How Early Should You Prepare for College?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

a student daydreaming while sitting at the corner in library

How early should you prepare for college? We get this question asked all the time. The short answer: the earlier, the better.

Because we can certainly tell you that there are students who are preparing as early as 5th grade to maximize their chances at getting into one of these schools.

Whether it’s competing in MathCounts or preparing for the SAT through the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY) program, or training for any of the Olympiads, honing your skillset early on so you can compete at a high level that would ultimately increase your odds of getting into the top schools in the country is an excellent idea

A female college student smiles while looking at her laptop screen.

Early college programs like Johns Hopkins’ Center for Talented Youth (CTY) or Duke’s Talent Search are excellent opportunities for budding high school scholars.

The Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY) program offers the SAT for 7th and 8th graders. This is an excellent way to prepare for standardized testing at an early age, as well as expose a child to a community of high achieving students through the summer camps.

The SAT is a difficult exam for 5th-8th graders and would be an excellent way to learn math and reading for middle school students. I find that for high school students, the SAT exam is just too easy and should be raised several notches in terms of difficulty higher, especially the math section.

Preparing early on is important because by the time you hit 10th grade and you just found out about many of these competitions, it may be too late as you’ll find yourself scrambling to prepare over summer and winter break in addition to all of your regular school work and summer reading list piled on top.

A shaded answer sheet with pencil and eraser on top of it.

For those who don’t know about these competitions, it speaks to the broken state of college admissions process in America.

We can tell you these competitions are no joke – they require a fundamental understanding of the subject matter and doing lots and lots of practice problems to develop that nimble mindset able to solve these challenging questions.

Check out the 2019 American Invitational Mathematics Exam (AIME), for instance. How many of these questions can your high school student answer correctly?

These problems are many orders of magnitude more difficult than the SAT’s, for example, which many students already find challenging. You certainly aren’t going to get brilliant overnight. Qualifying for AIME and advancing to USAMO has been one of the highly touted exams that would drastically increase your probability of getting into MIT.

We’ve consulted with students as early as 5th-6th grade and provided them a long term roadmap to achieve this level of success. It requires the right study habits, hard work, persistence, and the right attitude to perform well.

It requires understanding what the opportunity set looks like out there in terms of regional and national competitions like the Scholastic Art & Writing Competition so you can be well prepared by the time you compete.

For our high school students, we lay out the foundation at our very first session – exactly what you need to do to prepare and the actionable items and goals you need to accomplish to get into these universities.

It’s certainly not an easy task, especially with acceptance rates dropping to all time lows.

That vague notion of “pursuing your passion” is sound and true, but the pathway to get there and the actionable items to achieve those goals to get you a high probability of getting into one of the HYPSM schools is possible

But first, you need to know what you need to accomplish as a high achieving student to get there.


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