When Should Teens Start Thinking About College?

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How early is too early to start thinking about college?

The answer: It is never too early.  

Typically, educators throughout the United States tend to place the most emphasis of the college search and application process during a student’s junior and/or senior year of high school. But with colleges becoming more and more competitive and expensive, the reality is that families need to be thinking about college much earlier than the latter two year of high school.

Long gone are the days when students fill out each application by hand, meticulously choosing their ideal schools. Today, many colleges (but not all) use what is known as The Common Application. This is a universal application that allows students to submit their credentials to as many schools as they want.

The upside? It allows for a more streamline application process and tends to be more efficient with the use of technology. The downside? Inevitably, this system results in students applying to a record all-time high number of colleges each year.

More students are applying to a finite number of spaces available at each institution. College is competitive. Course selection, the level of difficulty in the courses, and the amount of years each subject is taken are just some of the factors that may make or break a student’s application. Although colleges tend to only regard grades 9 through 12, it is the work completed from grades K-8 that successfully prepares them for the courses they are eligible to take once they reach high school.

What should we as parents be doing to prepare our students for high school?

Stay on top of their curriculum. Ensure that they are enrolled in the appropriate level courses based on their interest and ability. Keep students engaged, focused, and involved. Cultivate a sense of self-reflection in your child so that he/she can develop interests. Encourage your child to be an independent thinker and to take initiative. Monitor homework time and if your child struggles in a particular subject, see about hiring a tutor to help him/her independently or in small group sessions.

Keep your child on track so that they are able to successfully get through the subject and feel enthusiastic and confident to tackle next year’s level. Not every child is strong in math/science or history/English fields. The reality, however, is that these are fundamental courses that will be evaluated whether or not your child likes the subject matter.  

As a former Assistant Director of Admissions, I have met with hundreds students and high school guidance counselors. Often, a trend that I found was that school caseloads per counselor continue to increase. Students do not always receive individualized attention throughout this process. College is an emotional, BIG decision and one that takes time. Preparation is key.

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