When I started thinking about the topic, “when to start…” I was curious about what people search in regard to this phrase. I opened an incognito window in chrome, so as not to have my search history influence this experience, and typed in, “when to start…” The results were all over the place. Everything from, “when to start brushing your baby’s teeth,” to “when to start dating,” to, “when to start applying for colleges.”
What I learned from this is that people have a lot of questions about timing. There are a lot of pressures about timelines and when to begin planning for big life events. Rather than trying to conquer the overall question of timing and preparation, I’m going to tackle planning for college.
When to start visiting colleges:
I remember going to visit the University of Texas at Austin with my mom the summer before my sophomore year in high school. Although I was admittedly young, this trip was really important and formative for me. It helped motivate me towards the goal of attending a good college after high school. Over the next three years, my plans for college drastically evolved, but I still credit this trip for focusing my high school career and motivating me to strive for success.
When to start applying for colleges:
I encourage you to do early applications to a few different schools. This allows you adequate planning time. I sent in my applications in the fall of my senior year of high school. I received my acceptance package from DePaul two days before Christmas that year. This gave me six months to plan for my move, think about dorms and roommates, and research the university and city to which I would be moving. Aside from practical planning, this gave a lot of time for scholarships to come through and for my family to plan on loans and payment plans to cover the remaining tuition. It was really helpful to have ¾ of a year to plan for these things.
When to start declaring a major:
This one has more of a gray area in my opinion. I went into college with the major that I graduated with. Many of my friends were undeclared or chose a general concentration and specified later. I think that there were benefits to both, but I will say I graduated faster than others who waited to declare because I didn’t take extra classes. Generally, I believe it is alright to take general education classes and a few specific classes as electives for your freshman year, with the intention of declaring a major going into sophomore year. Waiting beyond this point can mess up your credits and delay your graduation date. That being said, do your research before going into college so that you have a general idea of what you are pursuing.
Overall, it’s a good idea to give yourself plenty of time to plan ahead. It’s not hard to book tours of colleges in your area. Even if you have to travel, it’s worth it to start thinking about the future now. This will position you to have a strong, more thoughtful application that could have further effects on scholarships and acceptance. It never hurts to think about the future; when to start is today.