Where to turn for college planning, prep advice
The first thing to keep in mind is that you aren’t alone: there are many families on the same journey as you and your student. And these days, you might be seeing ads or receiving flyers offering to provide guidance and advice — for a fee, of course. Don’t be lured in by the sales pitch. There are many free resources available that can provide the same information. We reached out to our colleges for suggestions and several offered some helpful tips.
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
- interest and career assessments for your student
- school events such as college prep or financial aid nights (sometimes held in conjunction with parent-teacher conferences)
If your school has a college/career center, encourage your student to visit it.
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.
Visit a college
If your student is already interested in specific colleges, schedule a meeting with their admissions and financial aid counselors. These college counselors 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 at the moment 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 specific majors, athletic programs and clubs, and activities in the arts? Head over to our college finder tool for your search. 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. Also watch for free webinars on a variety of financial aid related topics and check out their blogs on federal student aid.
- The Minnesota Office of Higher Education has details on both federal and state financial aid programs.
Another option might be free podcasts on college admissions process, such as “Getting In” from Slate. When considering any podcast, be mindful of who produced it to avoid those with possible bias or hidden agendas.
If you’re still leaning in favor of using a paid consultant, 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.