If you have a high schooler in ninth, tenth, or eleventh grade, applying to college can constantly be in the back of your mind. Especially at this time of year when high school seniors are celebrating college acceptances and your child’s standardized tests and spring grades are right around the corner. Private college counselors often encourage college planning to start in ninth grade, but it can feel premature. In tenth grade, discussing college applications, may easily generate more anxiety in your child than productivity. Eleventh grade seems like the right time to dive deeply into college application prep, but the year is already filled with pressure to achieve “high” grades and test scores.
So which grade is the best time to prepare for college applications? The answer is, all of the above. It’s impossible to prevent anxiety completely while applying to college, but a little planning can go a long way in managing the process overall.
In ninth grade and tenth grade, take two important steps regarding standardized tests. Register your child to take the PSAT and a practice version of the ACT with applicable accommodations, but without studying. This will show you which test best suits your child. If your child has learning differences, he or she may several months to prepare for standardized tests. You may want to consider beginning weekly prep sessions in the summer after tenth grade and registering for tests in the fall, winter and spring of eleventh grade.
You should also meet briefly with your child’s school counselor in ninth grade and tenth grade to plan which classes he or she will take all the way through graduation. SAT Subject Tests should be taken the same spring your child is enrolled in the corresponding classes, which could be as early as 10th grade.
The time to consider what type of college experience will best meet your child’s learning and social needs is in eleventh grade. A college advisor can expand your options and help narrow your choices. This meeting, and taking the SAT or ACT, are about all the college-related tasks your child can reasonably handle. Even then, it might be too much, if your child is highly stressed, shift these tasks to the summer. It is helpful to have all tests taken before twelfth grade, but it’s not a requirement. Preparing for, and completing, college applications should not make your child dislike school.
During the summer between eleventh and twelfth grade, it’s time to hit the ground running. This is when you should ramp up the focus on applications: draft common application essays and state college prompts. Good writing needs time to be well-written and well-edited. Finalize which colleges your child will actually apply to, confirm when their applications open, and when their applications are due. Then, mark your calendars to set aside blocks of time each week to work on college applications. Plan to submit applications at least two weeks before the official deadline. Doing this will avoid help you avoid any site crashes (which happens on deadline dates as everyone scrambles to submit on time) and allow for a little extra time to complete the applications if needed.
You’ll find there are a variety of spreadsheet templates online you can use to track application materials and submissions. Even if you are an impeccable record-keeper, give yourself a few days to review each application in its entirety with your child. The submit button can only be pressed once. When you and your child are ready to submit, throw on some music, and enjoy the moment. This is an exciting milestone in your child’s life and it should be celebrated.
Rachel Fisher, MA