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College Admissions: Why Starting in 9th Grade Matters

Monday, June 19, 2017


Every fall, I see families of seniors in “crunch mode”, trying desperately to catch up on college visits, SAT/ACT testing, financial aid forms and applications. This begs the question, “When is the right time to start the college admissions process?” It’s a double-edged sword. Start too early and you risk putting too much pressure on kids; start too late and you risk putting too much pressure on kids. In the end, it’s a balancing act of beginning early while not inundating students. Here are some tips on when to start each part of the process:

1. In 9th grade-It’s a good idea for parents to meet with a financial advisor to ensure that your savings plan is on track. Any adjustments to investment or mortgage strategies often need to be done several years ahead of filing your FAFSA or CSS Profile. It’s also prudent to meet with your guidance counselor or an independent college advisor to understand the factors involved in college admissions. This will allow you to make informed decisions about courses and find extra-curricular interests that your child is passionate about. 11th grade is too late to find out that your child shouldn’t have dropped a language, needed to take 3 lab sciences, or didn’t get involved in enough extra-curricular activities. Also, assess your child’s strengths and weaknesses in the spring, and adjust your course selections for 10th grade to balance their course load and maximize their GPA. You don’t need to be visiting campuses or discussing Brown vs. Beloit, but you should begin gathering information about the admissions process and finances now. Students who aren’t working to their potential should also understand that their 9th grade GPA does matter for admissions.

2. In 10th grade-If your school offers the PSAT or ASPIRE test, sign your child up! Don’t miss out on this important opportunity to practice taking the SAT and/or ACT. Studies show that students do better when they are exposed to SAT or ACT tests more than once. Monitor his/her GPA and be aware of any areas where they need extra teacher help or a tutor. In the spring, attend a college fair, and then visit one or two college campuses near home. This will help get students in the mindset of college without overwhelming them. In the summer after 10th grade, assess whether the SAT or ACT is a better test for your child. For busy fall and winter athletes, summer can often be a good time to start test prep.

3. In 11th grade-This is when the fun really begins. PSATs and ASPIRE tests in the fall, SATs, ACTs and SAT II Subject Tests in the winter and spring, and campus visits all year long. I like students to have an initial college list in place by the beginning of junior year, and certainly no later than January. PSAT or ASPIRE scores should allow you to project test score ranges, and your child’s GPA is becoming established by the end of 10th grade. So, you should have enough data points to begin to formulate your list of stretch, reasonable and backup schools. Adjustments can always be made to your list throughout the year to account for GPA and SAT/ACT changes. If your child didn’t prep for the SAT or ACT over the summer, fall is a good time. I recommend taking the first SAT or ACT no later than March, but opinions differ. By May 1st, you should have visited any school on your list within an 8 hour drive of home (before they let out for summer). To minimize stress in the fall, narrow your college list and begin your applications and essays over the summer.

4. Fall of 12th grade- Ask two teachers for recommendations in September. This is also the time to revisit any favorite schools, if you are trying to determine where to apply early decision. Most Early Decision and Early Action deadlines fall in November (a few are in October), and you will need to notify your guidance office where you are applying several weeks ahead of time—so they can send in your transcripts, recommendations, etc. Keep in mind that many colleges are filling 30-60% of their freshmen seats during early admission season. Because of this, planning a strategy around which apps you will file early and regular decision is wise. Also, do interviews at your colleges that offer them—either on campus or in your hometown with an alum. Retake SATs or ACTs in September and October if your scores aren’t where you want them, and polish up your apps to file by deadlines.

It’s hard to alleviate all stress from the college process, but gathering information early and planning ahead really does minimize angst. Divide your tasks into manageable bites each year, rather than drinking from a fire hose at the end of junior year and beginning of senior year. In the end, it isn’t about Harvard or Hartwick, UVA or URI; it’s about finding and financing the right school for each child.

Cristiana Quinn, M.Ed. is the founder of College Admission Advisors, LLC which provides strategic, college counseling and athletic recruiting services for students. www.collegeadvisorsonline.com.

This story originally ran in 2014


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