When Should You Start Thinking About College in High School?

St. Agnes Academy
College preparation can be challenging to navigate. Want to know when should you start thinking about college while in high school? Read our guide!
The college admissions process can be overwhelming when starting out on the process. It can sometimes be tempting to dive headfirst into college applications during early high school years, but parents and students alike should use caution before making any big decisions.

We are often asked questions like, “When should you start thinking about college?” but we think it’s more important for young women to focus on their high school studies without prematurely allowing the college admissions process to divert their focus.

There are many things students can do during their time at St. Agnes to ensure their college readiness without detracting from day-to-day studies or extracurricular activities. Parents and students should work together to develop a manageable college prep plan that allows ample time for college research, visits, applications, and more.

Let’s discuss when high school students should start focusing on college admissions, when it’s a good time to start thinking seriously about choosing a college, and how to approach each admissions-related task before you start applying for colleges.

When Should You Start Thinking About College?

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to tackling the college admissions process. However, it’s okay for higher education to be on the radars of students and their parents during the early high school years. The key is not to let it become time-consuming while students are still building the foundation of college readiness.

Many students choose to enroll at St. Agnes because of our school’s focus on college preparation and our admissions-related resources. Simply enrolling in our school can serve as a valuable first step in the college preparation process because of our built-in academic approach:

  • We ensure each student is academically prepared for higher learning.
  • We provide students with access to critical admissions resources and counseling services.

Even though it’s important to keep college in mind during freshman and sophomore years, the primary focus during this time should be on a student’s existing studies rather than their future ones.

The first two years of high school lay a critical framework for a student’s continued academic success, and distractions should be kept to a minimum during this time. Subsequently, students should plan to begin the formal college research and application process no sooner than their junior year.

The last two years of high school are when students can invest more heavily in the application process to ensure a successful, stress-free admission season.

5 Steps to Take When You’re Ready to Think About College

Here are a few of the admissions-related tasks students should focus on during their high school years and the appropriate time to prioritize each step in the process.

1. Meet with a Counselor

While we recommend that first and second-year students not become excessively preoccupied with the college admission process, this can still be an excellent time to start meeting with counselors at our Wellness Center to discuss age-appropriate college preparation steps.

It is also a good idea for first and second-year students who plan on attending college to spend some time looking for fun and engaging extracurricular opportunities. Taking this step will not only allow students to build community but can also be included on a college resume when the time is right.

2. Take a Practice PSAT/NMSQT

The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test is a standardized test that students may take during their junior year in order to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program.

National Merit Scholars are eligible for significant scholarship opportunities from colleges and universities across the country, and achieving a high score on the PSAT/NMSQT is the first step in the qualification process.

Sophomore students have the option to take the PSAT/NMSQT in order to gauge their readiness and determine which areas of study may require additional attention prior to taking the formal exam during their junior year.

It’s important to note that sophomore scores are not taken into account during the college admissions process, nor are they used for National Merit qualification. So any tests taken during a student’s second year are purely for practice purposes.

3. Start Researching Colleges

Students should start researching their college options more seriously at the start of their junior year. School counselors can help support these research initiatives, but students should also take advantage of the wealth of college information that exists online to research colleges and their admissions requirements.

Admissions representatives from colleges and universities can also be a valuable resource for students researching possible college options, and students are encouraged to explore a wide range of options in several different geographic locations.

We recommend that students begin scheduling college visits and campus tours during the spring of their junior year based on the research they conducted during the first half of the term.

4. Prepare for the ACT and SAT

Different universities have unique admissions requirements when it comes to standardized tests.

Some schools require ACT scores for admission, while others require SAT scores. Based on their college research, students should determine whether they should take both tests or focus their efforts on one or the other.

Students may choose to enroll in an ACT or SAT prep course during their junior year or may prefer to study at their own pace using available test prep literature. Counselors can help students determine the right way to prepare for college admissions testing and can make recommendations for specific resources or local classes.

Students can begin taking these tests during their junior year, and it is typically recommended that students plan to take each test at least twice in order to maximize their scores.

Many students sit for these exams during the fall of their senior year of high school. But it’s important to factor in any looming application or scholarship deadlines in order to select and sign up for the appropriate testing sessions.

5. Begin the Application Process

Students should begin applying to colleges they are interested in during the summer before their senior year. The application process will likely continue through the fall semester, but depending on the number of applications a student plans to complete, it can be a good idea to get a head start whenever possible.

Some applications must be requested directly from a college or university, while others can be completed on platforms like the Common App.

College counselors at St. Agnes are available to help students complete their applications and provide valuable guidance on how best to format their resumes, construct application essays, and more.

Find Your Own Path to College at St. Agnes

St. Agnes students have a wealth of resources at their disposal to support them on their college prep journies. We encourage our first and second-year students to focus primarily on their high school studies to develop the solid academic foundation they will need for later steps in the college application process.

Students and their parents can work in conjunction with the St. Agnes Wellness Center to help freshman and sophomore students develop age-appropriate college prep plans that keep students’ current academic success at the forefront.

We know that it can be challenging to find the right balance between preparing for college and enjoying the high school experience. But our team can help students set and achieve realistic goals that don’t require them to compromise on their academic performance or emotional well-being.

Reach out today to get in touch with the St. Agnes Wellness Center to discuss early college planning for your high school student. We would be glad to answer your specific questions, such as “When should you start thinking about college?” and other college readiness questions.