By Amanda Skorich
MSCSA Director of Development
Part One: What exactly is PSEO?
I never imagined that college at age 16, a bachelor’s degree at age 20, and a job as a director at age 21 would be accomplishments on my resume. But when I was sixteen, I became a Post Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO) student for eleventh and twelfth grade. At about the same time the PSEO program was growing exponentially Minnesota as a part of the solution to the rising costs of higher education. Since then, my life has taken off and I’ve had the opportunity to experience what I expected to accomplish in my entire life, in just five short years. The PSEO program was life changing and truly transformed my future into something I couldn’t imagine.
Making the switch to being a full-time PSEO student was extremely nerve-wracking for me. My high school had not had many students attempt to get their A.A. degree through PSEO alone. I had to be sure this was the leap I was ready to take; if I failed college, then I failed high school. On my first day at Mesabi Range Community and Technical College the atmosphere seemed to be much more relaxed and proved to be one I could thrive in. A few weeks before graduating from high school, I along with a few other high school students graduated from Mesabi Range Community and Technical College with our A.A. degrees for free!
Thanks to the Minnesota legislature, PSEO high school students as young as tenth grade earn college credits for free. There is even a rental system in place for free books making the student cost of high school and PSEO virtually the same. According to an article put out by the Office of Higher Education, only three percent of students enrolled in high school in Minnesota participated in PSEO in 1985. In 2012 twenty-one percent of students enrolled in a Minnesota high school participated in PSEO. Despite the growing popularity, many students don’t know about the program or any special steps they should take to apply to a college or university afterward. The cost and time savings of PSEO can significantly benefit those ready for college and that’s exactly why I am proud to share my story.
The facts below are not meant to discourage anyone from doing PSEO or to create panic about applying to college. I made it through just fine without knowing these tips–it was just a little bumpy in the beginning. I’ll explain the battles I fought and the pathway I took. Hopefully, these tips are helpful to your unique PSEO experience.
Part Two: I need to do what?
While I was applying to colleges and preparing for my bachelor’s degree, I thought it was going to be as easy as getting started at Mesabi was. I was wrong! Things get much more complicated when applying to a four-year institution after PSEO. Thinking ahead about your ideal job could help reduce the time and money spent on college. Knowing that, students can start looking into the best option for a major and which schools offer it. Programs can have specific prerequisites that must be met in order to start the program. Meet ahead of time with a counselor to get specific program information on classes that could be taken early on and what transfers well. I had to pay for additional math and foreign language classes that I could have taken for free as a PSEO student that would have transferred because I was unaware of which classes worked for my chosen major.
When it comes time to apply to college, there is one simple thing that will save mountains of confusion for PSEO students. You need to check a box that states “new student” rather than checking the box that states, “transfer student.” If you were a PSEO student the college considers you a new student applicant because you have only taken college classes through PSEO. The best thing to do is to note somewhere on the application about PSEO and the plan to transfer in classes once you are enrolled.
The way that colleges enroll PSEO students creates another additional step. When you figure out what college you’d like to attend, you’ve gotten an acceptance letter, and you are ready to enroll in classes, be sure to transfer all of the PSEO classes you took including concurrent enrollment. Double check the transfer audit to ensure that the classes transferred to complete goal areas rather than just as electives. I had a comparative literature class transfer in as a theater elective instead of completing my literature goal area. It’s important to always keep the course outline from every class you took for PSEO just in case you have to appeal the transfer decision. The final step is to double-check your course registration and to make sure that the classes are ones that are needed. This is a rigorous process, so it’s important to make a customized academic plan with an advisor.
Orientation is a great way to get prepared to start at a new school, but PSEO students may receive confusing information. Transfer orientation is going to be best because it will include information regarding transferring classes, academic planning, and being new to the school but not new to college. I found out too late that a transfer orientation session would have been much more suited to my needs as a PSEO student.
Some programs have classes on a rotating basis, giving students access to them once in the four years they are there. My academic plan was to graduate in two years, spending four years total on my Bachelor’s degree but trying to organize around a four-year class rotation proved to be difficult. If a goal area class is on rotation at year three, it’s important to work with an advisor to get into an alternative class right away to make up that goal area on time. Finally, make sure to check back in with an academic advisor to confirm that goal areas are on track at the end of every semester. I wasted time and money because I didn’t do this.
I was happy to hear about a tip to combat the four-year rotation. If there are classes that you need but aren’t offered on your campus, you can take a class as a “visiting” student at a different college or university. This saved me money when I was short on financial aid and needed an introductory class that I wasn’t able to take due to the four-year rotation.
Everyday, I am so happy that the PSEO program existed and helped me get to where I am today. I was a Governing Council member with the Minnesota State College Student Association (MSCSA) during that time. It inspired me to work hard as a staff member to help other students find themselves through MSCSA as I had the opportunity to do. Two years of a free education was definitely worth the hard work it took to earn college classes as a high school student. My classes in high school weren’t pushing me and I knew I could handle more. Compared to many of my friends on a traditional educational path, I knew going to college early was going to be hard, but I didn’t know how grateful I would be to have saved two years time and thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Plus, it was a great feeling to know that my state was investing in me!