Is Freshman Year Too Early to Start College Planning?
How young is too young? We’ve all seen the headlines about children being groomed for elite colleges starting in preschool, and for most of us, this sounds excessive. At the same time, it’s well-known that you should start preparing for college well in advance of your application deadlines. It can be hard to tell at what age, exactly, you should start to seriously plan your approach to attending college.
Is your freshman year of high school too early to get started? Simply put, no. While some parts of the college planning process must be reserved for later, there’s nothing wrong with starting early. In fact, beginning to think about college during your freshman year of high school can significantly help you to achieve your college goals.
Read on for more information and CollegeVine’s expert advice about what you can do to prepare for college and set yourself up for future success during your freshman year of high school.
The benefits of starting early
Starting the college planning process early will give you the best possible chance to build up a compelling applicant profile, compose a competitive and well-thought-out application, and eventually get accepted to a college that’s a great fit for you.
When you actually apply to college, you’ll generally be asked to provide your grades and extracurricular details for grades 9 through 12. Colleges may not be the most concerned with your performance during your freshman year, as we discuss in our CollegeVine blog post “A Guide to Freshman and Sophomore Years.” However, your performance this year will still be entered into consideration.
What this means for you is that by the time you enter high school, you should have started to think about college. You don’t have to get everything right your first year, but you do need to build a strong foundation so that you’ll have many options available to you later in high school.
If you delve into college planning during your freshman year, you’ll find that there is plenty of work that can be done in advance. Even if you can’t start certain processes quite yet— for instance, it’s too early to actually submit an application— you can educate yourself about what to expect later on and ensure that your records are well-organized to give yourself a leg up once your application season begins. Below, we’ll go over a few concrete steps you can take your freshman year to set yourself up for success later on.
Take your schoolwork seriously and make an effort to get good grades
. If you maintain a high GPA during your freshman year, you have the potential to build a multi-year record of high academic performance.
Choose your classes carefully.
This will ensure that you are well-prepared to take the most challenging courses available to you later in high school.
Get involved with extracurriculars.
Having a record of sustained involvement over several years will be important to your college applications. Starting early is essential if you eventually want to take on leadership roles in an extracurricular group. However, you don’t have to stick with every activity that you try out during your freshman year— this is a time for exploration and trying new things.
Build a relationship with your guidance counselor.
A counselor who has known you for some time will be able to write a more personal recommendation letter for your college applications, or offer advice that’s better tailored to your needs.
Build relationships with your teachers.
Your teachers in your first year of high school generally won’t be writing college recommendation letters for you; when you get to that point, you’ll need to request letters from teachers who have taught you more recently. Still, it’s a good idea to start developing your abilities at effectively engaging with your teachers.
Learn everything you can about the college application process.
In the case of college admissions, knowledge really is power. The more you know about the college application process, the easier it will be for you to handle what can be a complicated and stressful part of your educational career. Becoming familiar with the admissions world in your freshman year of high school will give you time to learn its ins and outs before you actually have to apply.
Obviously, there are some parts of the college planning and application process that can’t be completed, or even begun, during your freshman year of high school. Below, we’ll go over the tasks that you can and should get started on during your freshman year, as well as those that you should reserve for later in your high school career.
What should I do during my freshman year to prepare for college?
- Make a plan for what classes to take in high school. Make sure that you’ll meet or exceed your requirements for graduation as well as colleges’ standards.
- Get on the right track academically. Take challenging courses that are appropriate for your academic level as well as prerequisites for more advanced courses.
- Get involved in extracurricular activities and start building your activity profile so that you’ll be prepared to take on leadership roles later.
- Draft and regularly update your resume. Keep a running record of important dates, accomplishments, and contact information for bosses or advisors.
- Start researching colleges that sound interesting to you. Take notes on what you like and dislike about them in order to narrow down your college choices.
- Educate yourself about the costs of attending college. Identify your family’s resources, explore your potential financial aid eligibility, and start saving up money yourself.
- Research scholarships, and apply to any that allow you to apply as a freshman in high school. (A number of these do exist!)
- Look for meaningful summer activities that will contribute to your goals and allow you to develop your interests. You’ll have more options now that you’re in high school.
What shouldn’t I do during my freshman year to prepare for college?
- Don’t take the SAT or ACT yet. Usually, you’ll take these tests no earlier than your junior year, and there’s no real benefit to starting this early. If you wait, you’ll have more time to prepare, and you’ll almost certainly do better. If you’re curious about how well you would score as a freshman, take a practice test.
- Don’t take highly advanced courses if they’re well above your academic ability level—it’s not worth it, and if you get a bad grade, they’ll have hurt you more than helped you. Challenge yourself, but also keep in mind that everyone needs to work their way up to higher-level courses. Instead, focus on prerequisites so that you have a strong foundation in the subject.
- Don’t actually start your college applications. In fact, most application systems simply won’t allow you to do so. Besides, application questions, submission procedures, and essay prompts may change from year to year. Even if you apply Early Decision or Early Action, your year’s application won’t be available until the fall of your senior year of high school. For now, just gather and organize important information for later use.
- Don’t make any final or irreversible decisions about college, including which colleges you will or won’t consider, where you will and won’t apply, and what major you’ll pursue. You need to have goals in place, but as you learn and grow in high school, you also need to be flexible. Below, we’ll talk a bit more about switching gears once you’ve already started the college planning process.
If I start planning for college this early, what happens if I change my mind later on?
Changing your mind is a normal and expected part of the college planning process. Even students who are already attending college routinely switch majors or develop new goals. College students may even reconsider where they want to attend school, which is why transfer admissions procedures exist.
No one expects you to have your entire life figured out by the age of 14 or 15. The plans you make during your freshman year of high school are meant to be changed and adjusted over time as you discover more about yourself and your passions. Again, it’s important to set goals when planning for college, but it’s equally important to modify these goals as you learn more about what you want out of college.
As you research colleges, you’ll learn more about what kind of college you’d like to attend, and this new information may lead you to reconsider your original plans. The same is true of your academic and career interests— you may discover that, for example, the career path for your favorite field is not as attractive to you as you’d thought.
Making a significant change in direction can come with challenges, especially given that colleges like to see applicants who have achieved depth as well as breadth in pursuit of their interests. However, colleges also understand that your teenage years are a time of great personal growth, and you won’t be penalized just for changing your focus.
Starting the college planning process early gives you more opportunities to change your mind without having to scramble to come up with a new plan by the application deadline. Giving yourself time to make, research, and discard different goals for your future will allow you to make more informed decisions about what you’re looking for in a college.
Nothing is set in stone yet during your freshman year. This is a time of growth and change, and you’re actively encouraged to explore new interests and develop new plans over the course of high school. However, putting in some planning time and effort right now can ensure that you’re well-prepared for whatever the future brings.
Are you a newly-minted high school student who could use some help getting started with the process of planning for college? CollegeVine can help. Our mentors don’t just provide assistance with college applications— they can also help you define your interests, become a confident leader, and set yourself up for future success in the classroom and beyond.
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