Helping and encouraging students to plan for college is an important part of what you do as a school counselor. It ensures that your students are college or career ready, and it provides a critical step in safeguarding those students’ postgraduate dreams come true.

Planning Along the Way

As you know, one reason why planning is so important is that colleges accept students using a specific admissions process. To help your students prepare for college, especially for selective program admissions, you should work with them to create an academic program that will challenge them and encourage success. Additionally, you should encourage your students to explore and understand their postsecondary options and take advantage of dual credit opportunities while in school.

Below is a brief timeline for what your students can proactively do while in high school to set them for a successful college experience. Remember that college admissions offices are a great resource too, and you can find out more information from them at any time. 

Motivate your students to be diligent in planning for their college experience and meeting deadlines for submitting their college applications.
In 9th and 10th Grade
  • Administer interest and skills assessments to help students explore careers options. 
  • Provide information about career options and the education required for those careers. 
  • Help your students review their class plan to ensure they’re taking classes that fit their skillset.
  • Encourage students to sign up for classes that will allow them to earn college credit during their junior year, such as:  
  1. Concurrent Enrollment allows high school students to take college-level courses at their high school through partnerships between high schools and colleges. Students earn both high school and college credit by passing the class. In addition "concurrent enrollment," these programs are sometimes called College in the Schools, CEP, or College Now.
  2. Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) is a program that allows Minnesota high school juniors and seniors to enroll in college courses on campus or online. Students earn both high school and college credit by passing the class. Sophomores can also participate in PSEO if they first take and pass one CTE course.
  3. Career and Technical Education (CTE) allows public school sophomores, juniors and seniors to take career-focused college courses while in high school. These courses are often hands-on and provide training for in-demand jobs.
  4. International Baccalaureate (IB) is a two-year pre-college diploma program that helps prepare students age 16 to 19 for higher education in the United States and overseas through a combination of course-taking and test-taking. Students have the opportunity to earn college credit by receiving a passing score on the IB subject exam, as determined by the college.
  5. Advanced Placement (AP) allows high school students to take college-level courses at their high school with the potential to earn college credit by receiving a passing score on the AP subject exam, as determined by the college.
  6. College Level Examination Program (CLEP) allows students to earn college credit by taking exams for what they already know. Students can submit their scores to a college or university and receive college credit based on their scores, if the college accepts CLEP scores. There are no classes that students take to help them prepare for these exams; students register and take tests independently.
  • Encourage them to stay focused on their schoolwork. 
  • Provide students with resources and information regarding internships and apprenticeships. 
  • Encourage them participate in extracurricular activities. 
In 11th Grade
  • Host college and financial aid events
  • Encourage students to take the PSAT  or practice ACT in the fall to prepare for the SAT or ACT, and to identify areas where they may need improvement. 
  • Encourage students to consider possible career options and investigate the type of education that is needed. 
  • Suggest students arrange campus visits to schools that they are interested in. 
  • Work with students to review their high school class plan and take classes that fit within their skillset. Ensure they are meeting high school graduation requirements
  • Encourage students to sign up for classes that will earn college credit during their senior year through Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, Postsecondary Enrollment Options or Concurrent Enrollment. 
  • Assist them register for the ACT and/or SAT in the spring, provide information about when and where the tests will be administered. 
  • Provide information on private scholarship options
  • Suggest students participate in extracurricular activities, get a job to earn and save money for college, or explore their skills through an internship or apprenticeship.
In 12th Grade
  • Encourage students to visit colleges they are interested in. 
  • Help student select which schools they would like to apply, and help them make a list of application deadlines for each school. 
  • Prepare high school transcripts and assist students in sending them to the schools they have applied.  
  • Provide information about fall ACT and/or SAT dates and locations for students who wish to take or retake the exam. 
  • Host financial aid events, or help students find other college- or community-based financial aid events. 
  • Provide students with a list of reputable scholarship opportunities and advise them to be aware of financial aid search companies
  • Advise students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid online and assist as able.  
  • Review their high school class plan to make sure they are on track to graduate. 
  • Suggest students participate in extracurricular activities, get a job to earn and save money for college, or explore their skills through an internship or apprenticeship.

Supporting Your Students’ Transition to College

Successfully navigating the transition from high school to a postsecondary institution, regardless of your students' choice, can be challenging. To some of your students, making independent choices about their lives and future may be overwhelming when faced with multiple options, so having an experienced adult they can trust to engage in an honest conversation about their academic and career goals could positively impact their experience.

Keep in mind that their classes will likely be more rigorous and, if they move to campus, it could be the first time they would living on their own, making these young adults responsible for applying themselves to succeed. Your guidance during high school can help set their expectations for the upcoming challenges in college. 

Helping your students be prepared for what lies ahead can make that shift smoother for them and their families. Here is a list of areas where college-bound kids are likely to experience a shakeup. During your work with them, you may want to discuss these and other factors to be aware of during one of the biggest transitions of their lives.

Academic and Environmental Differences 
Between High School and College

Choosing a College

This publication features a program grid to help your students explore and compare what Minnesota postsecondary institutions have to offer.

Female college student reading book in the library aisle
You can help your students understand and meet the academic demands in college.
Class Sizes

For the duration of most students’ education, their classes have probably been in a classroom setting with between 25 to 30 classmates and a teacher. This environment made it easy to ask questions and get one-on-one attention from the teacher.

In college, the class size will differ depending on the university and course, but it is likely that at least a few of their classes will take place in a large lecture hall with one professor and a few hundred other students. This means there may be fewer opportunities to ask questions during a class. However, many professors or their assistants are available for questions during specified office hours.


While in elementary, middle and high school students are taught by teachers whose purpose and passion is to educate students, sometimes on a variety of topics. First and foremost, they are specialized in educating and committed to helping their students learn core material and succeed.

Professors, on the other hand, are first and foremost academics or experts in the subjects they are teaching. This is a great, in that students learn from someone who knows more about what he or she is teaching than most. The downside is that some college students may not always get a professor who is well versed in the most effective teaching techniques, or as comfortable leading a classroom. 

Attendance And Class Policies

There are strict attendance policies in high school, as well as rules that require students to stay seated during class, having to ask to use the restroom and only being able to walk outside with a hall pass. In college, there are no such rules. 

In college, students are treated like adults and are trusted to make their own decisions. That includes choosing whether to attend class. While some professors do take attendance and may count it toward an overall grade, others do not, and leave it up to students to determine whether to attend. 

While it may not be mandatory to attend classes, it’s encouraged. Students pay for their college experience and attending lectures is a piece of that. Additionally, while some college students feel like they can learn the material on their own, this can backfire when they end up missing a concept that was only discussed in lecture.


You probably know better than anyone class scheduling and how it differs between high school and college. The high school environment is much more rigid, with students required to attend for a set number of hours every day. The only thing they can choose are a few elective classes to take during those hours. And even those choices can be quite limited given state and federal benchmarks and standards that each student must meet. 

In college, determining a class schedule can be complex. Classes can occur anytime from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., and students often find themselves with hours of gaps in between classes. There are times when a student’s desired classes overlap, don’t fit into his or her schedule, or are at capacity. One way to help is to ensure students understand the college class scheduling process and are prepared.  They should spend time before the course registration period opens to choose which courses are needed and be ready to schedule them once registration opens.

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