Many people ask me when students should begin the college search/planning process, and the answer often depends on the particular student. Last week, I met with a young woman who is finishing 9th grade. She needed some advice on course selection for next year. She was also confused about possible careers. This student was goal oriented, and sought advice. We had also worked with her older brother, so she knew we were available to help.
But for most kids, 10th or early in 11th grade is the best time to begin the process. Why so early? There are essentially 3 key reasons:
1. It gives you plenty of opportunity to select colleges, and most importantly to visit. This is the most critical reason for starting early, because we suggest that most families visit 12-14 colleges. And we recommend that you do so while school is in session, so if you start this toward the end of the junior year, you won’t have much time to visit before application season in the fall of senior year.
2. It gives you a chance to assess your family’s college affordability at least 2 years before you get your first bill. That means you still have time to plan. You’ll be able to determine whether you’ll qualify for financial aid and scholarships, and you’ll have the chance to save more money, not to mention bracing yourself for the significant college expense that will be coming your way.
3. The fact is that the more time you put into any project, the better the outcome. College is a life shaping, significant investment of time and money. The more you approach it strategically and thoughtfully, the better the decision will be. You wouldn’t decide on a home to buy based on visiting two houses in two different neighborhoods over a month long period, especially if you were moving to a new city. Instead, you would take your time, and think hard about all the elements you want and need in a home, neighborhood, school district, etc…You should take the same approach to helping your child through the college planning process.
The bottom line: Start early, take your time, and think thoughtfully and strategically about which colleges will be a great fit for your child. Doing so will ensure that the college search will be fun and fruitful.