There is a common myth floating around that serious college prep starts junior or even senior year—but this is a dangerous mindset that could make you late to the game. In truth, there’s no year “too early” to start preparing for a college education, and we’re here to prove that!
One of the biggest benefits of starting the prep process early is that you don’t leave everything to the last minute. It can be a major pain to scramble around researching different colleges, compiling applications, writing essays, filing financial aid forms, studying for the ACT or SAT/PSAT (not to mention taking them), and keeping up with regular schoolwork while application deadlines approach.
Save yourself the stress by getting a head start on it all. Even as early as freshmen year, students can start learning about different colleges they might be interested in. Thinking about potential majors or areas of academic interest can be a big help in narrowing down your choices. Starting early gives you room to breathe and time to be thorough, without worrying about looming test dates or app deadlines. Even simple research or brainstorming can get the ball rolling; starting early does not necessarily mean committing early, after all.
The ACT and SAT entrance exams are no doubt a big player in a student’s college application. As such, they should be taken seriously. By starting the prep process earlier, students will have additional time to study for the tests. What’s more, students unhappy with their resulting scores—or those who just want to boost them further—will have the time to retake these exams. Studies show that a majority of students who retake the test see a higher score as a result. Acceptance odds aren’t the only thing bolstered by higher ACT/SAT scores, either. Scholarships and financial aid also can depend on a student’s test scores—so study hard!
Time for Visits
Visiting campus is an ideal way to get a feel for a certain college. On a campus tour, students can walk around campus, peek into important buildings, have opportunities to ask questions about the school, interact with students, and even sit in on a class and speak to professors. Starting the prep process early means having more time to go and visit various campuses of the schools you’re interested in. Whether during the summer, winter break, or the school year, it’s recommended to try and visit potential colleges—you may find your decisions swayed by physically being there and either feeling “at home” or “out of place.”
Application and Essay Revisions
It takes time and effort to craft a good application or essay, and if you’d rather not juggle many responsibilities at once, you’d better start early. Getting a head start on filling out applications will make things smoother and less stressful in the long run. Having extra time will also allow you to beef up your scores, grades, extracurricular involvement, volunteer hours, and more to highlight on those apps. You’ll also be able to edit, revise, add, and streamline with your school counselor if you ask them during a less hectic time.
Even freshmen can benefit from at least looking at a few college applications to get an idea of what colleges are looking for. Then you can plan your high school academic and extracurricular involvement accordingly.
As for essays, the same logic can be applied. Many students take a while to figure out exactly what they want to write about based on a college’s prompt. Additional time can make this brainstorming less constrained and more creative. Starting early can also give you some much needed time for asking teachers and important people in your life for reference letters (and give them the flexibility to write a good one).
The early bird gets the worm, they say. Many think that only graduating seniors can apply for scholarships, but that is simply not the case. While many scholarship opportunities do focus on seniors, there are funds out there for juniors, sophomores, freshmen, and even younger students. By starting early, you can get a jump start on searching for, applying to, and earning scholarships.
Little by Little
If the thought of starting the college prep process as early as freshmen year makes you groan, just remember that you don’t have to do all this research and preparation at once. In fact, that’s the great thing about starting it early—you can do it little by little.
Maybe you start off creating a list of subjects you’re interested in and, for an hour or two a week, researching potential majors. The next year you can try to narrow your list and move onto finding colleges that offer that major; perhaps you bump your college research up to two hours a week. (With 168 hours in a week, two don’t seem that bad). When it comes to ACT/SAT season, you could study for a half hour a day to get ready. Before you know it, you could be a wealth of college prep knowledge, ready to tackle applications.
So do yourself a favor and start ASAP!
About the Author
Allison Wignall is the Associate Editor of College Raptor. In addition to writing and editing blog posts, she also works on marketing and special projects. She recently graduated from the University of Iowa with a Bachelor's degree in English: Creative Writing.