We Can Help You Plan Your Future

We Can Help You Plan Your Future

Are you ready to be on your own? To graduate high school? To do something you're excited about and earn money for it? Visualizing life after high school is a lot of fun. It should also be a thoughtful process, one where you explore your interests and talents and how they can be integrated into your future plans.

We're excited about your future, too! That's why we put together a comprehensive plan to help you prepare for life after high school. Go through each section, or go to a specific subject, to learn more and prepare for your transition.

We have organized the planning process into the following sections:

  • Planning - There are steps you can take in high school to prepare you for the future.
  • Career Plan - It's all about you! Decide what you like and don't like, and be open to exploring the possibilities.
  • Education Options - Montana has many educational options available to you. Finding the right fit is important for your success.
  • Paying for School - Education is an investment, and there are resources available to make it affordable for you.

Planning Your Future Starts in High School

Planning Your Future Starts in High School

As a high school student, you can do a lot to start preparing for your future. Want an advantage when it comes to finding the best education path after high school? Follow the points below.

Visit Your High School Counselor

Your high school counselor is a phenomenal resource. They have their own experiences to rely on, experiences supporting and counseling other students, and attained the education and training to support you. Schedule time to talk with your counselor about your goals - they love helping students!

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Visit with your counselor about these topics:

  • Career interests
  • Finding a career that leverages your skills and talents
  • Grade point average
  • Volunteer opportunities
  • Improving your grades
  • Applying for college
  • Types of education after high school
  • Local scholarships, and more.
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Take a mental selfie

Where are you in the planning process? Write down your main goals, what you can do now to work toward your goals, as well as what you plan to do next. For instance, go visit your high school counselor tomorrow and set a goal to start volunteering by the end of the month. You got this!

Find a Mentor

You are surrounded by people who want to see you succeed. Harness their support and wisdom to help guide you in your planning process. A mentor can be a teacher, relative, coach, community leader, employer, or parent - anyone who can help you grow as a person.

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How to ask someone to be your mentor. It's much easier than you think! Being asked to mentor someone is an honor and compliments the character of that individual; we're willing to bet they'll say "yes." If you have someone in mind who you respect, ask them if they have time to visit with you about planning for your future. Find agreement on the time commitment – how frequently would you like to meet and for how long, as well as the timeframe you're seeking their help. Topics you may want to talk about are: how they found their career path, how they picked their area of study, or what would they do differently if they had the chance to start over. Mentoring is a great way to receive one-on-one coaching from someone who has been there, and wants to support you on your path to the future.

Grade Point Average, aka GPA

Think of it this way: GPA is like a mountain and at the top of that mountain are acceptance letters, scholarships, internships, apprenticeship opportunities and more.

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Your GPA determines where you start your climb. If you have a low GPA score, you start at the bottom of the mountain; an average GPA will land you halfway up; and a high GPA will land you close to the summit. How much effort you put into your classes and grades will determine the amount of work it will take to reach the opportunities you want. Your level of effort is completely up to you and within your control.

We often hear from college students and adults what they could have done differently to impact their lives. A common response we hear is the wish that they put more time and effort into high school, which would have likely resulted in a better grade point average.

If you need to improve your high school GPA, visit with a counselor or teacher to create a strategy to do so. They will work with you on strategies to improve your study habits and your grades. They will be thrilled you came to them and asked for help - it's a positive step, and shows that you care about your work. 

They say not to have regrets in life, but I do. I regret that I did not push myself hard enough in high school and I did not show up as many days as I should have.

Dual Enrollment

Dual Enrollment

Want to get a feel for college courses? Explore areas of study that may lead to a career or earn credits towards your future degree early? Check out dual enrollment opportunities!

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Advanced Classes

Taking challenging classes in high school can prepare you for college-level course work. There are two types of advanced courses that may be available at your high school: Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate. When considering these options, always discuss with your teachers, high school counselor and your parents to decide if it's the right choice for you.

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Advanced Placement (AP)

Advanced Placement is a program of College Board (the makers of the SAT) that allows you to take courses at your high school, which may earn you college credit and/or qualify you for more advanced classes when you begin college. So what are AP courses? They are designed to give you the experience of an introductory-level college class while you’re still in high school. Plus, you can get college credit for the class if you pass the AP exam for each course you take. Consult with the admissions office at the college you hope to attend to find out if they accept AP credits, and how those credits are recorded on your transcript.

International Baccalaureate (IB)

IB classes take a different approach to challenging subject matter. The approach is similar to what you would see in a college classroom - students are challenged to think critically and challenge assumptions. When tackling subject matter, discussions include local and global implications. In Montana, only a handful of high schools offer IB.

Advantages and Considerations of Advanced Classes

Advantages:

  • You'll challenge yourself academically, which will surely keep school interesting!
  • The structure and rigor of advanced high school classes are similar to college courses, which will prepare you for the next step.
  • You might be able to earn college credit!

Considerations:

  • There may be additional costs to taking advanced classes, check with your school so you know what the potential costs may be.
  • In addition to course fees, there may be additional costs to take exams required to earn college credits.
  • Your workload may increase. If you have a busy schedule, determine if adding more work is worth it to you.
  • A poor grade may impact your GPA - choose classes wisely!
  • Transcripts may reflect only Pass or Fail – not the actual letter grade earned, which may further impact your GPA.

ACT/SAT Tests

At a glance, the two tests are very similar. They are both national standardized tests for college admissions. Juniors and seniors are the primary test takers and the tests measure students' proficiency in various areas such as problem-solving, math, writing, science, and reading comprehension. Good scores can also help you earn scholarship money. The tests cost about the same, cover similar subject matter and are both accepted by all colleges in the U.S.

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The major difference between the two is how they are scored, and inclusion or omission of science testing. For the ACT, students earn a score between 1 and 36, whereas, with the SAT, students earn a score between 400 and 1600. The ACT has a section dedicated to science; the SAT does not. The SAT does not exclude science - there are science-based questions that appear in reading, writing and math sections and not a dedicated section to understanding scientific data, graphs, and hypotheses.

ACT and SAT requirements vary across Montana and are relative to the type of school you're going to attend. If you are interested in a Montana public college or university, visit the Montana University System's admission requirements page. It will break down what is required for four-year and two-year programs. If you're interested in a private college or university, check with the institution to determine admission requirements. They'll walk you through everything you need to know.

ACT

For traditional students - those who enter college within three years of graduating high school - earning a composite score of at least 22 on the ACT satisfies one of the key admission requirements to enroll in a four-year college or university. In Montana, all high school juniors take the ACT on the state testing date, free of charge.

What if you don't score a 22? First, it's important to know that you can re-take the ACT. In fact, most students improve their score if they take the test a second time. At ACT.org, you can register to take the ACT again, take free practice tests, and understand your score. If taking the test your senior year or trying for a better score, the ACT test costs roughly $68.00 and fee waivers are available through your high school. Visit with your counselor about the fee waiver option, if cost is a barrier to retaking the ACT.

What if you are pursuing a degree or certificate at a two-year college? Montana's two-year colleges have open enrollment, which means students attending these schools do not have to meet the same admission requirements as four-year colleges.

At ACT.org, students can access a variety of preparatory resources and practice tests – some are free, while others require a fee.

SAT

While not as common in Montana, the SAT is widely used as a college admission test at colleges and universities throughout the U.S. SAT offers free practice tests via SAT.org, and testing dates in the spring and fall. The cost of the test is roughly $64.00 and fee waivers are available online or via your high school counselor. If you are planning to attend college outside of Montana, check with admissions to find out if they accept the ACT, SAT, or both tests.

Time Management

Mastering time management is an art form, but you can do it – and it will pay off in nearly every aspect of your life! Knowing how to effectively manage time makes you a valuable employee, helps you accomplish tasks on time, shows teachers and coaches that you're a dedicated student or athlete, and enriches your character. Being reliable – doing what you say you will do – is a wonderful quality to have!

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In high school, start using an agenda to manage deadlines and prioritize projects. You can use a classic spiral bound agenda book or a digital app like Todoist, which allows you to prioritize items, assign due dates, and work from a calendar. Find and use a time management tool that meets your needs.

There is a difference between time management in high school and time management in college. In high school, teachers will assign projects and tests as the semester progresses. In college, professors will give you a syllabus with all of the due dates and test dates at the beginning of the semester and it is your responsibility to complete and submit assignments on time. If you are in an apprenticeship or internship, your supervisor will assign projects to you and it is expected to be completed by the due date. Miss deadlines and your position could be in jeopardy.

Time Management in School
Time Management in School

Montana State University senior Kieran Patton shares her best practices to effectively manage her time while attending school.

Get Involved - Volunteer

Volunteering and being an active member in your community will make people notice and appreciate you. As you transition from high school to being on your own, opportunities will arise for you to showcase your big heart and community spirit.

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  • Scholarships
    Some scholarships require volunteer hours, and your time spent giving back to the community can provide the perfect story for a scholarship essay. Volunteering can set you apart from the competition – giving you an edge when it comes to earning free money for school.
  • College Applications
    Colleges want well-rounded students who excel in and out of the classroom. One way to enhance your college application, especially if your grades are average, is to detail your volunteer hours. Demonstrate that with your smarts, comes a big heart!
  • Resume
    Your resume comprises your education and work history. Include your volunteer experience on your resume to help demonstrate the knowledge and skills you’ve gained through your experience. The organizations you served can also be used as employment references – just make sure you ask first!

Finding volunteer opportunities. Now that you’re interested in giving back because you’ll gain so much in return, volunteer opportunities are easy to find! Check with your school counselor regarding local volunteer opportunities. Join clubs like 4-H, National Honor Society, Business Professionals of America (BPA) - they have lots of volunteer opportunities! VolunteerMatch.org is a great way to search for local and national opportunities. Also, try a Google search for where you live or search for non-profits in your community and approach them about volunteering. You could help walk dogs at your local animal shelter or take meals to the elderly. There are tons of opportunities out there for you!

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Pro Tip

Track your volunteer hours - you’ll be glad you did when it comes to applying for scholarships and colleges. Use our handy tracking sheet to log the number of hours, the clubs you are involved in and the sports you participated in. Start tracking your freshman year!

Career Plan

Career Plan

Webster’s Dictionary defines career as "an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress."

An occupation for a significant period of one's life? You read that right. That's why it's important to start exploring your interests and options as early as possible. By no means must you have your career path figured out by the time you graduate, but it's important to know what interests you and what doesn't interest you. Knowing what you like only comes from experience, and the experiences outlined below will help you figure that out.

How Does One Start on This Path?

  • Reflect - Thinking about your likes, dislikes, and passions. Reflect on the classes you take in school and which ones you liked the most (or not at all). Think about your talents and skills. Do you like working with your hands, being outside, or writing essays on a laptop? There are many factors to consider.
  • Explore - Using the Montana Career Information System (MCIS), create a profile and take the skills and interests assessments. These are short quizzes that will align you with potential career matches based on your interests and skills.
  • Action - Take the information from MCIS and channel it into one of the paths outlined below. Job shadow, find an internship, sign up for a work-based learning program at your school. By taking action, you'll find out quickly if a potential career is the right fit or not.

Start Exploring with MCIS

Montana Career Information System is a tool available for teens and families to link skills and talents to occupations. This is a service provided through the Montana Department of Labor and Industry to help students create a customized personal learning plan.

Start Exploring Careers with MCIS
Start Exploring Careers with MCIS

Check out our video that explains how MCIS works. We will walk you through the steps to create your profile and find career information.

Need a Reality Check?
Need a Reality Check?

Do you know how much you need to earn to live the lifestyle you want? The Reality Check tool within MCIS can help you find out.

Work-Based Learning in High School

Work-Based Learning in High School

Work-based learning combines industry skills taught in both a classroom and a professional work environment. It's a great way to inform high school students of real-world expectations while in school.

High School Internships

What is an internship? An internship is a period of work experience, usually lasting a few weeks to a few months, offered by an employer to provide students exposure to working in an office or industry setting that relates to their studies or interests. Internships are coveted opportunities because they give students opportunities to connect with mentors and test drive what it's like to work in a particular field.

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High school internships - yes, they exist! Internships are a great way to gain real-world experience and businesses are realizing that building relationships with high school students can help them grow their workforce.

Some internships are paid, and some are not. The biggest advantages of internships are exposure to careers, learning new things, and listing the experience on your resume and college application.

Internships
Internships

Montana State University senior Kieran Patton shares her experience and advice on internships.

Apprenticeships

What is an apprenticeship? An apprenticeship combines classroom learning and on-the-job training, and best of all, pays students while they learn. Apprenticeships generally have a pre-defined pay scale that outlines how much an apprentice earns as they achieve specific milestones. The time commitment to complete an apprenticeship varies by occupation.

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Where can I find more information on how apprenticeships work? Start by visiting the Montana apprenticeship program through the Montana Department of Labor and Industry.

Apprenticeships Quick Facts

  • There are 80 recognized apprenticeship occupations in Montana.
  • Employers have in-demand jobs that need to be filled, so they offer on-the-job training for workers.
  • Workers earn while they learn and experience zero to little debt.
  • Apprenticeships can be a combination of classroom and workplace training and require at least 2,000 hours of experience, which equates to roughly one year of training.
  • Career examples: electrician, auto mechanic, hospital coder, utility technician, construction and more! Apprenticeships are available for occupations outside of the trades, too - like accounting technicians.

Job Shadowing

Stop imagining what a job might be like and see it firsthand! Job shadowing helps students learn valuable lessons, see the responsibilities of the profession on a day-to-day basis, and compare a variety of occupations. Check with your counselor to see if they have partnerships with local individuals or organizations that offer job shadowing. If you know someone who works in the occupation you are interested in, ask if you could shadow them on the job.

Alternative Paths

Military

For some students, the military is an option to consider. This option requires a high level of dedication as most enlistments require a four-year active duty commitment and two years of inactive duty. Explore this option by visiting todaysmilitary.com, a site produced by the Department of Defense that includes all the military sectors.

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Reserve Officers' Training Corps, or ROTC, is another option for students to consider. ROTC is a program of study taken in addition to regular college courses. The program includes leadership, management, and professional knowledge classes as well as "hands-on" experiences. Students make a commitment to the military and in return, they earn scholarships that cover the cost of college attendance. For more information about ROTC options in Montana.

Explore Your Education Options

Explore Your Education Options

After high school, education can take you any direction you wish. Your direction may depend on your career path or the type of skills you wish to build. Have you checked out our Career section? It’s a great place to start when thinking about your future education plans. Ready to start exploring? Check out all the possibilities after high school below!

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Pro Tip

Things to keep in mind - What kind of education does your potential career require?

Trades

"Trades" is a term that has been around for a long time, and usually when people talk about trades they are referring to occupations that, in today's world, are highly technical, lucrative, and typically require shorter training programs to enter the field. It's a myth that the "trades" are blue-collar jobs that are dirty, dingy, and dead-end.

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Today, the trades encompass manufacturing, construction, healthcare, energy, information technology and more. When learning a trade you build a specific set of skills that is very desirable for that industry. You can build these skills through an apprenticeship, a certificate, or a degree. There are several advantages to pursuing the trades:

  • First, the investment into your education is less because training time is condensed; students typically graduate from a program with little to no debt.
  • You can find a job quickly that pays well. Across the U.S., communities are experiencing workforce shortages, especially in the trades. Depending on the industry, entry level salaries usually start at $35,000 per year (or more!).
  • This is the fastest path to earning a living wage out of high school! The education requirements are not as intensive as a four-year program. You learn only what you need through classes and on-the-job training.

What is a skill? A skill or skill set is developed through time, education and experience. Hard skills, which are specific to doing a particular job, are developed through learning and experience. An example of a hard skill is operating a piece of equipment. Examples of soft skills are teamwork, timeliness, and creativity. Employers value skills because they describe what you know and how you work.

What is a living wage? When you become an adult and live on your own, you need to earn money to support yourself. What does supporting yourself look like? Having a cellphone, car, Internet, shelter, groceries, and electricity all cost money. A living wage is earning enough money to cover all of your expenses plus a little extra for you to save in the bank. MIT determined that an individual could earn a living wage at $16.07 an hour and up. Unfortunately, having only a high school diploma will earn you $11.10 an hour (on average), not enough to support a car payment, rent, phone bill and more in a month, unless you work a second job to help make ends meet.

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Pro Tip

Have you taken advantage of the helpful tools in MCIS? Reality Check is an assessment tool that will help you calculate how much it will cost to live on your own, based on your lifestyle choices. Login and check it out.

Certificate Programs

What is a Certificate?

  • Certificates are designed to provide students with an occupational skill credential as they enter the workforce.
  • Some certificates are more for completion purposes while others are required to perform the job, but all certificates require around 30 credit hours.
  • Certificates are narrow in scope, which allows you to focus on exactly what you need to know and bypass electives.  
  • Students can quickly elevate their resume as most programs are only a year long, sometimes less.
  • Career examples: dental assistant, emergency medical technician, paralegal, network administration, computer programming, welding, construction, pharmacy technician, and more!

Two-Year Programs

Two-Year Programs

Advantages to Completing a Two-Year Program:

  • Students gain meaningful education and skills employers are seeking, and because tuition is generally less at a two-year college, students accrue less student loan debt.
  • The courses taken at community colleges, tribal colleges, and Montana University System (MUS) two-year colleges can be transferred to MUS four-year programs. Visit the MUS website to learn more!
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What Degrees Can You Earn at a Two-Year College?

  • Two-year programs offer associate degrees, such as Associate of Arts, Associate of Science, or Associate of Applied Science, all of which range from 30 to 72 credit hours.
  • Associate degree programs are career-focused and electives are minimal, which helps students enter the workforce quickly.
  • Career examples: paramedic, substance abuse counseling, accounting, network support, webmaster, law enforcement, and more.
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Pro Tip

To save money, many students start at a two-year school to complete their general requirements or prerequisites and then transition to a four-year school. You can even take classes at a two-year school while you are enrolled in a four-year school, which saves you money!

Four-Year Programs

  • A bachelor's degree is awarded upon completion of a four-year program of undergraduate study, totaling 120 credit hours.
  • The national average for in-state public university education costs $21,370 a year for a four-year degree program. Luckily, in Montana, we’re below the national average at $17,429 a year.
  • Career examples: engineers, journalists, farm, ranch and livestock management, biologist, K-12 teacher, chemist, forestry, social worker, and more.

Have a few schools in mind but it comes down to costs? Use the cost comparison tool.

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Pro Tip

Do you know what field of study you want to pursue, but not sure where to start? Login to Montana Career Information System and check out the School Sort tool, under the Education tab, How to Choose a School. This CIS tool allows you to narrow your list of schools to those that match your preferences for location, size, programs of study, and other factors.

Types of Education Programs and How They Differ
Types of Education Programs and How They Differ

Montana students have different types of paths to choose from and each option has its own set of benefits.

Education Stories, A Cautionary Tale
Education Stories, A Cautionary Tale

Listen to four students talk about their experiences, and what they would do differently if starting over.

Undecided?

You're not alone. Choosing a career and education path takes time and self-reflection and is not something that should be rushed. It's okay to not have everything figured out. However, don’t leave your future to chance. There are things you can do to discover your interests and pick a path. Have a "Plan B" – just in case you change your mind!

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Options to Consider:  

Taking a Gap Year and Doing it the Right Way

Excited about education after high school, but want to take it slow? Taking a year off – known as a gap year -  is an option, but it's not for everyone. It's important to consider all the pro's and con's of this path, and if you take a gap year, to do it mindfully.

  • Make a plan to do something meaningful. Whether it's volunteering, doing an internship, working, or more, seek out opportunities that support exploring your career options.
  • Working during your gap year can give you a better idea of where your interests lie and the courses needed to support that direction. Save as much of your earnings as you can, as saving money for college is a frequent reason students decide to take a year off between high school and college.
  • Continue applying to colleges and scholarships. Stay focused on the big picture of college and how you might pay for it. Keep the scholarship hustle going because you'll have to work harder to find free money for school since you're neither a high school senior or undergraduate student - yet.
  • Complete the FAFSA when you are ready to start your education. Visit our Paying for School section to learn more!

Start with a Two-Year Program

Montana's colleges have many two-year programs to choose from. When attending a college within the Montana University System, the credits from a two-year college can easily transfer to a four-year college. If starting at a private institution, always have a conversation regarding the feasibility of transferring credits to and from other institutions.

Explore Montana Schools

We’ve gathered school information from across Montana to help you explore your options. Things to keep in mind when doing your research:

  • What is the cost of attendance?
    Several factors go into the cost of attendance at a college, including tuition, fees, books, housing, meals and more.
  • Would you feel lost or thrive in a big campus setting?
    A large school can feel like a tiny city, which may overwhelm some students. While on the other hand, someone might feel claustrophobic at a small school.
  • Do you need the support of faculty (teachers), or are you okay being on your own?
  • Does the school have the courses you need to take for your career path?
  • Does the school have opportunities like internships or international studies that you may be interested in?

Learn more about Montana’s school, colleges and universities.

School visits and college fairs provide a great opportunity for students to learn more about the schools they are interested in.

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College Fairs

  • Each fall, MontanaColleges.com hosts college fairs in high schools across Montana. This is a fantastic opportunity to visit with colleges in Montana (and beyond) in one place.

Schedule a tour

  • What a better way to get a feel for a campus than to tour it. Campuses offer group and individual tours all year round so that students can get a personal feel to see if the college is the right fit for them. Tours are led by students, for students, so you can ask them real questions and get honest answers. What’s dorm life like? Did you get homesick? Are professors easy to talk to?
  • Many tours occur during spring and summer. If you have a road trip coming up, consider including a campus tour. Even if you don’t think the college is the right fit, tour it anyway. This is the best process to discover what you like and don’t like about campuses
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Pro Tip

When your school is hosting a college fair, think of questions to ask beforehand. Things to ask are: what areas of study are you known for? Are there lots of scholarship and financial aid opportunities? What is your student to teacher ratio? What are your student housing options?

Applying for College

Applying for College

General Requirements for Montana Colleges:

  • Complete a paper or online application. Application costs can range from $30 - $65. For public universities, students should take advantage of College Application Week, where eligible students can apply for one college at no cost or deferred cost, and receive college application guidance. To learn more about dates and how the program works, visit our friends at Montana Gear Up.
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  • High school transcript - Colleges like to see both the unofficial transcript, which is the record of grades up to your junior year, as well as an official transcript following high school graduation. The unofficial transcript is sent in conjunction with the college application and the official transcript is sent at a later date.
  • ACT/SAT scores - Colleges may ask for a self-reported score or results may be sent to the school directly from the testing organization. When you take your test, you will have the option to list the schools you’d like to receive your test scores.

Possible Additional Requirements:

  • Letters of reference are typically from individuals you have worked with in and outside of school. References could be an educator, a counselor, an employer, or someone you help through volunteering. This is why volunteering matters!
  • Essays - Schools may require an essay pertaining to why you want to attend their college or why they should choose you for admission. Include in your essay your academic strengths and achievements, athletic participation, time management skills, character strength, volunteer hours, or something you’re passionate about.
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Take a mental selfie

Reflect on how long you want to go to school. What education option supports your future career? If undecided, what's your Plan B?

Paying for School

For many students, this is their first investment opportunity - an opportunity to invest in their future by going to school. Education after high school is within reach and we have the tools and resources to help you make it happen.

Ways to Save

Summer Jobs
You can earn more than just a paycheck with a summer job. Being employed will help you build references, and soft skills, such as timeliness, customer service, and problem-solving.

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Open a savings account and save the money you earn. Chat with your financial institution or bank to see if they offer match programs for college savings. Things to keep in mind when looking for summer work:

  • What will I learn in this job, and does it support my future goals?
  • Can I list the individuals I work for as references?
  • Will I be able to return to my job during breaks from school, like next summer?

Where Can I Find Summer Work?
Check out the following sites to see if you can find a job that's right for you!

529 Savings Plans
A 529 Savings Plan is a great way to save money for college. The trick is to start early! Earnings on these accounts are tax-deferred and qualified withdrawals are tax-free. The funds can be used at educational institutions around the country to pay for education-related expenses including tuition, fees, books, and more. Visit with your financial institution to learn more about this program or learn more via Montana’s 529 plan program.

Scholarships

Scholarships

Yes, you are scholarship material! There are a variety of scholarships available and they’re not just merit (grades) based. They’re awarded for telling a good story, being a star athlete, going the extra mile, being creative, being caring, or making a compelling video.

Check out our helpful resources that include videos and guides, as well as a list of scholarships you can apply for. Also, follow us on Facebook – we share scholarship opportunities every Thursday.

Learn More...

Grants

Grants are often need-based aid, and do not have to be repaid. Need-based grants support students who need financial help to pay for school, and meet specific eligibility criteria. The most common grant is the Federal Pell Grant. Pell grants are usually awarded to those who demonstrate exceptional financial need.

To learn more about grants and financial aid, visit Federal Student Aid.

FAFSA

Paying for college starts with the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the starting point for financial aid, including federal grants, loans, work-study, and scholarships. In most cases, the federal government sees students (24 years or younger) as dependent, which is why parents are required to provide financial information to complete the FAFSA.

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Complete the FAFSA in Four Easy Steps:

  • Tap into our resources.  Download our Parent’s Guide to the FAFSA to walk you through the process, the materials needed, and answers to your toughest FAFSA questions.
  • Create an FSA ID.  Both the student and one parent need to create an FSA ID (username and password). It’s part of the process to verify who you are when filing the FAFSA and is used to sign your FAFSA before submitting.
  • File the FAFSA. The FAFSA takes roughly 30 minutes to complete and requires both information from the parent and the student. Details needed include demographic information, personal information and financial information. Download our Parent’s Guide to the FAFSA for the list of materials to have in-hand when filing. Students and their parents will be able to submit the 2019-2020 FAFSA in a web browser on a mobile phone or a tablet. Students and their parents can also download the free myStudentAid app from the Google Play or Apple App Store to submit the FAFSA using the myFAFSA component of the app.
  • Click "Submit" Before the December 1st Priority Deadline!  The FAFSA opens October 1 each year, and every minute counts when filing your FAFSA. Schools only have so much funding available and those students who have submitted their FAFSA by the priority deadline of December 1 have the greatest chance to receive funds for which they may be eligible.
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Pro Tip

On the FAFSA, there is an option to check the work-study option. Work-study is money you earn by working a job assigned to you from the school. We always advise students to check this box so the opportunity is available to them. You can always say no later.

How to Fill Out the FAFSA
How to Fill Out the FAFSA

This helpful video will walk you through the steps to fill out the FAFSA.

FAFSA Overview
FAFSA Overview

Check out this video to learn about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and why it is an important part of the financial aid process.

A Parent’s Guide to FAFSA
A Parent’s Guide to FAFSA

Parents: You got this. Follow our guide to file the FAFSA quickly, accurately, and efficiently!

Student Loans

Student loans can come from the government, your school or private lenders. A loan is something you have to pay back, so only borrow the amount you truly need!

There are several types of student loans:

Federal Student Loans - students must complete the FAFSA to be eligible.

  • Direct Subsidized Loan – Based on financial need, the student is NOT charged interest while enrolled at least half time.
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loan – Not based on financial need, the student is charged interest during all periods of the loan.
  • Direct Parent Plus Loan – Not based on financial need, the parent is the borrower and responsible for repayment, the parent is charged interest during all periods of the loan.

Private Loans – an option if other resources have already been utilized. Terms vary widely, so be sure you understand private loans before borrowing.

Always accept grant and scholarship offers first. If accepting loans, borrow only what you need to cover educational expenses.