Your college journey is starting! As exciting as this phase in your life should be, the process can also feel a bit confusing and stressful. So, it’s no surprise that you may depend on your parents and counselors to advise you about your career and college options.
What To Look for
As a first step, you should consider the academic programs available to you and determine which program works best for you, according to your personal priorities. Understanding what kind of college experience you are looking for and are comfortable with can be useful when starting your college exploration. Look for an institution and program that best matches your personal, educational, and professional goals.
Maybe you already have a few colleges in mind, but can't decide which one is the best fit or is more affordable. In that case, you can jump directly to our College Search Tool to explore Minnesota institutions. The tool allows you to compare school profiles by cost, size, financial aid available, admission requirements, programs, and graduate outcomes.
Simplifying the College Application Process
This episode of the Life After Now podcast features Jodi Furman to break down the admissions process.
The Right Fit
Minnesota has nearly 200 colleges and universities that vary in size, student support services and extracurriculars. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind as you search for a college that meets your needs.
While there is no magic formula for choosing a college, one way to narrow down the list is to start by asking some questions. For instance, would you prefer to attend a two-year college or four-year university, and do you have a preference of whether the institution is public or private?
- Public two-year colleges: These institutions accept all students with a high school diploma or GED and offer a variety of educational options. Students can earn a credential focusing on a specific occupation, or can take up to the first two-years of courses to complete a bachelor's degree upon transfer to a four-year university. Additionally, some colleges offer opportunities to participate in athletics, clubs, activities, and music or the arts.
- Public four-year universities: Minnesota State and the University of Minnesota offer a wide variety of undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Most offer a wide range of athletics and intramural sports as well as programs in theater, music and the arts. Undergraduate on-campus housing is also available on most campuses.
- Private for-profit career colleges: They offer programs focusing on specific careers. Some colleges focus on one specific career, such as cosmetology schools, while others offer several career programs. Programs generally range from a few months to two years.
- Private four-year private colleges: Most of private universities in Minnesota are liberal arts colleges, which emphasize broad knowledge in the arts, sciences, social sciences and humanities. Many are affiliated with a religious denomination. Some colleges only focus on students wishing to receive a bachelor's degree, while others only offer graduate training or a combination of both.
Where you choose to go to college can affect how much it ends up costing you. For example, Minnesota residents can benefit from in-state tuition or the state’s tuition reciprocity program with neighboring states. Some students choose to attend college near their hometown, allowing them to save money by living at home, as well as cut costs on travel, since car rides are usually less expensive than airfare.
You may also want to consider whether you prefer living in a rural area, city, or some place in between. Small college towns typically have an intimate sense of community, whereas schools in large cities can offer more access to internships with large companies and nonprofits.
Minnesota colleges and universities come in all sizes, from small liberal arts colleges with fewer than 1,000 students to large universities that annually enroll more than 30,000 students.
Large universities can offer a wide variety of majors and courses, housing options and activities. Additionally, large schools typically maintain well-stocked libraries, state-of-the-art research facilities, and nationally recognized sports teams. Notably, introductory classes can be large, which some students find exciting while others find overwhelming.
On the other hand, small schools may not offer as many programs as large universities, but they often provide specialized degrees and lots of hands-on learning opportunities. Small colleges can also mean smaller class sizes, allowing your student to easily access individualized support from faculty and staff.
Cost of Attendance
Costs vary from school to school, and there are five main categories of expenses you’ll want to keep in mind: tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, personal expenses, and transportation.
It’s recommended that you look beyond published tuition prices, since what is listed may not be the actual amount you and/or your child pay after financial aid and institutional grants. Consider colleges that not only offer affordable tuition but also substantial financial aid packages, which may include grants, scholarships, loans and work-study opportunities.
More and more institutions are offering programs using the Internet. Online opportunities may provide your student with the option of learning in flexible, convenient and personalized formats. The quality of online education can be excellent, providing students with experiences, exercises and assessments that rival the traditional classroom.
However, it’s important to be aware that the Internet also offers new ways for educational scams and diploma mills to reach out to people who are looking for genuine education. It is not always easy to identify phony operations from a casual look. Most of the questions you should ask any school before enrolling also apply to online education.
Finally, choosing a college that is a right fit involves many considerations. For many academic quality, location, cost and size are all significant factors. However, there are also other areas to consider, including:
- Campus environment and activities
- Available health and mental health services
- Accommodations for special needs
- Diversity of student population
- Faculty experience and expertise
- Length of time and location of classes
- Graduation statistics for that institution
- Academic reputation and credibility
- Tutoring and academic support services
- Transportation availability and cost
- Campus safety
Apply for College
Once you have your mind set with potential colleges to apply to, get ready for the college admissions process that may include, visiting campuses, reaching out to admissions offices, shoring up all necessary course requirements, preparing for and taking an entrance exam, and getting important paperwork and records in order. Here is a closer look at these items to know what to expect and how to prepare for college admissions.
Have more than one option
Many students have a first-choice school in mind, but it’s recommended that they apply to more than one college. This will not only give them a greater chance of acceptance but could also offer more options and opportunities.
There is no correct number of schools to apply to, and will vary depending on each person’s personal situation and priorities. Some students apply to a range of schools, from their aspirational selective colleges to those that are considered a “safety” option, or a school that offers them guaranteed acceptance. On the other hand, given the cost and time that’s required to apply to each college, some students choose to apply to only a few schools that will meet their needs, while ensuring acceptance.
Entrance exam such as the SAT or ACT
Some four-year colleges or universities require students to submit ACT or SAT scores. Do a little research about the application process at the college(s) of your choice. Many institutions will accept ACT or SAT scores as part of your application, but won't require them. If a student applies to a school with open enrollment, they do not need to take the ACT or SAT. Otherwise, make sure you are aware of the test dates, times and locations. School counselors are a good resource to find out test dates, times, and how to sign up for them. You may take the test more than once, so plan ahead to prepare for them and give yourself time to take it twice, if you think you can improve your score.
Once a student's career interests and priorities have been identified, and institutions have been researched and explored, a good way to narrow down a list of six or seven schools is by visiting college campuses.
Visiting the campus is the best way to learn about a school. It offers the opportunity to see the professors and students in action, use and explore the facilities, and get a feel for what college life would be like at that school. While campus visits aren't necessary, they are highly recommended, and most colleges have organized visit programs.
While on a campus visit, a prospective student should:
- Pay attention to equipment and school facilities.
- Sit in on a class or two.
- Talk with current students in the program.
- Talk with instructors in the program.
- Talk with an admissions counselor.
- Talk with a financial aid counselor.
Admissions office as a resource
There are many important questions that will need to be answered as a student enters the application and college admissions process. One of the best ways to get those answers is by reaching out to prospective university’s admissions office.
Some common questions include:
- How much does it cost to attend this college (including tuition, room and board, fees, etc.)?
- What financial aid options are available?
- Does the school participate in federal and state aid programs?
- What percentage of undergraduates receive aid? How much do they receive on average?
- Which financial aid forms do you need to fill out and what are the deadlines?
- Does the college offer any financial aid of its own? If so, how do you apply?
- Will private/non-government scholarships reduce the amount of need-based aid you receive?
- How is financial aid paid out? When will it be received?
High school transcripts
Most colleges will require a copy of a student's high school transcript. You can request this be sent to the college(s) he or she is interested in through the high school's office or the school counselor.
It is common for colleges and universities to charge an application fee (anywhere from $20-$75). If you can't afford it, talk to an admissions counselor at the college being applied to. You may be able to get the fee waived.
Letters of recommendation
Four-year colleges or universities often require letters of recommendation. These recommendations are about what a student has accomplished, what kind of potential he or she has, and why the person writing the letter believes he or she should be admitted to that college. Recommendations can come from teachers, coaches, mentors, church leaders, employers, and people a student has worked with in the community. Recommendations cannot come from relatives.
Many students who attend a four-year college or universities will need to write an application essay. If the essay topic isn't provided, a student can choose their own, or they can reach out to a school counselor, teacher or parent to provide guidance and insight on what may constitute a good essay topic.
Often, the essay is an opportunity for applicants to highlight their passions, work ethic, and writing skills, or to explain academic low-points. It’s recommended they avoid reiterating information that can be found elsewhere in the application, listing accomplishments without elaborating and being overly wordy.
If the school is very selective with its admissions process, a student may have to schedule an interview. The best interview tip is for students to relax and be themselves.
Other recommendations for a college admissions interview include dressing well, answering all questions truthfully, being prepared with a list of proudest accomplishments, asking questions, and sharing why this is the college for them.