“Early” is a somewhat relative term.

For some, starting college counseling early means one week before the application deadline. For others, a year or even earlier in advance.

man at computerWhat I mean by “early” when it comes to the college counseling process is considering college requirements at the very beginning of high school, which generally is grade 9 for most students in the United States.

But is that not a bit too early? – Not at all.

Because starting college counseling early does NOT mean …

  • Actually applying to college
  • Working on getting application papers filled out
  • Deciding on a college list
  • Or studying for standardized tests

What does it comes down to?

It is certainly not about racing ahead to get the application process over before everyone else does at your school.

Some people think that only students who are “shooting high” and aspiring to get admitted to a prestigious university need to get started early with the process, while regular students can just relax. But that is a myth. Starting early is not just a strategy for getting into highly selective colleges.

The bottom line is that starting the college counseling process early is important for every student who aspires to go to college directly from high school and even for those who are thinking about transferring into a four-year school from a community college.

Why Is Starting Early a Good Idea?

Some students undertake the college application process without thinking much about it. Only when they get denied by schools they would like to attend, do they look back on their steps. And often, they are left with a lingering feeling of uncertainty:

If they had just known beforehand exactly what they had to do to get into a specific school, might the outcome have been different?

Starting college counseling early can help prevent potential regret in the future. You would be spared the thought that, perhaps, if you had done one thing in particular, something better could have happened. Of course, that is not to say that you would not still stand the chance of being denied entrance to a dream college. But if you are, regret regarding the things you did not do would not add to your disappointment.

Two things, especially, simply cannot wait until the end of the college application process.

1. Approach high school with your best effort, getting the best grades you are capable of. That starts at the beginning of high school. Develop study habits, choose the right courses, and have the right attitude toward school.

2. Start the multi-year process of building a strong track record of extracurricular achievements that will truly stand out on a college application. As with other things in life, achievements do not happen quickly. It takes time. In fact, preparation for your college application takes about 3 – 3 ½ years of building a track record. Do interesting things over time that show improvement and commitment.

What Is There to Talk About When Starting the Process Early?

For some, 9th grade just seems so far off from high school graduation. But there are already many things to discuss at that time that play into the college application process later on.

Four of the most important topics I like to consider with students are:

1. Getting acclimated to high school academics

Even for the sharpest and most academically-minded students, transitioning to high school can be hard. It is a different environment and teachers expect more from you. Plus, you may be struggling with other adjustments common to your age group. Starting high school on the right foot is important.

2. Understanding that grades matter from the first semester of high school onward

It is true, a small portion of colleges do not count grades from the first year of high school. But since you do not know to which colleges you will eventually apply, you cannot simply write off grade 9. And even if you apply to those schools which do not count these early grades, the work you do in grade 9 still prepares you for the work ahead. So, if you do not give your best, you will likely not do your best later on.

3. Making the best course choices from the start

You must grasp the fact that the classes you choose early on, and the effort you put into them, may determine what advanced courses you will or will not be able to enroll in later in high school. These consequences are not a small matter. In many high schools, you must proceed in a certain order through academic levels. You may not be allowed to take specific advanced courses if you have not completed the fundamental classes that lead up to them. Understanding what your school requires and limits, as well as what you have under your own control, is very important.

4. Building a strong extracurricular profile

This is probably the most crucial advantage that early college counseling provides. While you may not pursue extracurricular activities in earnest at grade 9, exploring what you are interested in, figuring out what you can do realistically, and learning to think ambitiously enough is really important. If you start planning early enough, you can build a strong extracurricular profile during high school. By the time you are ready to apply to college, you will have significant achievements to include in your application.

If you are looking for more information about college counseling, please contact me. As an Independent Educational Consultant, I have successfully guided many students and their families through this important decision-making process.