When should a family start planning for college?


College will be a significant chapter in your student’s life that will set them up for a successful future. In other words, it’s kind of a big deal. As a family, you’ll have lots of decisions to make before your student starts college. But it doesn’t have to feel overwhelming — just take them one at a time. Let’s start with these common questions.

When should your student make the decision to go to college?

Some students know all their lives that they’ll be going to college and others decide during high school. Your student should decide at least by their senior year of high school. So they’ll have time to explore and apply to colleges they’re interested in, but earlier is better. There’s a lot to consider and prepare for before your student chooses, applies to and enrolls in a college, so the more time they have to complete the entire process, the less stress they’ll have and the better decisions they’ll make. 

How can your student pick the best college?

When your student starts narrowing down colleges, it helps to focus on the availability and  quality of their desired program at each school. They should also consider a school’s location and financial aid packages. Is it generous? Will they qualify? And be sure to tour the campus with your student so they can get a real picture of what it will be like to go there.

Though most colleges have many similarities, each one is unique, offering varying academic programs, research opportunities, career services, student support services, sizes and campus life.

What if they know they want to go to college, but aren’t sure what they want to study?

Many students don’t know what they want to major in when they start college. And many also end up changing their major at least once, or several times. College is all about exploring, and that includes exploring majors. To get your student thinking about what interests them, encourage them to try this simple major and career quiz.

Should your student go to college out of state?

The next logical decision is, in state or out of state? Maybe your student is looking to get their first real taste of freedom away from home or searching for a different climate. Though going to college out of state can make sense for some students, there’s a lot to consider before making the decision. First is cost. At most colleges, nonresidents pay more than residents. And your family will have to factor in flights or gas for your student’s trips back home. If finances are a concern for your family, your student should ask if the out-of-state college they’re considering offers something unique that they just can’t get from a college in your home state.

How important are grades to getting into college?

College admission is, in part, based on your student’s high school GPA, because schools want to make sure they’re capable of succeeding. So grades are important. They should shoot for at least a 3.00 GPA.

Will a job help with college expenses?

If your student plans to work during college, it’s a good idea to start looking for a job now and begin saving money to help pay college expenses. Students who work up to 20 hours per week are more likely to do better in college. And before they accept any job, they should talk to the employer about their plans for college and work out their availability during the semester.

Should your student be taking college prep classes?

Taking AP or honors courses in high school can help your student get ahead before they even start college, as well as prepare them for the type of coursework they’re going to have in college. So taking advanced placement classes can help them prepare particularly if they can maintain their GPA. Remember they can still be admitted to college without taking AP classes. 

Do they need to take college prep tests?

Some colleges require test scores for admission, while others use ACT and SAT scores to determine merit scholarship award amounts. Your student can take the ACT or SAT any time starting their freshman year of high school. They can even take the PreACT or PSAT first to be better prepared for the official test version used for admission decisions. Although not required for admission, they may also be required to take a math placement exam before starting college so they’re placed at the appropriate math level.