Welcome to College Confidential!

The leading college-bound community on the web

Sign Up For Free

Join for FREE, and start talking with other members, weighing in on community discussions, and more.

Also, by registering and logging in you'll see fewer ads and pesky welcome messages (like this one!)

As a CC member, you can:

  • Reply to threads, and start your own.
  • Post reviews of your campus visits.
  • Find hundreds of pages of informative articles.
  • Search from over 3 million scholarships.

How early do you start evaluating colleges?

bakeo2bakeo2 Registered User Posts: 2 New Member
Wanted to hear different perspectives from parents/kids on when they started looking at colleges and whether you felt it was too early/late. What were the key things that were time consuming and how did you narrow down so you weren't visiting 20 colleges all over the place?

Replies to: How early do you start evaluating colleges?

  • intparentintparent Registered User Posts: 36,147 Senior Member
    edited December 2018
    We started summer before junior year. Fiske Guide to Colleges and the net price calculators on each website are good for building a list. We mixed visits in with other trips/vacations starting summer before junior year.

    Testing with time allowed for retesting (and subject tests if needed) has a pretty long lead time; we tried to target completing testing by end of junior year, as that takes some pressure off in the fall and helps you finalize the list sooner.

    Essays in fall of senior year were more time consuming than I expected. Supplemental and a few scholarship essays made the list pretty long for my kids.

    One tip to start now is create a shared email box with your kid for all college emails, apps, etc. Then nothing slips through the cracks because your kid missed a key FA paperwork email or something like that.
  • allyphoeallyphoe Registered User Posts: 2,120 Senior Member
    My kid was anxious to get going, so gave me some criteria fall of her sophomore year, which I used to create a tentative list. Criteria at this point were pretty basic: affordable, not much larger than her enormous high school, not much less diverse than her enormous high school, test scores such that she was unlikely to be an extreme outlier. That actually narrowed it down surprisingly far. Later refinements included: doesn't require SAT subject tests ( 🙄 ), has a reputation for a collaborative rather than competitive culture, doesn't require a car, most students live on campus all four years, has a reasonable amount of sunshine (this was the worst one to work with, .

    Her high school requires one spring term "college and career" day for sophomores, and permits a second. She visited one local university from the list and did a travel-required scheduled open house at another. One felt almost too big; the other almost too small. Neither was sufficiently diverse. She discovered that she actually cared a whole lot about whether there was a drinking culture. She discovered that she doesn't prefer a pre-professional atmosphere.

    Fall break her junior year, she visited two women's colleges, decided that that was what she wanted, and plans to put in applications to the four she likes best. One of those four was an addition to the list based on reading the Fiske guide, so I second its usefulness. She would have done another 2-3 visits (other top two plus a mom's-choice safety) over junior year spring break, but chose to save the money for a pricey summer program. If funds permit, she wants to do overnights with additional classroom visits as a senior, but she has a low risk tolerance.

    The thing that she found most useful was classroom visits. At one school, she emailed professors and set up a day with four back-to-back classes that was her ideal "if I were in college right now, these are the classes I'd take" schedule. She got so much out of that that she wishes she'd done the same thing for the others. This was also useful in determining which schools didn't have enough course offerings - one school came off the list because the two classes she's most sure she wants to take have historically only been offered as one section each, in the same time slot.

    She needed an official ACT score for non-college purposes the summer before junior year, so had a test score early. It's possible she'll test again, but if she doesn't care, neither do I - 3 of her top 4 are test-optional, and she's in the 25th-75th range for all four. If I can successfully lobby for the mom's-choice safety, it has guaranteed merit for her current stats.

    From a timing perspective, summer visits would not have been helpful and there are a limited number of possible school-year visit dates. So having some plan by early junior year was good. My guess is that she's unlikely to change what she wants drastically over the next six months, but you never know.

    From a how to narrow things down perspective, delegating to mom's Excel wizardry made that pretty painless, and avoided the unhappiness of the unaffordable dream school. We have a good relationship and she had very quantifiable criteria that produced a good mix of safeties / matches / reaches.
  • SomeWhereNTheSkySomeWhereNTheSky Registered User Posts: 17 Junior Member
    edited February 11
    Not until the 1/4 of the way through my senior year. I missed the deadlines for my top school choice, and to rush for my next choices. I had no idea about early deadlines (my alternative high school was not helpful in this area). I was also the first one in my family to go to college. In hindsight I wish I would have started the process my junior year.
  • KnowsstuffKnowsstuff Registered User Posts: 2,448 Senior Member
    10th grade spring. We live in Chicago but have family in Michigan. My wife went to Michigan. So we planned a trip to go to lunch and walk around University of Michigan before heading to see family. Just walking around I saw a girl with blue hair and funky. I told my son she must be really smart. He asked how I knew. I told him besides having a Michigan backpack you have to be really smart to go here and gave him some stats. He had those stats and said with a little luck and a lot of hard work maybe one day you will go there. (that's where he's at)

    But first start at home which we did. I knew my daughter wanted small lac and he most likely wanted Big Ten. We took them to Northwestern for lunch and just walk around then for an information session. Really just like to get a feel for the size. Next up, University of Chicago for size, fit, feel. Then to University of Illinois. Now they had a clue what size, type of campus they would prefer. Next it was about the programs each offered, possible merit, fit /feel.

    My wife took my daughter on an east coast driving tour. They tried to make it fun and a. Chance to see the east coast and visit schools. They tried to make it more like a vacation per se.

    My son was more straight forward. We knew what he wanted to see and focused on larger schools. He saw a few more smaller schools.. Just in case.

    They both ended up in the environment that they each prefer.

    Excel spreadsheet for us to keep track of everything
    . Like everything went in there for easy comparison.
  • momofsenior1momofsenior1 Registered User Posts: 4,573 Senior Member
    We started the summer between sophomore and junior year. Left time to circle back to some of dd's top contenders.
  • MWolfMWolf Registered User Posts: 547 Member
    We kinda started between 9th and 10th grade. My wife was travelling for work to Cornell, NY and Boston in the summer between my kid's freshman and sophomore years, so my kid tagged along and joined campus tours of Cornell (she also sat in on a lecture there), Harvard, and MIT.

    We only started really looking at colleges in the during Junior year, but didn't really delve into them until the spring semester, when it was clear that my kid would have a good GPA. Before that we were figuring out which colleges had the right majors, how LGBTQ friendly they were, etc. We started looking at specific colleges only in the summer when my kid had her SAT scores and a new (and improved) GPA. We visited some Southern California colleges in the spring, when we were visiting relatives for Passover.

    At the beginning of Senior year it was full steam forward - creating the short list of colleges, figuring out which were safeties, matches, and reaches, the schedule for applications and visits, etc. We also started preparing the financial stuff, like FAFSA, financial plane, etc. By November of Senior year, my kids already had the application ready for non-binding EA, and for the college to which she wanted to submit a ED application.

    So - feelers in the summer between Freshman and Sophomore years, preliminary research in the early part of Junior year, long lists by the end of Junior year, short lists by the beginning of Senior year, and application process from the middle of the first semester of Senior year.

    While it's nice to get a feeling for what sort of school your kid would like, and this can be done as early as Sophomore year, it's difficult to know where a kid should be looking until the grades are in for Senior year (at least 1st semester), and after there are SAT scores.. My kid's GPA went up from Good to Within The Range For Top Schools over Junior year, and we were not sure how good her SAT would be, so the school we would have looked at at the end of Sophomore year and in Fall semester of Junior year would have been different than those we actually looked at. You can hope and work for better grades and a good SAT score, but you cannot plan on having them.

    Of course if your kid has more predictable grades, i.e., does not have fluctuations, and has done SATs early, it's possible to start making lists even earlier, which would also allow for more detailed research and visits to more places.

    So my feeling is that starting earlier than the spring semester of Sophomore year is too early, while late Fall Semester of Senior year is too late, but YMMV.
  • prezbuckyprezbucky Registered User Posts: 4,325 Senior Member
    When I went through this process (25ish years ago, to date myself), I started the summer before my senior year. I had a 3.8 unweighted with a tough sched and a 30 with no prep, Varsity in three sports, state honors choir, lord of the manor in our madrigal choir, etc. I graduated about 10th out of 175 and the only schools I considered were UW-Madison (everyone in my family went there - mom, dad, three grandparents, and sister followed two years after me...), Beloit College, Minnesota-Morris (i forget why... I had no idea it was a public LAC, only that it was small) and... Dartmouth. I didn't know much about Dartmouth but I liked the name and knew it was an Ivy, so why not, right? lol. Dartmouth *might* have been a bit of a reach.

    I only sent two apps, though, to UW and Beloit. I got into both and chose UW. It was really a one-school race for me.
  • washugradwashugrad Registered User Posts: 815 Member
    I'm on my 2nd kid of 3 (currently a junior - 3rd is a freshman).
    For us it seems to be - visit a school or two while we are traveling in 9th or 10th grade to start getting ideas of size, location, to get inspired, etc. Start getting more serious about a list during the first half of junior year and prioritize visits that can be made during the 2nd half of junior year to get that list narrowed down.
    My oldest wanted to stay on the west coast which made it easier to visit most of her schools prior to applying. Middle kid is more spread out and there are probably going to be several that don't get visited this spring that stay on the list. We'll have to see how things shake out after the spring break trip and how many of the schools that we actually do visit remain in the 'yes' column' at that point to see how many/which of the others get an application. Or whether we make a fall long weekend trip to somewhere like Minnesota.
  • ASKMotherASKMother Registered User Posts: 152 Junior Member
    First child... technically she started spring of Sophomore year when her high school took the IB 10th and 11th grade students to tour 2 colleges - Bham Southern and UAB. Then we went summer between Soph-Jr year on a tour of Vanderbilt, because we were in Nashville visiting family. Beginning of Jr year she made a list of things she thought she would want from her college experience (and things she didn't really care one way or another and things she did not want) and then I researched and made a list of schools I thought would be a match for her after running COA and looking into FinAid.

    This might seem kind of helicopter mom, but honestly she was in the heat of her IB Junior year with much academic activity (and stress) and only had time to research all the papers that were due (in addition to her ECs and volunteer work) and just didn't have time to be vetting colleges (much less know if we could afford them). On another note, she was already feeling at this time that in her 'adult life' she wanted to teach high school STEM (chemistry specifically) or possibly up to the college level, or become a education influencer regarding standards and policies or a counselor (still deciding). So I chose several schools specifically for the ability to follow a path to becoming a STEM educator or with strong STEM where she could then go on to get her MEd or had a MAT 5 program.

    Spring of her junior year we took advantage of the pre-scheduled out-of-school holidays ... we went back to Vandy for a Black&Gold Day on MLK Weekend (more in-depth than just the summer campus tour and got to hear a panel of Q&A from students and a few professors and a better snapshot of campus life), over Mardi Gras Break went drove over to visit Rice (where she not only toured but sat in on a class and ate lunch with a student), and finally I mapped out a plan, scheduled tour times and Mother-Daughter took off Spring Break of her Junior year on a 6 day/10 school driving tour through the southeast visiting: Furman, Wake Forest, Elon, UNC-Chapel, Duke, W&L, UVA, URichmond, Wm & Mary and Georgetown. On 2 other weekends we officially visited our in-state flagships Auburn and the University of Alabama (where she interviewed and was accepted to the Blount Scholars Program).

    By Fall of Senior year she knew exactly where she wanted to apply and what it would take in extra financial boost for each possibility (ie would need to apply to some outside scholarships). Overall she visited 16 schools and applied to 11 (5 EA - Furman, UNC-Chapel, UVA, URichmond, Bham Southern; 3 rolling - UAB, Auburn, UAlabama; and 3 RD - Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, Wm& Mary). She was denied to UNC-Chapel and deferred at Wake, but admitted to all others. We didn't apply anywhere ED because we just didn't trust the calculators enough to be financially bound (and she really didn't have one absolute favorite. She could still see herself at several schools!) Hope this helps someone!
  • Rivet2000Rivet2000 Registered User Posts: 751 Member
    We learned quite a bit with our S, so we feel much more confident with our D:

    - Summer before High school. Pre collegiate biotech program at a west coast college. She had a chance to learn and live in college environment.

    - HS Freshman year. Took PSAT. Accepted to a Pre collegiate program at an east coast college (more experience)

    So we'll continue pre collegiate programs at different schools so she can experience differences. Will start college tours combined with family vacations starting in sophomore summer. Will take PSAT sophomore year. Final PSAT/SAT test prep ramps beginning sophomore year as does developing a list of target schools. The only other long-lead activity is essay writing. Hope is to start that beginning of Junior year (we feel it's very important)
  • momocarlymomocarly Registered User Posts: 704 Member
    Starting out son knew what he wanted to major in and knew what type of college he wanted to go to. That helped narrow things down a lot! He wanted a college with a vet school or a very large animal science program, preferred a Land Grant college, large with good sports teams, an honors college and study abroad programs. He desired a polo team. (We ended up not getting that one) and to go OOS.

    In his sophomore year we went to the hs district's college fair just to get a quick feel for school's we hadn't really heard of. During this time we did some research on colleges and made a big list and then narrowing down to those he wanted to visit. We started actually looking at colleges the summer before his Jr. year. We visited three colleges that summer. This was too early. He felt out of place. He was not interested at that point and it caused more issues than not. He applied to two of the three but wasn't seriously considering them. We only really started that early because of the limit to days the student can take off each year for visits (3 days per year Jr. and Sr. year). His summers were booked with work except short periods of time. That was the most challenging for us. We didn't get to visit a couple of colleges that I thought would be good fits because of the school's limitations. All the places we were going involved flying or driving long ways.

    I wish we could have waited and visited end of Jr. year and summer before Sr. year. The school's we visited then were much more interested in him and he was much more interested in them.

    Total we visited 6 colleges and he applied and was accepted at 5 of them. All were financially reasonable but we went with the one that offered the best deal and that he felt happiest at.
Sign In or Register to comment.