Start Planning Your Future

Start Planning Your Future

As a student, you can do a lot to start preparing for your future. Want an advantage when it comes to finding the best 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
  • Other options 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!

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.

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.

Taking the ACT and SAT tests
Taking the ACT and SAT tests

Wondering how many times you should take the test?

ACT and SAT Helpful Tips
ACT and SAT Helpful Tips

Students share helpful tips for taking ACT and SAT tests.

Take the “Right” Courses

Your high school experience provides many opportunities to prepare for your continued education after you graduate. Knowing how to leverage the courses available in high school can help you explore several interests, and can help you fast-track to your future if you’ve determined the career and education path that will come next.

Core or More

Taking classes beyond those required to graduate from high school will better prepare you for college and career opportunities. The Montana ACT Council suggests students take:

  • 4 or more English courses
  • 3 or more mathematics, natural science, and social science courses
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Why? Students who take rigorous course work are more likely to meet or exceed college readiness benchmarks, and are better prepared to succeed in their college courses. Students who meet an ACT College Readiness Benchmark (by subject area) have a 50% chance of earning a B or better and approximately a 75% chance of earning a C or better in the corresponding college course(s). Further, students who take dual/concurrent enrollment courses or Advanced Placement classes are more prepared for the academic challenges of college. SOURCE: Prepare Yourself to Finish…the Montana ACT Council Recommends Core or More.

Career and Technical Education

Career and Technical Education

Students interested in entering the workforce with the skills and education needed for in-demand occupations can leverage opportunities for career and technical education while they are in high school, and can continue their career training through Montana’s two-year colleges. In fact, through dual enrollment, students may be able to complete the necessary coursework to graduate from high school with the two-year degree required for work in some career pathways.

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Concentrating your career and technical education classes in one area (Health Science, Business Education, Industrial Technology, Agriculture Education, Family and Consumer Sciences) can help you sequence your courses if you are interested in one particular field. That said, career and technical education courses offer a rich environment to explore your options. If you aren’t sure which area interests you most, there’s no harm taking courses in several career and technical education areas.

Early College Credit Options

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 early college credit opportunities!

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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.

Find a Mentor

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.

Help is Available

If you’d like some help navigating the process, we suggest the following resources:

  • Reach Higher Montana Advisors provide assistance to students in smaller communities throughout Montana, with expertise in scholarships, career exploration, and the college process.
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  • Reach Higher Montana Summit for Youth in Foster Care provides an on-campus experience for high-school youth who have experienced life in Montana’s foster care system.
  • GEAR UP is a federally-funded program serving students in 7th-12th grade in 18 middle schools and their receiving high schools to improve high school graduation and college enrollment rates.
  • TRIO Programs are federally funded programs to help students overcome class, social, and cultural barriers to higher education. Programs include Educational Talent Search (middle and high school students), Educational Opportunity Centers (adult learners), Upward Bound Math and Science (high school students), Veterans Upward Bound (serving veterans pursuing college), Student Support Services (serving college students with personal, career, and academic counseling), and McNair Scholars (preparing college students for doctoral studies).
  • Jobs for Montana’s Graduates (JMG) assists students to stay in school, graduate, and successfully transition into employment, college, apprenticeship, or the military.

Explore Careers

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?

How Does One Start on This Path?
  • Reflect – Think 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 with MCIS
Start Exploring 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.

What Kinds of Workers will be Needed in the Future?

Wouldn’t it be great to have a crystal ball that could predict what workers will be doing in the future? Some predict that up to 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet; however, the smart folks at the Montana Department of Labor and Industry have analyzed the data to provide some insight into the work we’ll be doing in the future.  Check it out.

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 Honors 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 you're given back. You’ll feel really awesome when all those hours are added up!

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.

Apprenticeship Quick Facts

  • Hundreds of Montanans graduate from apprenticeship training each year, many of them earning over $40,000 annually while in training. The average wage after completion of an apprenticeship program is over $60,000 per year.
  • 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 are a combination of classroom and workplace training. Many apprentices also obtain college degrees and certificates as part of their program. 
  • 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 enlistments can require a four-year active duty commitment and two years of inactive duty, there are other options available and service times can vary. Explore this option and learn more about the careers the military has to offer 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 Montana Schools

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. If you can, visit the campuses you are considering to decide which is the right fit for you.
  • Do you need the support of faculty (teachers), or are you okay being on your own? The institution you choose to attend, as well as the major you pursue, will impact the amount of support you receive from your faculty.
  • Do they have the courses you need to take for your career path? Take a look at the websites of the schools you’re considering to see which programs and courses they offer.
  • Do they have opportunities like internships or international studies that you may be interested in? College websites offer lots of information about internship and career services, study abroad programs, and more.

Start Exploring

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

General Requirements for Montana Colleges:

  • Complete an 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. You may also be able to use these same essays to apply for scholarships and grants.
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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?