One of the questions we get most often from concerned students is: “Am I too late?” Parents and students are frequently worried that they waited too long to begin thinking about applying to colleges, studying for standardized tests, or building candidacy, and they sometimes lose hope that they will ever succeed in the process.
While there is such a thing as too late, we know how to do a lot with a little. In this article, we’ll explain when you can start each phase of the college preparation process, and what you can still hope to accomplish even if you’ve started a little bit late. Let’s jump in!
Am I too late to build candidacy?
Candidacy building is what we call the process of getting involved with extracurriculars in a focused way, to turn students into the sort of scholar colleges long to have on their campus. While this can begin at any time, the earliest we start working with candidacy building students is in 8th grade, and they more commonly join us in their freshman year of high school.
Starting this early means additional wiggle room to find your passions, but you don’t have to start that early to do so. Beginning in 10th grade works much the same, though with less time to experiment along the way. Beginning in 11th grade leaves a tighter schedule, and usually means jumping right into finding projects to build on a student’s already existing interests.
As an example, we worked with a student who came to us in the middle of their junior year. They were seeking admittance as a pre-med, or better yet into a BS/MD program. They had all of the academics lined up, and already had some extracurriculars aligned with their interests. They knew, however, that they needed their candidacy to go to the next level to compete for top programs.
We began by helping them find summer programs they could apply to, focusing on research opportunities. At the same time, we began looking for doctors they could reach out to for shadowing, and labs or health care settings where they could volunteer. All of these are key things schools look at when considering BS/MD applicants.
While this student had some research experience already, we were able to get them an internship working with a local professor over the summer and found them a volunteering opportunity at a local clinic during the school year. As they begin preparing for the application season, they have developed their candidacy to show medical programs that they have the experience needed to succeed.
Am I too late to prepare for the SAT or ACT?
We generally help students begin SAT and ACT preparation 6-8 months before they take it. There is such a thing as beginning too early here, as it is best to begin preparations after all of the topics covered by the test have been covered in your classes. The students we work with on test prep generally begin near the end of their sophomore year, or the start of their junior year.
By beginning this far in advance of college applications, they have the chance to take the test multiple times if necessary, with more room for studying in between, allowing them to maximize their potential score.
The latest possible point for taking the tests is in the fall when applications are due, generally two months before the application deadline. This allows you time to see the scores and decide whether you should send them to colleges. We usually suggest at least a month for test prep; less time than that and we are less able to help effectively.
To more fully understand our test prep process, and why it takes time to work, see our article on the secrets of test prep. We have had success helping students improve their scores on a retest, and even a month can see improvements.
Am I too late to apply to college?
The earliest we begin working with students on their college applications is spring of their junior year. This is when we transition our candidacy building students into our college applications coaching program as well. We do this to provide the maximum possible leeway and flexibility to students, so they have a cushion if things don’t go exactly to plan.
Of course, students begin working with us all the time, and beginning work on your college applications during the summer is also quite common. We get even more students starting in the fall. The latest we begin working with students on their college apps is after ED decisions are released.
The amount of work we do with students varies based on when they come to us, and how much work they have already done. We take much more time planning out where students should apply with the students who come to us early for instance, while with students who begin in the fall we move to essay writing much quicker.
The latest we begin working with students on college apps is after early decision decisions are released. This leaves around two weeks for us to work together, which is intense, but these students have already completed a full application, leaving our work to be primarily editing, strategic application advice, and in some cases major changes to essay topics.
One student came to us after getting rejected from Yale in the early round of admissions. We helped them rewrite their personal statement, polish their activities list to more accurately reflect their accomplishments, and shift their application strategy.
We helped the student apply to a number of top colleges in the regular decision round, and helped them compose stellar supplemental essays for them. They had good ideas for their Yale supplementals but needed to polish and refine them to fully display their character and abilities.
The student was accepted into a number of schools, but decided to attend Stanford, and is now well on their way to graduating. We’re glad we were able to help them on their way, and know we can help you as well. While starting earlier leaves more time to improve an application, and more leeway to experiment, we are able to get results even when starting a bit late.
The most important piece of advice we have for determining if you’re too late to do something is not to panic. We’ve helped students take rewarding gap years after their college application plans didn’t crystalize right away, and then apply to college with a bit more experience under their belts.
We’ve helped nontraditional students transition from the business world to college seamlessly, opening worlds they never thought possible. One student had begun working right out of high school, and was a successful entrepreneur, but realized they needed a degree to take their company to the next level. With our help, they gained acceptance into a great business program at Baylor, and are able to pursue their business passions with new experience and expertise.
We’ve even helped students with transfer applications when they realized that the school they got into will not properly fulfill their educational needs. While they were attending competitive schools, the resources available were not tailored to help them achieve their career goals.
We helped one student rework their application to be far less pragmatic, which is why they struggled in their initial round of applications. We retooled their application to focus instead on their intellectual curiosity and love of learning for its own sake, and the student saw far more successful in their applications.
All of these students came to us “too late” to apply to college, but we were still able to help all of them get into schools and programs that helped them further their goals. While starting earlier is generally easiest, there are still roads available to you, even if you worry you’re “too late.”
Regardless of when you start working with us, not panicking is the key to a successful college application experience. We understand that pressure is intense, especially as deadlines draw near, but giving in to panic won’t help. While it’s always best to start early, students are rarely too late to do anything.
Many students worry about applying to college, and a common concern is that they are starting the process too late, and there is nothing anyone can do to help them. While there is such a thing as “too late,” we are able to help students in all stages of their college application process.
If you want help with your own application, or wonder how we can help you achieve your educational goals, schedule a free consultation with us today. We have a long experience helping students find the right college for them, and are always happy to hear from you.