When should I start planning for college?

The earlier you start the process, the better, as it gives you time to think about what you want your high school experience to be like and how you might contribute in and out of the classroom both in high school and in college. What classes interest you? What extracurricular activities have you always wanted to do? Building a foundation for college begins as early as your freshman year and the choices you make then will determine to some extent the options you have for college.

Select your high school courses with the goal of building a strong academic foundation for college.

I’m often asked what courses students should take in high school, including the number of Advanced Placement classes I recommend. Building that strong foundation for college means challenging yourself as much as possible while still leaving room in your schedule to be involved in activities which interest you, whether they be community service, sports, student government, theater, music, debate, or other clubs your school offers. Colleges vary with regard to the high school courses they recommend, but overall, they’re interested in students who take a rigorous program in light of what their high school offers. For example, a strong student attending a high school which offers ten Advanced Placement courses and the student takes one of them is looked upon differently than a similar student at a comparable high school who is taking four or five APs.

While many students enter college undecided about their major, applicants who know they want to major in a STEM field should take the highest level math and science courses their high school offers. Similarly, applicants intending to major in a foreign language and study abroad in college should take four years of their preferred language in high school. Admissions officers prefer students who have prepared themselves for the academic demands of college by challenging themselves over applicants who have simply taken enough high school credits to graduate.

A good place to start is with a college planning calendar.

Create a new email address for all your college stuff. I never did that and my inbox was constantly cluttered and I had a difficult time sorting through college stuff and other things since it was all clumped together. I think it might be better to have a separate email account for everything college.


One of the things we did was to have weekly family college meetings where mom, dad, and daughter sat down and discussed where we were in the process, what needed doing etc. We found this a way to contain the anxiety and talk so at dinner we could discuss things happening at school and other topics less loaded than college.

—A Parent


Thank you for helping his star shine through! Every cent well worth it and I wish I had listened to my mom when Thank you, Wendy, for all your help and support! It definitely helped alleviate the anxiety to start filling out the app early, and we really valued your counsel.