Why You Should Start the College Process Even Earlier Than You Think

The age old rule of thumb - early is on time, on time is late and late is unacceptable - has never been more appropriate for a scenario.

Hailie Higgins

August 26, 2016

Why You Should Start the College Process Even Earlier Than You Think

With summer winding to a close, school is on the minds of everyone from students to their parents to every single retail outlet in the United States (and even some outside). There’s not a soul in the States that isn’t keenly aware of our public education schedule, and the impending doom of standardized exams and surprise tests that are all but already upon us.

For many, however, the talk of school never stopped. If anything, it got more intense, what with up to sixty thousand dollars being on the line for most involved. Millions of seniors kept the conversation going by spending their summers stepping onto prospective college campuses for the very first time.

“Those poor souls,” you’re probably saying. “Those late souls,” is my reply.

The best possible time – hands down – to start touring colleges and really looking at your options is definitely earlier than you started. Guaranteed. The age old rule of thumb – early is on time, on time is late and late is unacceptable – has never been more appropriate for a scenario.

What I Learned as a Junior Touring Colleges

First and foremost, it’s overwhelming. I literally can’t start college applications for another ten months and yet I still felt as if I were somehow behind. The bombshell after bombshell of average test scores and GPAs and above average academics and opportunities blew my mind.

But by touring as a junior, I gave myself an entire year to process it. It gives space to really analyze what it is you want out of your college experience, and where you can actually get that. Everyone dreams of attending their perfect school, but starting early gives you enough time to go out and actually find it.

Just because the school can play the history card, or the low-blow of a low acceptance rate, doesn’t mean it will be the perfect place for you. There are more factors to consider than a brand name or the local university everyone you know attends when four years of your life are at stake.

Starting (and staying) ahead of the curve also leaves time to choose classes according to the specific prerequisites of the colleges or majors you want to apply to, as opposed to just taking whatever because you’re “undecided anyway.”

There’s nothing wrong with hesitation on declaring a major, but the extremely selective and extremely sought after colleges often require a certain level of competency in math, or a specific amount of lab sciences, and it may vary depending on where you apply.

By the time senior year rolls around, there’s not much you can change on your college application, most of which are due in the fall, if you just found out what classes they wanted a month ago. But if you were to have found all this out last year, or even as a sophomore, and scheduled for the future, it makes the application process that much easier.

Starting college funds as a baby are extremely popular, but planning ahead academically from junior year, ideally sophomore, is just as important. It’s downright imperative seeing as more and more qualified students enter the application pool each year.

Racing around campuses and sitting through information session after information session wears on even the most eager of teens after a while. And that’s not even the half of it. Once you see all these schools and their requirements, their assets, their drawbacks, you’ll need to apply.

Which Type of Student Will You Be?

Consider the following scenarios concerning two different students to illustrate this point.

Take “student A,” for example. Student A saw their universities sophomore or junior year, and breaks out the notes on their favorites. Maybe a list of their top five picks. A few safeties, some ballparks, and one or two reaches that they’ve checked out from every angle. Instead of spending July and August visiting colleges, they’re already writing essays. They have their life together; submit early action applications for colleges they love, therefore boosting their chances of admissions.

Student A shows academic drive and a rather mature motivation to succeed. They’ll find out their acceptance or rejection status (what feels like) light years ahead of their peers. As a result, the only senior year stresses that remain are the four AP courses they’re taking, which is still difficult because only a fool believes the age old myth of senior year being an easy ride.

Now, consider the case of “student B.” Student B just recently immersed themselves into the wonders of college tours as a high school senior. And, while amazed and excited to attend practically every college visited, they also get to juggle the culmination of analyzing their entire life up until that moment, and breaking it into checked boxes, activity descriptions and personal essays.

Student B gets to experience that lovely chaos of crunch time when five of the six regular decision application deadlines are in three weeks. Meanwhile, their senior year is becoming increasingly challenging. Oh, and every other kid in the class just asked the same teacher for a recommendation letter. Plus, don’t forget about sports, homework, student jobs and everything at once! How can students be expected to write so many essays when my teachers are assigning even more as homework? Senior year becomes a struggle for student B and it’s easy to see why.

Which scenario sounds more desirable? Fall of senior year is notoriously fickle. On one hand there’s the joy of being top dogs, on the other (totally avoidable) hand, there’s anxiety-inducing misery that stems from taking on the bulk of the application process all at once.

The Solution Comes Before Senior Year…

If only there were magic antidotes to these messes student find themselves in. Great news! There are solutions, albeit they lack magic. They’re simply called preparation, foresight and initiative.

By embarking upon the process an entire year before your peers, you’re not just on the ball, you’re above the ball. In fact, the ball can’t even catch up to you because you’re that ready your senior year. You’ve already written your essays, detailing why you would be a perfect fit for that college and what you’ve done to deserve admittance.

At this point, the colleges you applied to earlier than later are desperate to have you. All of a sudden, you’re in control of your situation, your future, and not the other way around. Everything is finally falling into place and, now, you get to decide on the college you deem worthy.

So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to begin the process – and become “student A.” Come senior year, you’ll pat yourself on the back for taking initiative early on.

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