When’s the “Best Time” to start college planning?

Yesterday, I spoke to more than 100 Chinese-Americans about the college essay (what did you do this weekend?).  I headlined before the next speaker, who delivered her talk on financial aid…in Mandarin.

Side note:  I still don’t know how you translate “FAFSA.”

Side note #2:  the guy in charge of the venue, the VFW in Albertson, told me that he rented it out to a Korean church Saturday morning and a group of Muslims the day before. So many jokes…

Back to my point. At the end of the event, several families came up to me with questions, including one of the most common ones:  When is the best time to start?

(I know there’s another joke there, but nothing could be as funny as my ACTUAL college prep meeting with a Chinese dad and his daughter last week, who sat there coloring, because she was in THIRD GRADE.)

Here are the thoughts that I shared.

  • Generally, the earlier the better. Talk to any parents with kids who already went through this process, you’ll find very few that thought they started too early.  99% of the parents I know felt pressured that they were running out of time.
  • When you apply to college in 12th grade, admissions officers will review the body of work that you started to create in 9th grade (or earlier, if the student took advanced classes in 8th grade, for example.)
  • Many  – countless – parents of 11th and 12th graders say to me, “I wish we knew two years ago what we now know – it’s too late!’

So the advice about classes, extracurricular activities, etc. that we give our private coaching clients, many who get into aspirational colleges such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford and the other usual suspects (as well as “normal” colleges), can certainly pay off because we know what admissions officers at elite colleges are looking for over the high school years.

These are the arguments for starting your college planning in 9th grade or right after.

But there’s a flip side to the argument, which has nothing to do with any of the previous points.

When I meet with parents and kids to explore working together, I always tell them that, even though I’m confident that our advice can help kids get into their Dream Colleges, and provide clarity and confidence during an extremely confusing, stressful time, there’s one condition that would RUIN our advice:

If it’s not taken!

Duh.  Major “Captain Obvious” point, but, sadly, an ultra-important one for anyone considering investing in premium services for their kids, whether college advising, test prep, tennis lessons, music lessons, you name it.

The argument against starting in 9th grade is that most kids just aren’t ready to be coached at that age.

Frankly, we charge a lot of money for our expertise. In my opinion, the worst thing that could happen is for parents to sign their kids up, lay out their hard-earned cash, only to realize weeks or months later that they wasted their precious dollars, trying to pound a round peg into a square hole.

Working with uncoachable kids is extremely frustrating to me, too, by the way, which is why I screen everyone first to make sure we’re a good fit. I just turned down one prospective client, which happens a handful of times each year.

So even though the content of the advice we give can certainly pay off, my best answer to the “When” question is “It depends.”

We’ve opened registration for our Summer ACT and SAT Crusher classes, because it’s the unequivocal answer to the question about when to start test prep is “Summer.”

Summer is THE BEST time to prep for the standardized tests, because kids are more relaxed.  We’re offering a $100 “scholarship” (discount) special on our classes for the next couple of weeks, here’s where to get the details, including schedule, pricing, etc.:


Use the coupon code “SUMMER 100” to get your scholarship for parts 1 and 2 of either the SAT or ACT Summer Crusher Classes.

Speak soon,

-Andy “Call Me For a Best Time” Lockwood

P.S.  Not sure which test you should take?  We going to run 1-2 diagnostic, part SAT, part ACT tests in the next 30 days, keep your eyes peeled for an announcement.

Ooooooh, exciting! 🙂


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