Here is some background on things you might want to know about when planning for college:
Classes to take
One thing that students and parents can do to prepare for college early on is to get involved in selecting coursework. In general, students should always register for the most academically-challenging courses they can handle. As early as middle school, a foreign language is recommended. Learn which types of high school classes that are recommended to prepare for college.
In high school, honors, IB (International Baccalaureate), AP (Advanced Placement) and CIS (College in the Schools) classes are a great way to prepare for college-level — and possibly even skip some college prerequisites or earn college credit. Learn more about earning college credit in high school.
Standardized tests are part of the college application process, for better or worse. The two most commonly required tests are the ACT and the SAT. Although these tests are a few years away, make sure your student knows that reading and math matter; they lay the foundation for succeeding at tests they will take later.
Good News: Most of our member colleges and universities are now test optional! That mean your student will not need to submit the ACT or SAT scores as part of the admissions process. Find out which by reviewing our list of application requirements.
When to begin looking at colleges
Families begin looking at colleges at different times, but sophomore year is ideal for seriously discussing post-high school options. During middle school it helps if students see colleges and start to visualize their future there. Consider taking a walk together across a campus or attending athletic or arts events. Or consider sending your student to a summer camp on a college campus. A good time to schedule more formal campus visits is during a student’s sophomore or junior year.
Colleges welcome your visits and don’t expect that you will automatically apply or enroll there just because you visited.
There are two main types of degrees that U.S. students pursue after high school.
- Bachelor’s (or baccalaureate) degrees are offered by four-year colleges requiring students to choose a major and complete some general requirements.
- Associate degrees require two years of post-high school coursework and may focus on a specialization or career area. Vocational, career or trade schools also offer a variety of diplomas or certificates corresponding to a specific career path.
Private vs. public colleges
A public institution receives a large portion of its operating budget from the state. A private college is one that was started by a group not affiliated with the government. (While a private college’s founders may have been religious, your child usually does not have to be affiliated with that group to attend.)
Although a private college’s list price may be higher than a public institution because public colleges are supported by the state, private colleges generally offer more scholarships and grants based on a family’s need and the student’s academic (or other) talent. At our colleges, families usually end up paying less than 40 percent of the listed price.
It is worthwhile to apply to private colleges to see what kind of aid they will be able to offer your family. To get an idea of how much paid your student might receive, be sure try out a college's net price calculator. Find links to the calculator at each of our colleges.
Also consider this…
- Our colleges have the best four-year graduation rate in the state, when compared to the two public systems, the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State universities. Also we have the best rate in the Midwest. Graduating on time helps save money and allows students to start working — and earning — sooner.
- The majority of classes at our colleges have fewer than 20 students, allowing for more interaction with faculty who are focused on teaching. You know just how important it is to have small class sizes.
- Our colleges offer a wide range of majors and student activities. Check out each college's profile or search for programs.
- With student bodies that range from 700 to 6,400 students, Minnesota’s private colleges are smaller than large public universities.
Applying and getting accepted to college
Colleges weigh many factors when deciding whom to accept — from grades, test scores and activities to letters of recommendation and personal essays. The weight a college places on each factor may differ significantly. Generally, strong grades from the sophomore year onward are important, but colleges are looking for a sense of who students are and how they would fit in at their institution. This is where letters of recommendation and a personal essay can be valuable.
College success and the first-generation college student
Applying for college can seem overwhelming to first-generation college students (the first in the family to complete a four-year degree). Luckily, many middle and high schools have programs to help first-generation students through the application process and through their undergraduate years too. Look to see what kind of college access and preparation programs are available in your district or at your school. Consider before- and after-school tutoring opportunities that exist at many middle schools.
Use our toolkit as you go through the search process to keep track of your progress. (An updated version of this PDF will be available later this fall.)