The first thing to keep in mind is that you aren’t alone: there are many families on the same journey, and there are many free resources available that can provide the same information.
Start with your high school
High school counselor offices should be your first stop for initial guidance and for pointers on:
- where to find more information and what types of information you need to know
- what specific resources your high school makes available
- what assessments to take to help identify interest and possible career paths
- school events such as college prep or financial aid nights (sometimes held in conjunction with parent-teacher conferences)
Check for community workshops
Free college prep and financial aid workshops may be offered at your local library or community center or through community education. If there is a college near you, it also might hold workshops for prospective students and their parents.
Start visiting colleges
Start looking for ways to see what colleges are like. Maybe you live near one or will be near some on a family outing; just stopping by to walk around some college campuses can be a good first step. There are also lots of arts and sports events on campuses that you are welcome attend as well. And you can sign up for college visits through the admission offices; these visits often include tours and information sessions. And if you’re looking at your options online, most colleges have virtual tours too. Learn more about visit options at our colleges.
Connect with college staff
When you’re ready, you can set up a meeting (in person or virtual) with private college admissions and financial aid counselors. College staff who help with admissions and financial aid are familiar with the concerns and types of questions often asked by families, have first-hand experience with the application and financial aid processes, and can offer advice related to your specific situation. Their knowledge is invaluable and, of course, free.
Use free online resources
If you’re short on time or are just in the initial stages of college planning, don’t overlook free online resources — but make sure they’re reputable. Here are a few we recommend:
- If you’re interested in private liberal arts colleges in Minnesota, our website is a good place to start. You can view profiles on all our colleges. Want to find out which schools offer which majors, athletic programs and activities in the arts? Head over to our find your college matches tool. You can also request information from any or all of our member colleges — without leaving our site. Simply fill out our information request form
- The College Board’s Big Future provides a wide range of information for students and parents on the college exploration and planning process.
- The U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid website provides information on how to prepare for college and how to apply for financial aid.
- The Minnesota Office of Higher Education has details on both federal and state financial aid programs. There's also tips on how to validate that a school’s claims.
If you’re considering using a consultant…
These days, you might be seeing ads or receiving flyers offering to provide guidance and advice — for a fee, of course. Be wary of the sales pitch. Check if the firm or person is a member of the Independent Educational Consultant Association and/or the Higher Education Consultants Association. Both of these nonprofits hold members to strict ethical guidelines and standards.
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.)