if you can handle it), to get a feel for what college courses are like.
Start looking toward colleges which appeal to your interests. You don’t need to narrow down your list yet, but familiarize yourself with colleges and how they differ. Would you be better to go to a college that offers strong STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) programs, or should you be looking at colleges that have well-revered writing or art programs? Now is the time to start to think about what you’re passionate about and even considering which majors will lead you to the career you really want.
Take the PLAN or PSAT to see how you perform on standardized tests. Even if you struggle with these tests, don’t worry too much. This just tells you early that you need to spend extra time preparing for the ACT or SAT when the time comes.
If these tests aren’t available to you, consider taking a practice SAT at Khan Academy.
High school juniors: Start making a college list
Junior year is an important college planning year. This is the year you’ll likely take your entrance exams for the first time, and when you’ll begin to narrow down your college list.
It may seem like college is still in the distant future, but keep in mind that college application season will be in full swing during the first half of your Senior year. It will be here before you know it!
Start thinking about which colleges would be a good fit for you, and use College Raptor’s college search tool. Consider attending college events targeted at juniors and going on college tours to schools you’re considering.
Think about when you’ll apply to college. Early decision? Early action? Regular decision?
If you’re sure about your top choice college, an early application may be right for you. If you’re planning to apply early, you’ll need to start your application the summer after your junior year.
Remember that colleges consider the entirety of your high school career. That’s why beginning to plan as a freshman isn’t excessive–but smart.