While applying to college -- let alone actually going -- may seem far away, now is the time to start planning, preparing, and gearing up, way before the madness of the senior year of high school.

So, what can high school juniors (and, in many instances, sophomores), and their parents, start to do now to get ready for the college application and admissions process?

Well, here is a short “To Do” list to get the ball rolling:

-Check out the college planning calendar to get an idea of where you should be on your high school timeline. Even high school freshmen can get in on this one!

-Think about what electives you should take next year. Remember, colleges are looking for that rigorous course load as well as good grades. Consider Honors classes, college level courses offered at the high school for college credit, and, of course, an AP course or two.

-Get involved. Extracurriculars, including clubs, after school activities, sports, music and community service (among other volunteer experiences), are not only good for mind, body and/or soul, they also look good on your resume. After all, colleges want to know that you are more than grades and scores. Think consistency and commitment to your activities, rather than just numbers. Dedication counts!

-Plan to take the ACT and SAT early in the Spring semester of your Junior year.Take each test once. Then retake the test you score higher on. After that, leave it alone! [Sophomores should take the PSAT in the fall of their Sophomore year, or as offered by the high school.]

Taking the SAT early in the game takes much of the pressure off students, thus relieving anxiety and stress, as well as freeing up the fall for other important pre-college activities, such as actually applying to college.

If you have concerns over time management, test focus, or subject matter content, by all means, retain the services of a qualified tutor. Remember, though, that the best prep for the ACT and SAT is practice, practice, practice, practice!

-Begin to think about colleges that would be a good fit for you. Keep in mind, it’s not all about academics -- or that rah, rah factor. There’s campus size and location, diversity of the student body, course offerings, opportunities for internships and study abroad, and, of course, the firmness of that mattress in the dorm room as well as the quality of the food in the dining halls. Check out websites such as collegedata.com,niche.college, and College Raptor.

Yes, look at the rankings in U.S. News & World Report and the Princeton Review, but take them with an extremely large grain of salt. The “best” college on the list is not necessarily what would be best for you!

-Set up an email account just for college stuff. Don’t let important emails from colleges, scholarships, and the like go dirtectly to junk or disappear among the many emails you receive, delete, or are lost in cyberspace. Create a unique acount that you will use -- and actually read -- for everything related to college. [Something simple works best, such as, FirstNameLastName1998@gmail.com.] Then, always read your emails!

-Start searching -- and applying for -- college scholarships! Yes, it is never too early to look for (and get your hands on) free money for college. Indeed, if the best time to start saving for college is right out of the womb (think 529 Plan), the best time to start your search for money to pay for college is early on in your high school career [and well before the crazed rush of your senior year.]

There are many colleges scholarship opportunities available for high school juniors, and while fewer for sophomores and freshmen, they are out there for the picking.

Not all that many juniors -- and certainly, far fewer sophomores and freshmen -- will be applying, so the odds improve for winning those scholarships. You’ll also get into the habit of actively searching and applying for that free money, which is something you should be doing until that last tuition bill arrives in the mailbox!

Check out FastwebNiche, and Chegg, for starters.

-Create an account at Common App. Common App is presently home to more than 500 college applications. And while it is likely to be tweaked over the next year or so (and hopefully debugged of the many issues that have plagued it during the application season), this is a great opportunity to test drive the application, see what kinds of questions are being asked, look at essay prompts and college supplements, and simply play around on the interface, without fear of messing up, or the pressure of having to submit.

Creating an account and registering is free, and don’t worry, your entire account will be deleted in July (before Common App goes “live” for the next crop of college applicants on August 1), so there will be no trace of your adventures come time for the real deal!

-Visit colleges -- virtually. In this age of cyber-everything, there is really no need to pack up the car for a college visit road trip as you begin to think about where you might like to apply. [There will be plenty of time to do that later.] 

Simply visit -- and tour -- colleges online through such sites as CampusTours.com,eCampusTours.com, and YouniversityTV.com. Heck, you may even be able to sit in on a virtual class. And the best part is, you don’t even have to get out of your PJs! [Not that you were planning on that, anyway... :-)]

-Build Your High School Resume. Yes, create a Resume of everything you have done, academically, extracurricularly, creatively, and otherwisely throughout your high school career. Use the Resume builder (in the About Me section) on Naviance, and create a personalized Resume in Word format for attachment to your college applications.

-Get to know your Guidance Counselor. Once the frenzy of college admissions passes for this year’s seniors, stop by Guidance. Introduce yourself. Make it known that you plan on going to college and would like their expert advice, support, and, well, guidance. Your Guidance Counselor is an excellent college resource. Take full advantage!

-Scroll through College Connection’s College Cafe. A wealth of informative and essential websites and interesting reading relative to college applications and admissions, scholarships, and so forth. Updated regularly, the site is the perfect “where to” addition to your college plan.

Attend A FREE College Planning WorkshopFor high school juniors, sophs, and, yes, even freshmen (as well as their parents), eager to plan the journey along the long and winding road to college.

-Speak and meet with your friendly, independent college advisor[That would be me, The College Whisperer™:-] If you’ve got college plans, you need a sure-fire college plan. That’s where I come in. The guidance and support you need, when you need it. Up close and personal. In-person and Internet. Face Time and Skype. Phone and Email. Perhaps even a smoke signal, or two. [Smoke signal rates may apply! smiley-surprised.gif] There to help you successfully navigate the road to college!

 You’re ahead of the game, far from the madding crowd that hasn’t given college a second thought. Time is on your side. Steady as you go! 
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Plan. Prepare. Prevail!

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Free College Planning Workshop April 28