It doesn't matter how old you or your child is, there's never a better time to start planning for college than today. I'm certainly not suggesting asking your three-year-old to take the SAT, but you could at least beginning planning for the financial aspect of college while your children are still young.
Educational Savings Plans
The government and various companies now offer educational savings plans. You can receive tax benefits for saving for your child's college even right after your child is born. These savings plans offer a lot of benefits and allow your child the guarantee of being able to go to college. Plus, you'll help keep them out of debt as many students leave college with $20,000-$30,000 in debt.
In my opinion, tenth grade is the defining moment in a teen's life. Although they can get away with fooling around freshman year, they can't bring up two years of bad grades as easily as they can one year's bad grades. Starting with the sophomore year, students really have to kick it in gear and begin focusing on their studies. I'm certainly not saying they should never have fun with friends, but their grades from now on will have a huge impact on their GPA and can affect which colleges they can consider.
Also in tenth grade, students should begin exploring career opportunities. If there is a shadowing program at their school, they should be involved in it. They should try to visit with professionals who are successful in their careers. A student's potential career choice will have a lot to do with the schools they visit and finally the school they choose, so you want to encourage them to take the time to explore lots of options.
One other thought on career exploration. If your student can drive now, this may be the time to push them to get an after school or summer job. Even if they are just working retail, at least they'll realize a little more about the consequences of not going to college. Spending three afternoons a week filing papers or working retail is a great way to get interested in college and careers.
During junior year, students should begin taking the ACT and/or SAT. Most students will take these more than once, especially if they are trying to get a scholarship, so encourage your teen to start early. They should also begin narrowing down their school choices and visiting colleges.
Senior year is all about applications. Your child will spend lots of time applying to schools, but convince them to apply to no more than five schools. Any more than that will leave open too many stressful decisions and will require a lot of paperwork. By Christmas, all the paperwork should be finished for both college and scholarship applications. Then, your child will be able to spend most of the Spring semester relaxing and choosing between the schools.
The best time to start planning is today. Put together an educational savings plan and help your child develop the basic skills needed to succeed in college. Then, in high school, provide them with the support they need when making some of the biggest decisions of their lives.