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8 back-to-school “to-dos” for students looking toward college or career training

Written by
VSAC Staff

August 29, 2023


student and adult

If you have a middle school or high school student, you may want to add college and career planning to your annual back-to-school to-do list. It’s never too early for students to start thinking about their lives beyond high school: preparation can start as early as 7th and 8th grade. And if you have a rising senior who hasn’t decided on their next steps, don’t panic – it’s definitely not too late.

Not sure how to get started? Here are eight suggestions for ways you can connect your student to college and career planning resources … and all are 100% free.

1. Check if VSAC Offers a College and Career Counseling Program at Your School

VSAC is Vermont’s official college and career planning resource. We’re here to help all Vermonters who are looking to continue their education beyond high school. Anyone can use the resources available on our website, or meet with one of our counselors for help with planning, applications, or financial aid and scholarships. Just send us a message at and we’ll make sure your inquiry is routed to the person who can help you.

VSAC also administers two federal grant programs: GEAR UP, and Talent Search. These programs are offered at designated middle and high schools around the state and provide college and career planning resources. Individual students can be nominated by a teacher or counselor within their school.  Students may reach out to the school counseling office to see if their school hosts one of these programs and if the student may be eligible to apply.

2. Attend a VSAC Career Planning Workshop Near You

VSAC hosts several education and career planning events throughout the year. A virtual Vermont Career Connect event is planned for November; focused on middle schoolers, the event helps students think about the future, explore possibilities, and hear from people in a variety of careers about their work.

For high school students, VSAC also hosts College and Career Pathways (CCP) events at colleges and university campuses around the state during the winter and spring; many students plan ahead to attend with their schools. These events help students discover free resources for post-secondary exploration and connect with local experts. CCP events take place all around the state; the March 23, 2024, CCP event at the University of Vermont is open to the public and free of charge.

In autumn, students can leverage CCP event material online. The CCP resource page offers workshop recordings, videos, step-by-step guides, pdfs, links, and more resources for searching for colleges and programs, applying for training or to college, and paying for education.

“These events expose students to things they might not get in their regular school day,” explains Katie Gesser, a Talent Search Outreach Counselor for VSAC.

Families can find more information about the College and Career Pathways program here. (The page will updated in January for events offered during the spring of 2024.)

3. Attend the Annual College Fair at St. Michael’s College on September 21, 2023

The New England Association for College Admission Counseling (NEACAC) hosts an annual college fair every fall; this year, the event takes place on Thursday, September 21, 2023, at St. Michael’s College.

Students who participate in VSAC programs at their schools will likely come during the school day as part of a group field trip. However, families can also come on their own during the evening session, from 6:00 to 8:00 pm. The event is held at the Rec Center on the St. Mike’s campus in Colchester.  Students can check out what colleges are attending on the NEACAC website. If a student is coming with a parent or guardian rather than with their school, they can also register themselves on the NEACAC site.

“This is such a great opportunity for Vermont students, especially those who live in more rural parts of the state, who may not have visited many of our campuses,” says Gesser. However, she stresses that the event is attended by representatives from hundreds of colleges from around the country, not just schools in Vermont or New England. So it’s a great event for any student, no matter where they are in the process.

4. Check out VSAC’s Resource Library

VSAC’s website offers numerous planning resources, including college planning checklists by grade level and articles by topic. Take a look at VSAC’s “I am” pages for high school students or for parents, with links to free publications, guides, and events. Students and parents can sign up here to receive emails about events and planning tips.

VSAC also has a YouTube channel with videos on essay writing, test taking, and other ways to prepare for college or career training. So, as your other favorite YouTubers love to say, don’t forget to like and subscribe!

5. Take Note of Changes to the FAFSA in 2023, for the 2024-2025 Academic Year

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is a required form for any student who is applying for federal, state, or school-based financial aid, public or private loans, public or private scholarships, or merit aid at many institutions. There will be several changes to the FAFSA this year (for the 2024-2025 academic year) that are intended to make the form shorter and more user friendly. Families who have filled out the FAFSA in prior years may notice some changes to language, terminology, and questions asked by the form. One key difference for everyone is that the new FAFSA opens in December 2023, instead of October 1. VSAC will be working to help students and families learn about changes to the FAFSA, and how to navigate those changes. Stay tuned for more information.

6. Attend a VSAC Financial Aid Workshop

VSAC routinely hosts several financial aid workshops in the fall at schools around the state. These events will still take place in the fall of 2023 for the 2024-2025 academic year, but VSAC will also offer some additional events later in the winter and early spring, since the FAFSA won’t be coming out until December 1. Check the VSAC website for a full schedule of financial aid workshops starting this fall.

7. Apply for Scholarships and the Vermont Grant

Even though the FAFSA date has been pushed back, the timelines remain the same for VSAC Scholarships and the Vermont State Grant: that process opens on October 1. All information is available on the VSAC website, and students can apply for scholarship programs online through their MyVSAC account. All students are encouraged to apply for scholarships they may be eligible for; they don’t need to be part of GEAR UP or Talent Search to apply. In past years, there have been more than 170 scholarships available from public and private funders that offer awards ranging from a few thousand dollars to full four-year tuition.

8. Take a Free College Course to Explore Topics of Interest

The Dual Enrollment and Early College programs allow high school juniors and seniors to take up to two college courses for free, either online or in person. Gesser highly encourages students to take a look, because it’s a great way to gain some exposure to a course your school doesn’t offer, as well as to explore new topic areas that can be life changing.

Sometimes, students know exactly what they want to explore; other times, it’s hard to know. One helpful platform to explore careers that are important to the future of Vermont is MyFutureVT, the state’s free online resource for career and education information. There you’ll find an interactive database of the most in-demand, highest-paying jobs in Vermont, fun quizzes to learn more about what type of jobs align with the users’ interests and strengths, and more. Not only does MyFutureVT help students consider potential careers, it also allows them to explore education and training programs to prepare them for those careers. If a student needs more assistance, MyFutureVT connects users to the support services that may help them along their career and education journey. In helping define careers, MyFutureVT may also help students decide what classes to take for Dual Enrollment or Early College.

“I’ve seen students fall in love with a class they had never before considered, and that’s the career they decide to go into. I’ve also had students take a class in a subject they thought they would like, and didn’t, which is just as important,” Gesser says. “I really push these programs as important sources of exploration for students.”

Dual Enrollment is open to high school juniors or seniors who attend public schools, and interested students should talk to either their VSAC counselor or their school guidance counselor about signing up. (Students need permission from a guidance counselor to enroll.) There is still plenty of time to apply for spring-semester courses.

Early College is open to high school seniors attending public schools, and interested students should connect with their guidance counselor to start the application process during their junior year.

Wherever you are in the college or career planning process, VSAC is your guide. Our mission is to serve Vermont students so that they have the information, counseling, and financial aid to achieve their education goals. Find out how we can help you by contacting us at (800) 642-3177 or by email at