Applying to college for families can be a somewhat daunting task. And to leave it all to the very end is a little bit worrisome and scary. I also think if you start too early you are going to be causing unnecessary stress literally for years for your family.
So I advise families to really think of this as a process where they do a few things sophomore year, a few more things junior year, and then really do a final push the first half of senior year.
In the sophomore year, I think that families should be starting to have their child think a little bit about college options. If you live in a community where there are some local schools that you can visit, take a half day, drive through the local university or go to a local small liberal arts private college, something like that. Just so the kids can see the difference between a big university and something that's maybe smaller and a little bit more intimate. Or maybe look at the difference between a rural school and a suburban and an urban school. But not a lot of time sophomore year should be spent on those sorts of things.
Junior year is where families should get a little bit more serious. And really that's about halfway through junior year. Most students should be taking a standardized test, sometime in the second semester of their junior year. Depending on what test they take and their particular circumstances that's January-February-March of their junior year.
What that means is if you think you have a child who should get some standardized test prep help, that should probably start maybe two months before the test date. So typically November-December of junior year, maybe some test preparation work is under way with your child, and then the first SAT gets taken maybe in March of junior year.
It's a good idea during the second half of junior year also to start identifying colleges and to start creating a large list of schools that kids can later winnow down. So it's really a rough draft of a list. Maybe 10-15 colleges that a student might be interested in attending. There's nothing binding here, no guarantee they'll go there, or even that it will still be on their list in 3 months. But to get a sense of what kind of schools a kid might want to attend is a really good idea.
So start thinking about things like large versus small schools, urban versus rural, geographic regions, and create a list so that maybe by the end of the junior year, there is that list.
Over the summer between junior and senior years, it's a good idea to do more standardized test prep if necessary, if a student decides to retake the SAT or the ACT and then also to start visiting some of those schools to try to winnow that list down.
By the beginning of senior year, you really want to have that list in place, so you've got 8-10 colleges that the student really wants to go to. They start going through that application process, which is a lot of work frankly. So to have 20 schools to do that for is too many. Keep it high single digits. Maybe 10, 12 at the outside. Have them do those applications. Have them go through that process so that by the time they hit the middle of their senior year, they've taken the standardized test a couple of times, they've applied to all of their schools, and by winter break, by January 1st, they're pretty much done with that process. And it's just waiting to find out what schools say about you.