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Is It Ever Too Early (Or Too Late) To Start Planning For College?

Dear parents,

If you’re one of our regular readers, you’ve probably guessed that, once again, the answer to this question is: yes and no.  

“Yes and no” is never an entirely satisfying answer, but one of my core beliefs is that, when it comes to college admissions, questions are best answered on a case-by-case basis.  There are no universal prescriptions or magic formulae.

Is first grade too early?  Yes.

You may laugh, but trust me when I say there are plenty of families with tiny children who are worried that if they are not accepted to the right early education programs, their kids will never get into Stanford.  

I assume that if you’re reading this you do not have a first grader.  If you do, my advice would be to stop thinking about college and go read your kid a few chapters of The B.F.G., The Wind in the Willows, or The Phantom Toll Booth.  Something from the 21st century would probably work just as well—it’s been a while since I was read to.

Of course, you could call all this college advice, since I promise you that reading to your kids will benefit them greatly in all things academic, and in many more important ways.


Is middle school too early?  Maybe.

As a general rule, we don’t begin working with students until junior high at the very earliest.  In rare cases, we will work with younger, exceptionally precocious kids.  But the kind of educational coaching we do with certain sixth graders, for instance, is less about college and more about helping young students explore and develop their intellectual passions.  Again, this kind of work is reserved for kids who have an authentic, self-generated hunger for academic and/or extracurricular stimulation.

If your middle school student doesn’t feel challenged in school, and if you find that you are in need of guidance when it comes to satisfying their desire for intellectual challenge outside of school, professionals like ourselves may be able to help.  Otherwise, encourage your middle schoolers to read.  If they can learn to love to read, they will become good writers.  If, by the time they are in high school, they are competent readers and writers, the rest will fall into place.

Junior high and ninth grade are essential.

Grades seven through nine are very important years.  Students at these stages should be exploring their talents and interests in meaningful ways.  Now is the time to sign up for that computer programming summer camp if your kid expresses an interest (or the volleyball camp, the theatre camp, etc.).  Encourage your kids to follow their interests.  

Not all of their activities will end up panning out, and that’s fine.  Now is a good time for students to begin to get a sense of what makes them tick, and figuring out where their passions lie will take some experimenting.

Ideally, a student will have a fairly good sense of what his academic and extracurricular strengths and interests are by the end of ninth grade.  The reason for this has nothing to do with developmental psychology and everything to do with how admissions officers read applications.  Admissions committees want to see continuity and commitment over time.  

Whether we’re talking about the high school transcript, the activities list on the Common App, or a supplemental essay, academic and extracurricular endeavors are always most impressive when they span three or four years.  Students who can figure out early on what they want to pursue throughout high school have a serious advantage.

Is it ever too late to plan for college?

You guessed it: yes and no.  There is always good work that can be done, particularly with the help of a professional.  But if your son or daughter is planning on applying to college in the fall and hasn’t given the process any thought until now, I’d certainly encourage him or her to get a move on!

And as always, if you need help, that’s why college admissions consultants are here, so please don’t hesitate to reach out.

All the best,

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