When’s the Right Time to Start Looking at Colleges?

The School Search Part 1: When’s the “Right” Time to Start Looking at Colleges?

Parents generally ask this question during our first college counseling meeting. Followed quickly by these two:

“Should we begin touring now?”

“Are we LATE?”

First, a moment of reassurance: You’re not late.

Second, there’s a practical and an emotional answer to all three questions which depend on your student’s reaction to the idea of applying to college.

Is your Junior:

None of the above?
All of the above?

I’ve had students who’ve been talking about college since I worked with them on their high school application essays. On the extreme other hand, I’ve had students who preferred to forgo campus tours, both online and in-person, and apply to the college list their counselors and parents curated for them. They didn’t engage in The College Search at all.

“It’s a lot of work,” says one Junior I’m working with. She’s referring to the master juggling act she’s performing: APs, two languages, three-seasons of sports teams, school newspaper and test prep. Oh, and now, she says, “I’ve got to add the College Search.” She does know she wants to attend a four-year university with “a ton of spirit.”

Practically, if your high schooler’s game, it’s not a bad idea to begin looking at schools during the spring of Junior Year. Emotionally, it’s a good idea to take cues from your student and support their feelings about when they’d like to start touring, which, as mentioned above, may be never. These answers may seem oxymoronic and here’s a bit of insight into why:

Leaving Home’s a Big Deal

Not only is going to college a significant financial investment for most families, it’s also a rite of passage in terms of maturity. In the pantheon of “firsts,” matriculating to a four-year university is up there with first-step or first-word in terms of the WOW factor. It can make students and families simultaneously proud and weepy. While sleepovers and camp outings have prepared most high schoolers for the tactical aspects of leaving home, nothing quite prepares a family for the many reverberations that follow the freshman orientation drop-off. When I meet with families to discuss College Counseling, I make sure we acknowledge the personal journey a student and their family’s embarking on when they begin the college search conversation. That element — the fact that a student’s about to leave home and un-suction cup from their familial support system — often gets overshadowed by test scores, class rank, community service work, art portfolios, sports recruits, financial aid, and geographic and demographic preferences.

No Two Students Are Alike

While this concept seems obvious, many families assume that if their friend’s child was excited to begin college touring then their own child will be eager too. The notion that visiting colleges may calm one student and agitate another is hard to fathom. One mother drove nine hours to Maine to have her son “choose” to stay in the car and do homework while she went on the tour. Takeaway? Take cues from your child and remember that what they want to do one day, may change the next. #thesearemercurialtimes

Make It Fun

A father just told me that he was looking forward to taking his daughter to Preservation Hall after their Tulane University tour; neither of them had ever been to New Orleans so they were converting a tour weekend into a mini-vacation. When devising college trip itineraries for families, I paraphrase the old Greyhound Bus tagline and say, Have fun and leave the stress to me.

As always, please drop me a line at Elizabeth@eecollegecoach.com or give me a holler at 917-863-2424 with any questions regarding Essay Coaching or College Counseling. Also, check out my Facebook page for “news you can use.”


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