When Should I Start Thinking About College During High School?

St. Agnes Academy
Have you asked yourself, “When should I start thinking about college?” Kids are inundated with stress, and knowing when to prepare for college applications is not exempt. Read more for a big-picture idea of when to start certain college application items.
Did you know that roughly half the working-age adults in the United States have earned a college degree or postsecondary credential? In 2021, the Lumina Foundation published a study that confirmed: "The percentage of working-age adults who've earned a college degree or other postsecondary credential reached 53.7%."

Attending a four-year university will set you up for success in the real world with invaluable knowledge and a degree to kick-start your future. While the college application process is no easy feat, there are many tools and paths you can take to set yourself up for success. Many teens and preteens wonder, "When should I start thinking about college?" Here are some answers!

When to Start Thinking About College 

The college selection and application process can wait until high school. Parents need to remember that kids need time to be themselves, learn, and have fun in elementary and middle school years. Review our suggestions below for when you should start to think about college.

Pre-High School Years

The years leading up to high school are incredibly formative. Use these years to help children explore their interests, learn good study habits, and cultivate their curiosities. Besides, including extracurriculars or academic achievements from years before high school is rarely recommended on a college application resume.

Freshman Year

The first year of high school for students is a blessing as you are gifted a clean slate of grades! Remembering this as you begin your high school career is so important.

While many ninth-grade courses may be pre-determined, now is the time to think critically about what courses you want to register for. While taking advanced placement level classes adds an extra level of accomplishment on a college application, colleges want to see that you can handle the course load you have been given.

Only sign up for the classes you feel confident in. Otherwise, knock it out of the park in base-level classes and put that energy into other outlets to show how you can shine. 

Schools like St. Agnes have student support departments to help with course selections, academic advisors to teach you study skills and how to balance the coursework, and many other resources to help you during your four years in high school.

Start asking questions and asking for help early so you don't feel panicked later. Ask your counselors for advice if you feel pressured to start thinking about colleges. 

Sophomore Year

While it might seem trivial, now is the time to create and manage your own email account. Having a more "professional" email address separate from a high school address or your family's is wise. You will use this as you apply for summer jobs, internships, and college. All the important emails will be in one place for you to reference. 

If you still need to start, get involved in volunteer and extracurricular opportunities this year. Colleges like to see your interests and how you can manage being involved in organizations outside the classroom.

Additionally, start to explore different career paths. Ask questions of adults around you during visits to varying appointments like doctors' offices or the bank. You never know what might inspire your ultimate career choice. 

Think about visiting colleges and universities in your hometown or neighboring cities over a long weekend. Even if you know you will not want to attend one of these schools, it will still give you a good experience in looking for what you will or will not want to know about a campus.

Start to think about a school's seasonal events you might wish to experience for the following year. Are you interested in a specific sport? Look up their schedule for the next year and plan a visit around it! Know of an engineering competition hosted by a particular school? Email the hosts to see what their visitor policy is. 

By the end of your sophomore year, consider taking practice standardized tests to see how you do. Results from these practice tests set a good baseline to know how much effort you will need to put into preparing for the real deal.

During the summer before your junior year, create a list of schools you are interested in. As you get deeper into the process, you can rank, sort, and filter out schools that are not right for you. 

Junior Year

By your third year in high school, you should be in a good rhythm. Now is your time to step up and crack down on making your resume stand out.

Go out for leadership positions in the organizations you are involved in. Tap into the resources of your family, friends, or alumnae offices to find adults you can shadow or work for in fields that might interest you. 

Find prep courses (in person or online) or a tutor to help you prepare for the ACT or SAT, as you should start taking these during the spring or summer of your junior year.

Lastly, make an effort to visit your top schools of interest. If an in-person visit is not possible, reach out to the admissions departments to see what virtual opportunities they offer. 

Senior Year

This is it! Your last year of high school. Besides finishing up coursework in your high school classes, social activities, and volunteer and extracurricular obligations, this year will also feel hectic concerning college applications. Be sure to get these in early to focus on other things like scholarships, financial aid, and student loan applications.  

When Should I Start Thinking About College? Start by Taking a Breath and Creating a Plan

After reading the above suggestions for each year of high school, take a deep breath. Keep these suggestions in mind as you progress through middle and high school.

Your counselors and teachers will help guide you through many of these items naturally, but having a "big picture" idea of what to expect is nice. The longer you know about and have to prepare for the application process, the sooner you can make the right choices to set you up for success.

College applications have become very difficult, some more than others. College admissions officers want to see passionate and interested candidates involved in interesting outlets and maintain good grades.

Reach out for help so you will not find yourself wondering, “When should I start thinking about college during high school?” any longer. Talk to a St. Agnes College Counselor today to learn about their methods of getting students through the applications and into universities.