The Road to College

Tips for students, broken down year-by-year from 7th to 12th grade.

Choosing the Right Path

Comparing colleges to find the best fit for you.

Staying on Track

Making the most of your experience in higher education.

Start early!

Begin thinking about your future educational goals and potential career paths. Parents, siblings, friends, teachers and guidance counselors are great sources of information. Be sure to work out multiple options, because a backup plan is always a good idea!

While it may seem like a long way off, middle school students can take steps that will help them achieve their future educational goals. This information is meant as a general guideline, as each student has his or her own unique goals and challenges. An open dialogue among parents, guidance counselors and students is important, no matter the path you choose to take.

Here are a few of the options to consider:


Certificate Programs

Certifications typically take one year or less to complete, but most likely will not count toward earning a bachelor’s degree in the future.

Associate Degrees

An Associate of Arts (AA) or Associate of Science (AS) degree is the equivalent of the first two years of study at a four-year college or university. Many times an AA or AS degree will transfer to a four-year institution and fulfill the general requirements toward a bachelor’s degree. An Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree is intended for someone who wants to get a job in a specialized field after graduation, such as Welding Technology or similar trade programs.

Bachelor Degrees

A Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) is earned by completing a four (or five) year program of study.

Graduate Degrees

Post-graduate studies can earn a Master’s Degree with the option of continuing on to a Doctorate (PhD), depending on the program of study and the student’s ability.

Helpful Links

Be sure to check out these web sites!

Student Assistance Foundation

The Student Assistance Foundation is based right here in Helena! They help students of all ages find funding for higher education, whether it’s a college, trade school, technical school or whatever you choose.

Montana Career Information System

MCIS is a fun way to explore different career opportunities. It is set up for use by anyone from middle school students to adults, providing information ranging from wages to job growth for over 550 different occupations.

Montana University System

The Montana University System site is full of information about educational opportunities in our state. You can search for a specific school, compare tuition, find scholarship opportunities and so much more!


The Free Application for Fed Student Aid is a great resource for information about financing your education. The online application is used by current and new college students to apply for financial aid for the upcoming academic year.

Montana Family Education Savings Program

The Montana Family Education Savings Program is a tax-advantaged program created by the state of Montana to encourage families to save for their children’s higher education.

ACT & SAT Test

Here you will find official ACT & SAT test information, including test dates and test prep materials.




Academics are important at every stage of the game. Start focusing on obtaining good grades now.  This will benefit you throughout your academic career.


Look into saving for college (Montana Family Education Savings Program) and begin researching financial aid options (Student Assistance Foundation) for the future.


Join clubs, student organizations, or sports. Volunteer your time outside of school. Not only is it fun, but it’s a good way to start building a resumé and build a list of references that you can draw from later on.

Also, look into additional academic programs in your area (PEAK Gifted & Talented program in Helena).


Juggling a busy school schedule, after-school activities and household responsibilities can be hectic Learn to manage your time wisely.


These subjects are the core for pretty much everything, so work hard and don’t be afraid to ask for help!



Check out Montana University System’s College Preparatory Program. There you can access your high school’s approved college prep curriculum so you know what classes you need to take in order to be prepared for college.


Start investigating your school’s advanced placement course options and dual enrollment opportunities (to earn college credit while still in high school). These are both great ways to prepare you for college.


This test is found here: Your English, math, reading and science reasoning skills are evaluated to help you plan high school courses, prepare for the ACT exam and choose a career path.


  • Remember to bring your homework home at night & back to school each day!
  • Establish a quiet study zone at home. Eliminate distractions so you can focus on your work.
  • Write down every assignment. Try a day planner or a notebook that is just for assignments.
  • Organize with color (one color for each class)! Try notebooks, folders, highlighters, sticky notes, etc.
  • Take tons of notes and devise your own method. Re-writing notes or creating flashcards can help.
  • Do your reading! Try reading ahead, too.
  • Study in chunks & avoid cramming. Your grades will be better and you’ll feel less test anxiety, too.


  • Write out (honestly!) how much time you spend each day doing everything from sleeping and studying to hanging out. This will help you to identify time-wasters & budget your time wisely.
  • Learn to prioritize. Create a “To-Do” list with the most important things at the top, or organized in a way that helps keep you from putting off some of those dreaded or difficult tasks.
  • Multi-task whenever possible. Combine activities to save lots of time.
  • Learn to say “NO!” It can be difficult to turn down invitations from friends, but politely declining will free you up to focus on more important tasks and make your life less stressful.



Continue to think about post-secondary education and begin exploring admissions requirements for colleges you are interested in. If you haven’t already, look into advanced placement courses and Dual Enrollment options for your high school.


Keep researching future financial aid or scholarship options. Explore careers you find interesting and keep a notebook just to jot down ideas and long/short-term goals. Be sure to get your Social Security Number ( and memorize that bad boy because you’ll use it a lot during the college application process.



Consider getting a part-time job or doing volunteer work in your community.


Start studying for the ACT and/or SAT tests now. You will find test prep materials on their respective web sites.


Start thinking about what factors are important to you in choosing a college. Create a detailed list of what you like/ dislike about different colleges and universities. This will help you narrow down your options a little bit.



Enrolling in challenging courses will make you a strong candidate for admission (be sure to keep up your grades!) and prepare you for college-level coursework. Again, look into advanced placement courses and Dual Enrollment options for your high school. The Montana University System’s Rigorous Core is a great college prep guideline!


If you don’t have any work or volunteer experience under your belt, now is a good time! Also, talk to teachers or volunteer coordinators who may write a letter or recommendation on your behalf.


Continue narrowing down potential colleges, working on admissions essays and researching financial aid options and scholarships. Start thinking about the ACT & SAT and pay attention to testing dates!



Be sure to complete your FAFSA by March 1st (that’s the priority filing deadline) and request official transcripts from your high school be sent to your college of choice. Submit your college admissions application and follow up to be sure they have what they need.


If you don’t have a laptop already, consider purchasing one for college. You will also need to plan for living arrangements, transportation and finances for next year!


Studying at a two -year institution has its benefits. The cost of a two-year program is considerably less expensive! It’s a great way to get general education courses out of the way for those who wish to pursue a bachelor’s degree. Also, some programs offer evening & online courses for students whose work/ family obligations don’t allow them to attend full-time or daytime classes.



Hang on to those graduation cards with money inside!  Budgeting for next year will help you to develop good habits.  Living on your own is expensive, whether you go to college or not!  Start (or continue) saving over the summer and you will feel less stressed when the school year hits.  


Check into your cell phone plan to be sure you’re covered wherever you’re going.  See if your bank has a branch near your campus or consider opening a new bank account.  Finalize transportation, housing arrangements (and meal plans!) and spruce up your resumé just in case you decide to look for a job.  The closer it gets to the beginning of the semester, the harder it will be to find housing or employment.  Be sure to take a folder just for important documents, and make copies of everything you send out. 

Top 10 Skills for High-School Students

Whether you're a freshman or a senior, developing the following ten skills will help you achieve success in school, in your chosen career, and in life.

  1. Time Management
    You know the deal: There are just 24 hours in each day. What you do with that time makes all the difference. While high-school students average 35 hours per week of class time, college students log an average of 15 to 18 hours per week.

    Getting your "free" time under control now will help prepare you for managing that extra 20 hours a week come freshman year of college -- when you'll need to study and want to socialize more than ever.

    If you don't already, start using a daily planner. This could be a datebook you keep in your bag, an online version you maintain at home, or both. It's easy to over-schedule or "double-book" if we aren't careful. Manage your time wisely and you'll get the maximum out of each day.

  2. Good Study Habits
    If you've got them, great. If not - well, there's still time to develop them. Good study habits include these basics:

    • Always be prepared for class, and attend classes regularly. No cutting!
    • Complete assignments thoroughly and in a timely manner.
    • Review your notes daily rather than cram for tests the night before.
    • Set aside quiet time each day for study -- even if you don't have homework or a test the next day!
  3. The Ability to Set Attainable Goals
    It's important to set goals, as long as they're attainable. Setting goals that are unreasonably high is a set-up -- you'll be doomed to frustration and disappointment.

  4. Concentration
    Listen to your teacher and stay focused. Be sure that you understand the lesson. If you don't understand something, ask questions! You've heard it before, but "the only dumb question is the one you don't ask" is absolutely true. If you've been paying attention, it definitely won't be a dumb question.

  5. Good Note-Taking
    You can't possibly write down everything the teacher says since we talk at a rate of about 225 words per minute. But, you do need to write down the important material.

    Be sure to validate yourself after a test by going back over your notes to see if your notes contained the answers to questions asked on the test. If not, you need to ask to see a classmate's notes or check with the teacher for help on improving your note-taking.

    Studying with a partner is also a good idea, provided that you study and don't turn it into a talk-fest (there's time for that later). Note-taking should be in a form that's most helpful to you. If you're more of a visual person, try writing notes on different colored index cards. Music can also be a good memory aid as long as you don't find it distracting. Re-writing your notes daily is another strategy. If you really have a problem with note-taking, you might ask your teacher if you can tape-record daily lessons. Do whatever it takes!

  6. Completion of Assignments
    Teachers assign homework for a reason. While it may seem like "busywork" at times, it definitely has a purpose. Put your homework to good use. Remember, you'll only get out of it what you put into it!

  7. Review of Daily Notes
    Don't wait until the night before the test to review your notes. Go over your notes each day while the lecture is still fresh in your mind. Add any missing pieces. Compare your notes with a classmate's notes. This isn't cheating -- it may even be mutually beneficial. Review your notes each day to reinforce your learning and build towards your ultimate goal: MASTERY of the subject or skill.

  8. Organizational Skills
    Keeping yourself organized will save you valuable time and allow you to do everything you need to do. Remember: "A place for everything and everything in its place." Keep all your study materials (calculator, planner, books, notebooks, laptop, etc.) in one convenient location.

  9. Motivation
    You need to be motivated to learn and work hard, whether or not you like a specific subject or teacher. Self-motivation can be extremely important when you aren't particularly excited about a class. If you must, view it as an obstacle you must overcome. Then, set your mind to it and do it -- no excuses. Success is up to you!

  10. Commitment
    You've started the course, now you need to complete it. Do the best -- and get the most out of it -- that you can! Your commitment will pay off in the end.

Helena College Chat