When to start looking at colleges? One of the most common questions I get. For most students I think you can wait until junior year in high school before you really start looking at colleges. But like most things in college admissions, there are exceptions.
If you are planning on applying to a highly selective college or would like to attend college far away from home, then I think it is wise to begin looking at colleges in the sophomore year. Why? For one, earlier preparation gives you more time to understand what you are looking for in a college and thus better able to articulate that desire in your essays. And strong essays are critical when applying to selective colleges.
Also, many colleges record your expressed interest in the college and if you have time to visit a number of colleges, you may help your chance of admission. Trying to cram too many visits into junior year can make it difficult to keep the unique traits of each college in mind.
Now, keep in mind that all I am talking about here is the process of actually looking at colleges. To do the best job in finding and getting accepted to the best college, you should start the initial college admissions process earlier. I recently posted on the different issues to consider in the early college planning series.