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When Should We Start the College Search With Our High School Student?

How starting your high school student's college search early can reduce stress (for you and your teen!) and result in more acceptance letters than rejections.

Many high school students thought they would enjoy two or three weeks of their winter break, but were faced with the reality that they waited until the very last minute to finish their college applications.

Not surprisingly, most of them waited until the last possible moment - New Year’s Eve or New Year’s day – to hit the “submit” button [in fact, the Common App reported that they experienced 13.6 form submissions per second in the last 10 minutes of January 1].

And after the initial wave of nausea wore off, there’s one thing that students and their parents all agreed upon:  We’re glad that’s done.

The only thing that could have made it go more smoothly would have been to start earlier.

Given that there are more than 2,200 four-year colleges and universities in the U.S., it’s easy to see how looking for the “right” college could take awhile.  And while you may not want to consider all 2,200, you probably want to consider more than just the handful you’ve heard about – which, coincidentally, are the tiny minority that reject more students than they accept.

As an independent college counselor, I like to start with students in the 10th grade, helping them ensure they are taking the right academic courses, while helping them build depth and meaning into their extra-curricular activities.  A few Sundays at a soup kitchen are not impressive to a college, and with few exceptions, they won’t be inspiring to your teenager either.  Finding a regular volunteer project, and possibly a summer internship or program, that matches a potential future career interest will show colleges that they have initiative and are going beyond what their high school offers.

For juniors, I help them plan college entrance exam preparation, build their college list for spring and summer visits, and lay the foundation for the college application process.  The more work done in advance, the less saved until the very last minute, the less stress for everyone in the family.  For a quick and timely checklist of what your high school junior should be doing right now, here's what the New York Times' "The Choice" blog thinks.

I had about a half dozen frantic calls in December from seniors – not existing clients – who had already completed their applications to UC and/or CSU campuses (that deadline was November 30th), but who needed help applying to out-of-state and private colleges.  In some cases, they hadn't yet developed an appropriate college list.  I had one student come to me with about a dozen well-known "reach" schools, but not one safe school on her list.  I recommended a few other options, keeping in mind that acceptance letters are more fun to receive than rejections. 

Whether or not you work with an independent counselor, there is a lot of exploration to do, and it takes time.  Since your teenager’s time is currently consumed with school, extra-curricular activities, Instagramming, tweeting and occasionally sleeping, the best advice is to start early, stretch the process out to engage their interest, and keep an open mind.

Why wait until the very last minute to prepare for the biggest decision (so far) in your student’s life?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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