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When Should You Start the “College Process”?

Updated: Sep 29, 2022

As the college admission landscape changes with head-spinning speed and the stakes become increasingly higher with ever-growing application numbers, the Million Dollar Question becomes: when should I start to think about college? While the standard has typically been junior year, there are students who are starting as early as 8th grade! As if applying to college wasn’t already stressful! And while yes, the end result is hopefully the college of your dreams, the journey begins with you!

There are approximately 4,000 colleges in the United States. Over 90% of them accept more than 80% of applicants. Let me say that again: over 90% of colleges in the United States accept more than 80% of those who apply. That’s about 3,600 colleges. Further, another 250 accept more than 50% of applicants. Finally, approximately 100 schools in the US accept less than 50% of students who apply.

We can look at this in one of two ways: either there are only 100 “good” colleges in the U.S. Statistically and realistically, we know that this couldn’t possibly be true; OR, students in the US have a choice of 3,900 colleges that they have a 50% chance or better of getting accepted to. That, my friends, is GREAT news!

So how and when do you begin the college planning?


So as you breathe a sigh of relief with new and enlightening knowledge, here are some things you can do over the course of your high school career to ensure your journey to college is about YOU! The rest will follow.


Discover your high school, discover you! High school affords you the opportunity to immerse yourself in your interests and affinities, both academic and extracurricular.


  • Prepare a 4-year plan for high school classes with your goals and enjoyment in mind.

  • Develop strong study habits and time management skills.

  • Work to enhance reading, writing, and vocabulary skills.

  • Keep your grades up.

  • Push yourself while planning for your sophomore year while understanding your limits.

College Planning

  • Take PSAT and the PreACT

  • Learn where to find reliable college information.

  • Talk to your parents about saving for college.

  • Meet with your school counselor and talk to friends and family about their college


  • Pursue activities and sports that interest you. Try out something new!

  • Keep a record of your achievements and significant events.

  • Keep career options open however explore interests that may develop into a career.


  • Read up on a worldly and local issues

  • Consider a summer job, traveling, or other learning experiences.

  • Build connections with your counselor, administrators, coaches, and other adults in your life to build your support system and for them to know you well enough to write you letters of recommendation when the time comes.


Sophomore year is a time to continue exploring what your community and the world has to offer. In addition to the list above, here are some additional considerations for what to do during your sophomore year to prepare you for the college admission process.


  • Assess writing strengths and work on weaknesses.

  • Keep copies of your best writing.

  • Plan your junior year schedule to challenge yourself while knowing your limits.

College Planning

  • Meet with your school counselor and ask what you should do to prepare for college.

  • Create a new email address for college admission material and monitor often.

  • Think about college qualities that may fit you best. What size, location, and college culture would you like? Tour colleges campuses and take notes on what you liked or disliked.

  • Attend college fairs and meet with college representatives.

  • Take PSAT and the PreACT when available.


  • Hone in on major activities while seeking leadership positions.


  • Participate in school and volunteer opportunities.

*College planning goals modified from Appendix A in the guide, College Match: A Blueprint for Choosing the Best School for You.


Lots to do this year for college planning! In addition to the freshman and sophomore year lists above, here are some additional considerations for what to do during your sophomore year to prepare you for the college admission process.


  • Continue to keep those grades up, improve writing skills, working on study skills and time management, and saving your best work. You may want to provides these samples when asking for recommendations.

  • Colleges look carefully at the range and depth of your class choices for your senior year schedule. Explore honors, AP, or IB classes where available.

College Planning

  • Take your SAT or the ACT.

  • Meet with your school's college counselor and learn what resources are available and take advantage of them, e.g.. college fairs, college representative meetings, and college planning programs.

  • Create a paper and desktop folder labeled "College Planning" for important documents related to your college search.

  • Identify important qualities for your ideal college selections. Talk to you parents about potential choices.

  • Not obsessing over rankings, narrow your college list using the following preferences:

    • program of study

    • careers offered

    • size of school

    • location

    • financials (leave at least two financial safety schools on your list)

  • Continue to visit colleges both small and large to understand how both feel. Visit most within driving distance.

  • Email colleges for view books and applications. Keep checking that email!

  • Sign up for a Summer or Fall college essay writing course where you leave with a polished and application-ready essays including the Common App essay.

College Essay Writing Course


  • Strengthen your commitments to your extracurricular activities. Begin new ones!


  • Celebrate yourself! Create and maintain a resume of your academic and extracurricular activities.


You are in the home stretch...keep up that momentum and take it step by step. In addition to the list above, here are some additional considerations for what to do during your sophomore year to prepare you for the college admission process.


  • Many colleges will see your first semester grades so keep up on school work!

College Planning

  • Seek your parents counsel and keep them informed as to your thinking about college choices.

  • Ask parents to submit the FAFSA after October 1.

  • Request and distribute college recommendation forms to teachers and others.

  • Retake SAT or ACT if necessary.

  • Meet regularly with your college counselor and narrow your college list between 5 and 10 colleges. Make a pros and cons list for each.

  • Show your interest in your college choices. Attend college fairs, speak with representatives, fill out requests for information, etc..


  • Continue your extracurricular involvement.


  • Actively investigate several career options.

  • Update your resume.

**College planning goals modified from Appendix B in the guide, College Match: A Blueprint for Choosing the Best School for You.



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