When to Start Planning for College

At Accolade Financial we work with students and families of all ages, but want to share our best advice on when to start planning for college. It’s easy—the earlier you start, the better. You’ll save more money and be in better shape to be accepted to the school of your dreams.

Whether you’re aiming to attend an Ivy League school or head cross-country on your college adventure, starting to plan early is key. Your family will be in a stronger financial position and your academic profile will be more appealing. In our experience, beginning to think about college the summer before freshman year of high school is ideal.

Freshman Year

Freshman year begins a clean academic slate for you. Selecting the right courses is important, as is keeping up with your studies and grades. Colleges want to see students challenge themselves and succeed academically. At this point, you may not know what course of study you want to pursue in college, so you should enroll in courses across the academic spectrum to begin narrowing your focus. Additionally, now is the time to get involved in extracurricular activities, athletics, and volunteer opportunities.

Freshman year is also an ideal time to begin working with a college counselor—like those of us at Accolade Financial—to get your family’s finances in order. Getting into college is only half the battle; paying for it is the other.

Sophomore Year

High school sophomores should continue to challenge themselves with a rigorous academic schedule. By this point, you should begin to focus on careers and potential majors. It’s also a time to start brainstorming a list of colleges and sign up to receive material from them. By the time you complete sophomore year, you should start taking preparing for the PSAT, SAT, or ACT with a study schedule and practice tests.

Junior Year

Continue building upon the good work you’ve started in your freshman and sophomore years. In addition to continuing your academics and extracurricular activities at school, seek out an internship in a field you might want to pursue as a career. It will impress colleges and it will help you determine the right path for you. Additionally, continue preparing for the ACT and SAT which you will take the spring of junior year or the summer immediately following.

For your family, now is the time to really take a deep dive into the financial aid process. Soon you’ll be completing the FAFSA, applying for financial aid, and completing applications for both college and scholarships. If you’ve been working with a college planner along the way, there won’t be any surprises.

Senior Year

This is where your hard work over the last three years begins to pay off. A student with top grades, test scores, and a resume of extracurricular activities, volunteerism, and internships should consider applying early action or early decision to their colleges of choice. Continue your studies and re-take the SAT or ACT if your scores need a last minute boost.

Finalize your family’s finances and then work with Accolade Financial once you receive financial aid packages from the school you are accepted at. You’ve done the hard work and followed our guide of when to start planning for college. You’ve been accepted and ready to start a new adventure. Celebrate!