When is it time to start planning for college admission?
Parents often ask me, “When should my child and I begin to think about getting into college?” There are many factors that play into the answer, but the bottom line is that the most significant factor in a successful (and less stressful) college application cycle is a student who has excelled in academics, both in school and in standardized testing. Ideally, the right time to begin planning is when a student is about to enter high school, when you want to make sure that he or she begins on the right track with a COLLEGE PREPARATORY curriculum.
Does that mean a student must attend a private, preparatory school? No. A college prep curriculum is simply coursework that adheres to a given college’s entrance requirements. THIS IS NOT THE SAME AS WHAT THE STATE OF HAWAII REQUIRES TO GRADUATE FROM HIGH SCHOOL. A college prep curriculum may entail taking some subjects like math, social studies or a foreign language for a longer period of time, and/or taking more subjects or more advanced subjects.
For example, University of Washington requires that a student take a “Senior Year Math-based Quantitative Course.” This means that beyond the three years of math required, students need to make sure that they take a course from their prescribed list of quantitative courses in their senior year. Another example would be a foreign language requirement; while the State of Hawaii allows that two credits of foreign language OR fine arts, OR technical education is required, most all colleges will require two credits of foreign language IN ADDITION TO some fine arts requirements. But if you want to start looking at more selective schools like Chapman University, they recommend 3-4 years of a foreign language AND 2-3 years of arts/electives. So, the best course of action is to prepare early for a rigorous academic schedule and check annually to make sure you are on track for the requirements of any particular school that you might wish to attend.
Students who qualify, should be looking at taking as many Honors and AP classes as their schedule will allow. Colleges look at AP classes favorably, and scoring high on AP exams can provide college credit – which translates to fewer classes needed to graduate college! Make sure that you take advantage of opportunities at school for early preparation for standardized tests. If your school offers practice PSAT or ACT testing before junior year, take the tests and see which test you prefer and where you need to work for the real tests that begin junior year. Just like any class you take, standardized tests require preparation and studying to do well.
Students should begin to pursue outside activities that are of interest to them. There is no need to sign up for every activity your school offers in an effort to impress colleges. Most schools want to see that a student has a genuine interest or passion for a couple of things. Many students opt or need to have part-time employment that will also factor into the student’s busy schedule. It is important to strike a balance between hard work and enjoying time in high school. Over-scheduling a student’s time both academically and in extracurricular activities can lead to stress and burnout.
For parents, the concern is almost always finances. Starting to save as early and as much as you can will help. Be aware of programs at work that may provide savings and investment plans and check into scholarship opportunities that may be offered.
Another reason for students to excel in their academics is that students with the best grades and test scores are offered the most scholarship money.
The ideal time for me to start working with students on the full search and application process is at the beginning of junior year. I provide a very detailed and personalized timeline for each student for the 18-month period to follow that includes standardized testing, appropriate search and college selection, college applications, essay writing, and financial aid applications. Keeping the process on time and organized alleviates a great deal of the anxiety associated with the extra work that students have to add to their already busy high school lives.
Maryanne Hogan is an Independent College Admissions Consultant working with students on Maui. Visit her website, thecollegeauntie.com, for more information.