How Early Should I Start Thinking About College?

College and career readiness has rightly become a focus in many states. While it seems to make people feel that preparing for college practically starts in Kindergarten, that's not what we are talking about here.  Children should have playtime, opportunities for socialization, and an appreciation for things that truly interest them.  

However, as a matter of reality today, a child taking his or her first steps through the high school entrance needs to start planning for the day he or she last enters that building at the end of four years.****

In other words, high school matters, beginning at day one.  Classes one takes and--more importantly--the effort exerted therein, are part of the larger picture to a college admissions department.  Whether the child is looking to attend an Ivy League or its comparable institution OR is seeking to attend a state school, taking the most challenging courses FOR THAT CHILD and also getting the best grades possible will lead to the most acceptances.  

Aside from academics, the high school years are when children should be exploring their interests.  Participating in extracurricular activities helps with socialization and also helps create a base for possible areas of study or club participation in college. 

If your child has any interest in research, please encourage this.  Students truly learn important skills working on research projects, completing research papers, and presenting their findings.  If it is possible to participate in research competitions, that is even better.

Additionally, if your child shows potential to play athletics in college, or pursue a path in the arts, there are numerous steps that need to be taken way in advance of submitting the college application.

 

***College, particularly at a 4 year institution, is not for everyone.  Many children find greater success after high school graduation through military training, trade school, or employment.  This website does NOT minimize the accomplishments via such paths, but rather, chooses solely to focus upon the 2 or 4 year private and public institutions located within the United States.

Interviewing

There are several types of interviews that may be involved in the application process.

  • On-campus informational interview: In this type, the applicant typically meets with someone during an on-campus visit. This may be with an upperclass student, not necessarily with an admissions representative. While participation demonstrates the applicant's interest in the school, and notes on this interview will be submitted to the admissions department, this exists primarily for the applicant to ask questions.

  • On-campus admissions interview: The applicant meets with a representative of the admissions department. While the student may learn new information about the institution, the interview's purpose is to get a different perspective of the applicant than the written application, resume and test scores can indicate.

  • Local admissions interview: The applicant typically meets with an individual from an alumni panel. As with the on-campus admissions interview, the interviewer is taking note of the conversation and information is added to the admissions file.

Regardless of the type or location of the interview, students need to be prepared to present themselves in the best light possible.  Applicants should not be asking factual questions when the answers are readily apparent on the school website ("what are your average SAT scores?" "can I major in Psychology?").  But students should be prepared to ask questions, as well as answer questions about themselves.

Some areas to consider:

  • What are my strengths and weaknesses

  • What activities am I most passionate about

  • What skills and talents can I bring to this institution

  • Where do I see myself in 2 years, 5 years, 10 years

  • What do I expect to gain from attending this institution


Interview skills can be learned and practiced.  Consider working with a specialist to hone your skills and present your best self.

Connections with the Guidance Counselor

Whether your school schedules regular meetings between the child and his or her counselor, it is important to utilize the resources that are available.

  • Meetings beginning during Freshman year help ensure your child is on the correct path towards graduation, and allows for dialogue to begin regarding any special talents and interests, advanced classes or specialized exams.

  • Further meetings during Sophomore and especially Junior year allow for better targets for college visits, as well as course selection for possible advance college credit.

  • Counselors can suggest activities both within and outside the school, including summer programs.

  • Software such as Naviance may be available, and this is an excellent source of information on college trends, acceptances, and further links for scholarship opportunities.

Standardized Test Prep

Not every child is a good test taker.  And while numerous articles discuss how unreliable such tests are as predictors of college success and accordingly, how some colleges and universities no longer require applicants to take them, you STILL should consider having your child sit for these exams.  

Whether you are considering the SAT Exam or the ACT Exam, preparation is key.  Some children are better learners in a group environment, where they can hear questions being raised by others in the room.  Alternatively, some children grasp concepts better with private tutoring, where they are more comfortable asking something without fear of being judged by their peers. 

Regardless of the manner of preparation, the more practice exams one takes the more comfortable one will be on the actual exam day.  And the goal here is to do as well as humanly possible.  Even if your child isn't looking to go to a "competitive" school, test scores are used by many institutions to determine eligibility for merit-based scholarships.

What if your child isn't ready?

Not every child is emotionally, academically or socially ready to attend college--or to attend a school away from home.  

Often, a "gap year" or possible deferment of admission may better suit your child.  Remember, this may be the first time your child is navigating class schedules, homework, or exams without your gentle "nagging" or your constant monitoring of grades via school portals.  In an ideal world, you will be more "hands off" during the junior and senior year of high school.  After all, it is better for your child to feel the consequences while in high school--and when you are physically present to comfort him or her or suggest possible remedies.

If you suspect that your child may not be ready, discuss your child's readiness with your counselor.  Also remember that it is very common for students to begin college and decide that the particular school or program is not a good fit.  That's when it is time to think about transferring, or taking time off to figure out your child's particular need.  But is not a "failure" or "defeat" to acknowledge that college choice may have been wrong.  Just help your child to figure out his or her next step.

Congratulations -- you've been accepted! Now what?

Finally, you're in! Maybe you've been hitting refresh on your school login, or you've received that fantastic email or maybe even a huge packet in the mail. Of course, this is much better than not getting in. But you could be faced with difficult choices, and there's an endless supply of suggestions on how to make your decision.  Sometimes the decision is a financial one--which school offers you the most money, or would cost the least in terms of tuition, housing and travel.  If you've eliminated that aspect, it comes down to the more intangible "feel" or "fit" the child experiences at that school.  If it is possible to take a trip to visit the campus after being admitted, that is a great opportunity to take another tour, meet with professors, attend classes, and speak with current students.  

Don't forget to focus on the questions or issues that are most important to your child.  Is there a specialized school within the university in which he or she is interested (commonly this could be a business school or school of education) but which would require applying after Sophomore year? Ask how many students are actually accepted, and what happens to the students who aren't? When can a student study abroad? What DO students do if they aren't involved with Greek life?

Remember, this is a stressful time for your child.  He or she feels the pressure of picking the "right" place for college. No matter which school is selected, there will be a period of adjustment beginning during the summer and lasting well into the beginning of the school year.  Don't be surprised if your child voices concern that he or she picked the "wrong" school, either before or after the semester begins.  Just try to discuss this more deeply with your child to see if it is merely the apprehension or adjustment speaking OR if there are true concerns which need to be addressed.

 

The Dorm Life

Almost immediately after sending in the deposit, your child will start focusing on a roommate.  There are many ways to go about this process, but the most important thing to keep in mind is that the student is NOT picking a mate for life.  The goal is to find someone compatible, who will be respectful of your child.  

Your child can find a roommate on his or her own if both students submit each other's name, or can be assigned a roommate by the school (usually called "going random")  At some point the school will send housing materials, and perhaps a questionnaire to complete so the school can match your child with another incoming student. Sometimes a future roommate can be found via facebook groups for admitted students, or through friends of friends.  It is fantastic if the roommates can speak--electronically or in person--before move in to get to know each other, or at least to discuss items to be brought to campus.

Once a roommate has been selected, click below to see a valuable checklist of suggested items (although most schools will also send a general packing list, or at least a list of allowed vs. prohibited items).

You and your child can begin shopping for these items at your convenience, but some stores--Bed, Bath & Beyond most notably--offer the option to preorder items at your local store, and arrange for pickup at the store located closest to campus.  You do not pay for the items until pickup, and you are not bound to purchase every item.  It is helpful to locate the closest Bed, Bath & Beyond, Target, Staples, Walmart, Costco, etc., to your child's school so you can plan your shopping.

If it is possible, try to plan to be around campus the day before move-in to complete your shopping, and if you plan to fly to your destination try to rent a minivan.  It is completely possible to complete all purchases and move-in within the space of a few hours, if you can be organized & efficient.  And if you forget something, many schools offer shuttles to stores even after move-in, the campus school store sells many items, and you can even order online and have items shipped directly to campus.   If you are flying to your destination, you should also find out if the dorms permit items to be shipped in advance of move-in so that you do not need to carry everything on the plane.