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College Corner: When to Start Planning

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As an educational consultant, I am frequently asked by parents, “when is the right time to start the college planning process for my child?” Of course, everyone has beliefs about when it is too early, but I often meet parents who worry they are too late.

And while planning early helps set students up for success, getting a late start limits a student’s options because they won’t have had time to do a thorough review and to know what feels right for them.

In my experience, it’s generally a good idea to start planning for college as eighth grade ends and just before ninth grade begins. 

There are a myriad of considerations when choosing a college. Starting early allows parents and students to review all their options thoroughly and helps students develop an attractive profile for the colleges that interest them. It also allows for additional time to save and to consider the financial aid and scholarship options available.

Touring a college in person is invaluable. The COVID pandemic was both a blessing and a curse for families when it came to selection; on the one hand it severely restricted our ability to visit colleges in person, but on the other, almost all schools now have a robust virtual presence that enable students to get to know them. Before the pandemic, virtual tours and information sessions weren’t the standard. I often tell my clients that college shopping today is like buying a prom dress. First, we go online and evaluate all options, then we try them on for the best fit. Virtual events and opportunities make this process so much more accessible.

When I meet a student heading into high school, I aim to get to know them and understand who they are and what interests them. Their college profile starts to build itself. The student may be an athlete, an entrepreneur, or a volunteer. Whatever they do, those characteristics and passions shine through pretty early, and it’s essential to help each student play to their strengths when it comes to building their college resume.

Students and parents often overlook the influence that course selection (which happens at the end of each grade) has on their college profile. High school is a big transition, and thinking about the future can be scary for some students. But, the way I see it, knowledge is power, and by starting the discussion early, I can help students and their parents set themselves up for success.

What worries me is the pressure on kids to Do Everything. They think they need to get good grades, volunteer for everything, and play every sport available. This is a dangerous myth that can lead to burnout, and it is wholly unnecessary. The right way to approach the college process is to understand what drives the student and what they’re genuinely interested in and where their passions lie. From there, students can select the courses and activities that set them up for success in college and beyond. 

Christine Chapman of Chapman Education in Hopkinton, MA

Christine Chapman is the founder of Chapman Education, based in Hopkinton, MA. Since 1995, she has guided more than 3,000 students and families through the private school and college admissions processes. She works closely with students and their families to help them secure the best educational fit.

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