Preparing for education beyond high school

It was just yesterday you sent your little one to Kindergarten and now high school graduation looms around the corner. How did that happen? What’s next?

One of the best ways to help young people discover what path they should take after high school and what types of occupations match their passions is simply by having open and reflective conversations.

Beginning in middle school, most northern Colorado public school students take assessments to guide them in discovering personal strengths and interests. Assessment results can be used as conversation starters.

Dr. Rhonda Haniford, Weld County School District 6 (D6) assistant superintendent of secondary education, says, "We encourage families to routinely talk about college and career choices with their student, and to meet with their student's school counselor to design the best plan for their student."

"Each PSD student develops an Individual Career and Academic Plan (ICAP) to map their career and academic journey through middle and high school with their future aspirations in mind," says Sheila Pottorff, PSD director of postsecondary and workforce readiness.

Many online tools can assist students in matching their interests with careers and postsecondary education planning, too, such as www.CollegeInColorado.org, www.Bridges.comor www.MyNextMove.com.

Which school?

With over 3,000 four-year institutions of higher education in the U.S., how do you know which one to choose? A great place to investigate many options at once is at a college fair.

In D6, "Every high school hosts college information events throughout the school year for students and parents," says Haniford.

PSD will host an in-state college fair at Rocky Mountain High School on October 30. Thompson School District's annual college fair will be held at The Ranch (Larimer County's fairground complex) on October 18.

"There is a college out there for everyone and the majority of colleges in the U.S. accept 60 percent or more of their applicants. It's a tiny handful that are highly selective," says Martha Garfield, an independent college and career counselor with Garfield College Counseling.

Visit Colleges That Change Lives or Big Future for a listing of colleges that are lesser known than the big name institutions, but still deliver a solid education.

Show me the money

One of the most daunting aspects of postsecondary education is the price tag. The College Board reports that a "moderate" budget for an in-state public college for the 2016–2017 academic year averaged $24,610; a moderate budget at a private college averaged $49,320. These amounts may make college seems unaffordable for some families, but there are ways to pay for it outside of household budgets.

Garfield says, "Don't rule out a college because of a large sticker price. Most families will not pay the full price, however, it's good to get an idea of what the federal government expects the family to contribute."

To help get a picture of what their financial situation looks like compared to the cost of college, families should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Forecaster. All area high schools offer families navigation assistance through this process.

Tyler Schlagel, a Thompson School District college and career counselor, explains, "We have monthly FAFSA nights so that students can come and ask questions about the FAFSA, and receive help from financial aid representatives in filling it out."

In joint partnership with Aims Community College and the University of Northern Colorado, Greeley's D6 hosts an event called College Goal Sunday to assist families with the FASFA and college search processes. This year the event will be held at Island Grove on October 8.

Beyond applying for federal monies, students should apply for scholarships. School counselors have information about scholarship sources and several websites provide scholarship information, like www.scholarships.com, www.collegenet.com and www.scholarshipmonkey.com. Additionally, some students from families with low incomes may qualify for Pell Grants and work study monies.

Another way to help earn college credit for a discounted price is for students to take advantage of their school's concurrent or dual enrollment program. Typically, juniors and seniors can take college courses for a discounted cost while they finish their high school educations.

The last bell

Preparing for high school graduation and beyond is an exciting time for both teens and parents, but it also can feel stressful, but planning helps lessen that.

When the last school bell tolls, “We want our young adults to have choices when they graduate from high school, be it going into college, getting an industry certification, entering the trades or joining the military," says Pottorff. "Our job is to support them so they are prepared for the path that is best suited for their individual success.”