I also think the GCs start kind of late.

I agree, and this has been our experience, too. I wanted DD to take her school's "test prep/college orientation" class much earlier than spring of her junior year, but that is when the school offers it to students. Which is dumb, at least for the top 2% of them, who NEED to be looking further ahead.

Because of DD's skip, we're operating about 6-8 months behind schedule. There was just no way for her to do everything else (including a spring break international trip) this year and get caught up.

Pay close attention to what your child's target colleges require-- and what they prefer-- as far as academics and testing go. Some want multiple SAT subject tests, which means many test dates. Some prefer the ACT. If you are 2e, quite honestly, my advice is to really think hard about those schools, because if you have to test with accommodations, getting it all in is going to be seriously challenging no matter how early you start. If you have out-of-the-box accommodations you may have to really work hard to be seated for ANY exam you take. This has been our experience thus far-- DD has taken two of those suckers, and I just don't see it being POSSIBLE for her to do subject tests given the barriers that exist.

Waiting UNTIL your child's junior year is no longer a good idea. At all.

We didn't have a lot of choice, because DD's third grade skip was 9th-to-11th and we didn't have a ton of lead time to plan the outward ripples from it well. To my credit, I at least realized that it meant scrambling to get College Board approval for testing accommodations for the PSAT/NMSQT, but it was a near thing even so. Literally just days to spare.

Ideally, this is a smooth process that runs from freshman course selections and four-year-planning through fall semester of the senior year, as intparent indicates above. You don't need to have a college list by the end of your sophomore year, but you SHOULD have an idea what you'd like a college experience to have to offer... and be narrowing your wish list. That College Board college search engine is VERY powerful, I might add-- you can tweak it about 35 different ways to emphasize what is most important to you/your child. It may surprise some to know that the most selective colleges aren't all Ivies, strictly speaking.

As an aside, I have no idea what the nature of the aid was at Reed, other than to note that it was not loan-based, and may have been specifically awarded as a result of some diversity/returning student initiative with a college partner or benefactor. But it is a four year, full-meal-deal. I asked specifically because it shocked ME, too. I know Reed well, and I was very surprised.

That points out something else, too, though-- you don't really know unless you are a college insider at an institution-- or until you apply-- what is possible aid-wise. Many colleges have a "no merit aid" policy, but the fine print still exists-- individual departments may well offer merit aid to majors.

Oh-- and don't be fooled by lower tuition rates at public universities-- they may REALLY not offer any merit aid. Then again... students like most of our kids here? The sticker price isn't OUR price, either. Learned that one this past year when a friend's son could have attended {local land-grant school} for 20% of what the apparent published going rate is. Just because he had such awesome transcripts and test scores.

Also don't be put off by the high dollar amounts at private schools, but don't be fooled by "100% need met" either. Details, details, details. If that means loans, that's quite a different matter than 90% of need met without loans. wink

Schrödinger's cat walks into a bar. And doesn't.