Of course the answer can vary but students generally should start the first stages of the college process as high school freshman. As freshman, students need to be aware of the courses they are taking in high school and be aware that most colleges consider grades from all four years of high school. I have started students as early as 7th grade and we have found that there are many ways to prepare them even at this early age!
The majority of families, however, wait until the last moment to start college preparations. By "last minute" I mean right after the senior high-school year has begun. This manages to compress the whole college selection and admission process into about three-to-four months. Those weeks just fly by during the senior year. There are so many activities going on during the fall that most students have difficulty keeping up with class work, let alone the stressful college process.
Most colleges look at the academic courses taken in high school as the biggest factor in deciding who will be admitted. Ideally, students should consider taking four years of classes in the five academic areas of English, math, social studies, science and foreign languages. In deciding which classes to take in each of these areas the student should try to challenge themselves while being reasonable in their capabilities. If a student is not as strong in math, for instance, pushing to get through calculus may not be necessary. On the other hand, if the student is an aspiring engineer, not having calculus will be a serious impediment to that goal.
Since colleges prefer to see four years of the study in the academic subjects, planning your course work as an incoming freshman is necessary. For those students who may be considering a selective college, it is even more important to have four years of study in each of the five academic subjects.
Students considering selective colleges should also be considering whether they should be taking SAT Subject Tests and if so when. If your high school offers biology as a freshman then taking one of the Biology Subject Tests may be appropriate at the end of freshman year.
It is important for you to know that at Parros College Planning our Promise Package offers the same price whether you start as a freshman or senior so there is no reason to wait!