Think It’s Too Early to Start Thinking About College? Think Again!

Ready to start your journey?

As you enter high school, you may be wondering, “when should I start thinking about college?” Is freshman year too early? Is junior year too late?

When Should I Start Thinking About College

One of the most important factors is how well prepared you are and preparation happens at various stages.

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We have suggestions regarding college vs. high school that you can start thinking about now to make the transition to college a bit easier.

When Should I Start Thinking About College?

Students talking about getting to college

The answer to when to start looking at colleges is dependent on your personal situation and goals. During your high school years, you can start various aspects of your college search.

It’s never too early to start planning for college. Each grade of high school offers opportunities to start looking at colleges and becoming prepared for college.

Freshman Year

Freshman students talking about being college

Your freshman year is a fresh start. This is when you can start to focus on your grades, extracurriculars, and other activities that will look good to college admission boards.

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This is also a good time to start taking courses that will prepare you for your future goals. If available, you can start taking honor classes or advanced placement classes. Choose electives and clubs that fit your interests and future goals. If you are thinking about taking an English or math major in college, join a literary or math club.

Sophomore Year

Sophomore students discussing about degrees to take in college

As you begin your second year of high school, it can be a good time to step up your coursework and begin taking as many advanced classes as your schedule will allow.

You may also want to consider visiting a few colleges so you can start understanding what various colleges offer and what campuses are like. If you have joined extracurricular clubs or activities in your freshman year, this may be a good time to think about stepping into a leadership position as president or captain.

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It’s important to keep striving to achieve good grades. You can also start taking some practice standardized tests, like the Preliminary SATs (PSAT) or SATs.

Junior Year

Junior students talking about getting into college

Your junior year can be used to build on the foundation you’ve built in your freshman and sophomore years. This is the year to start focusing on various areas that you may be interested in career-wise.

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Once you narrow down your focus, you could start seeking our internships. Internships are a great way to learn but also can help you choose if a career is the right choice for you. Most students take the SAT or ACT the summer following junior year. Consider applying for various scholarships open to juniors as well.

Senior Year

Senior students talking about college

For most students, early in their senior year is when they begin applying to colleges. It’s also important to continue on the path of advanced classes, active participation in school and community activities, and building your leadership skills.

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Continue visiting colleges that you’re interested in, and you can even revisit some of your favorites to meet with college representatives. You can also start applying for more scholarships, financial aid, and student loans to ensure your college education tuition is handled.

How to Start Preparing for College

You may be wondering how to get ready for college. Luckily, there are a few steps you can take to start getting prepared for higher education. The more prepared you are, the more confident you will likely feel entering this new chapter.

Designate a New Email for Your College Search

incoming college student writing down list of schools

As you take standardized tests and begin searching for colleges, you will likely be inundated with emails. One way to keep your personal inbox from being flooded is to open a new account specifically for your college search.

Having all of your college emails in one place will help you stay organized as you work on scholarships and college applications, says Justin Roy, dean of admissions at Georgian Court University (NJ). “With just your college mail open, it’s easier to focus and not be distracted by Facebook notifications,” he says.

It also gives you the chance to rethink your email address and set up a more professional email address. “Just use your name,” Roy says.

Beef Up Your Schedule

college student planning her schedules online

Colleges look for rigor, so sophomore and junior years are when you should kick it up a notch by taking international baccalaureate, advanced placement (AP), or honors classes.

“We know those classes are more challenging and therefore will make students look more competitive,” says Jordan Bryant, director of undergraduate admissions at Trinity International University (IL). But make sure the college-level work is in core areas, he adds. “AP art isn’t as impressive as AP English.”

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Talk to your guidance counselor to determine which areas you’ll be most successful in if you choose harder courses, recommends Lauren Scott, associate director of admissions at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Also, consider your electives and look for ones that are academically focused, such as computer science, sociology, and psychology.

Begin to Research Colleges

group of students looking for colleges online

Colleges are looking at you, so when should you start looking at colleges? Sophomore year can be a great time to get a feel for college campuses.

Visit a local school, or find a campus tour near your spring break or summer vacation destination, even if it’s not a top choice, Craddock says. It’s also smart to visit a small campus and a large campus to experience the difference. Then, begin an ongoing list of wants and needs. “Maybe your dream school has to have a biology lab and a study abroad program, and you’d like it to have a great football team and be in a new city you can explore,” Bryant says.

Although it’s best to visit schools in person, the videos on schools’ websites can be really helpful, as is visiting college fairs to speak with representatives. “A well-thought-out attitude to the college search will allow students to make a more informed and confident college choice when senior year comes,” Scott says.

Make Your Extracurriculars Count

female student jotting down notes

Many students think they have to join every club in order to be considered “well-rounded.” Not so. The keyword for activities is meaningful.

Try to also add in an extracurricular or two, whether inside or outside of school, Bryant says. “Colleges aren’t looking for kids who have spent all of high school doing homework,” he says. “They want to see that you can engage in the community.”

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The best bet is to find something you are genuinely passionate about, perhaps for example medical internships for high school students, and stick with it. “I like to see longevity,” Roy says. He says it’s also impressive to have a leadership position, which is tougher to do if you activity-hop.

Start Thinking About Majors & Careers

students searching what major to choose on tablet

Sure, you might change your mind a dozen times, but it’s never too early to think about what you enjoy and what you’re good at so that you can explore those interests as early as possible through camps, extracurriculars, electives, or job shadow days.

Roy recommends taking a career assessment with your counselor and thinking through what you like to do. “When a kid tells me they like to make videos and use the Adobe [Creative] Suite, I’ll say, ‘Hey, have you ever thought of marketing?’”

Sophomore year is also a great time to shadow someone in a career you’ve been considering. You might confirm that you love it, or you might discover it’s not your thing before you waste a lot of time and money. If you do have a particular passion for something, you may want to make sure the colleges you explore offer the major.

Test Out Your Testing Skills

college student reviewing outside the campus

Many students wait until their junior year to take the PSAT, but it’s a smart choice for sophomores, too, says Kristen Miller, a college consultant in Portland, Oregon. Miller says that students need three basic elements to do well on standardized tests: content knowledge, pacing, and endurance.

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“Content knowledge can be obtained through course work and/or test prep, but the only way to master the pacing and endurance piece is practice,” she says. “Taking proctored PreACTs or PSATs as sophomores will help students be better prepared and, hopefully, less anxious when they take the exam as juniors and seniors.”

Consider the Financial Aspects

university student preparing for online class

It’s never too early to consider scholarships, and by working hard in class you may increase your chances of earning a merit scholarship. It’s also a good idea to create a list with links and criteria of various scholarships, from community groups to companies, by using one of the many scholarship search sites available.

“You might be shocked at how many companies are offering scholarships,” Bryant says. Roy suggests thinking strategically so you can position yourself for potential scholarships. For example, you can use your part-time job to make money and learn new skills but also qualify for specialized scholarships.

Finally, Scott encourages students to review the cost of attendance at any schools they might be considering. “Remember, compare apples to apples,” she says. “Not all schools include the same line items in their cost of attendance, so it is important to review and compare the exact costs across institutions.”

Preparing for College Early

Student preparing for college early by researching online

Beginning your preparation for college can start as early as your freshmen year by taking some advanced courses.

Your sophomore year is a good time for when to start looking for colleges. Also, think about extracurricular activities you can join that align with your future career and education goals. It’s never too early to start preparing and looking into accredited colleges that offer the degree program you would like to earn.

Once you have a few colleges in mind, you can start researching more in-depth and applying!

Ready to start your journey?
Elizabeth Abner
WRITTEN BY Elizabeth Abner

Elizabeth is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Foreign Policy and earned her master's degree in business administration. For her undergraduate studies, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration with a concentration in international business. Elizabeth's research is focused on universities offering online degree programs.