Post-Secondary Education Options take students off campus

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Lucy Li

Senior Cynthia Zheng takes Chinese classes through PSEO. When making the decision, she had to take into consideration the academic balance of her programs, but also timing and budget for things like driving and paying for parking. “I have to leave right after school every day so I have no time to meet with teachers and no time to meet with other people when I’m in a group project,” she said. “That’s been really difficult.”

By Lucy Li, St. Paul Academy and Summit School, St. Paul, Minn.

“What’s your major?”

Senior Charlie Southwick’s fellow French classmates at the University of Minnesota asked him this question, not knowing that Southwick was part of the Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program.

“I was like, ‘Well I’m actually still a high school student,’” Southwick said, “and they said, ‘Oh, cool.’”

Southwick is not alone; the PSEO program has placed many students into college before they even graduate high school.

PSEO Basics

PSEO offers the opportunity for high school students to take courses at a local college, including the University of Minnesota, Hamline University, Macalester College, or St. Catherine’s University. The Minnesota State Legislature introduced this program in 1985. “It serves a different sort of purpose for different students,” Upper School Director of College Counseling and Academic Planning Mary Hill said. Hill mentioned that some students in Minnesota might take the majority of their classes through PSEO.

PSEO is only available for juniors and seniors. When making recommendations, “we tend to keep an eye on which students are going to be exhausting our curriculum in fields like math and language,” Hill said.

Before Spring Break, college counselors notify individual students of the opportunity. Application deadlines range from April 1-May 31.

“We support students to do a PSEO class if they run out of our courses to take… or if they’ve got a specific reason to study a subject that we don’t offer at all,” Hill said.

This is the case for senior Connor Allen, whose interests led to him taking logic and conflict studies courses at Hamline University.

SPA requires that PSEO students still complete a minimum of 4.5 credits at school and that they participate in community activities such as advisory and assemblies.

PSEO applications may include an essay, a standard state form, transcripts, and recommendations, but the process varies from college to college.

For junior Evan Miller, the U of M had provided decisions by June, while entry into the program at Macalester, which Miller preferred, did not finalize until August. “[It] was actually a little bit stressful…,” Miller said. “It was difficult to plan because I didn’t know whether or not I’d be able to take the class.” He currently attends a linear algebra class at Macalester along with senior Vittorio Orlandi.

Southwick took an intermediate level French course last semester, after finishing French V at SPA as a junior. “I’m really passionate about French so I wanted to keep going,” Southwick said.

Senior Cynthia Zheng had a similar situation, having completed all the offered levels of Chinese. “My thought was that if I didn’t take Chinese for a year, that I would forget a lot of characters and grammar rules, and by the time I get into college I would be behind,” she said.

College classes

The rigor and size of PSEO classes varies, but Southwick’s PSEO class was not too different from those at SPA. “My class was only about 13 people so there was still an engaged interactive environment,” he said. Southwick did notice, though, that his college classmates didn’t have as much unity outside of class.

Miller’s class has approximately 40 students, and students still have opportunities to reach out for help. “[The professor’s] office hours are really accessible; I can talk to him at any time, similar to a [SPA] teacher here,” Miller said.

One difference between Miller’s class and those at SPA is that teaching assistants, not the professor, grade the homework and exams. “They’re the ones you go to if you have questions about homework or the course materials.”

“At the U of M, one big difference is that people don’t necessarily care who you are,” Zheng said. “Other students are not going to be like, ‘Let’s have a go around,’” an introductory activity that is commonplace in many SPA classrooms.

Professors and classmates do not look down on high schoolers in the classroom. “The students treat you just the same,” Zheng said. “Most of them don’t even know I am a PSEO student.”

Achieving balance

For Zheng, she had to not only take into consideration the completion of assignments and exams but also driving and paying for parking. “I have to leave right after school every day so I have no time to meet with teachers and no time to meet with other people when I’m in a group project,” she said. “That’s been really difficult.”

I have to leave right after school every day so I have no time to meet with teachers and no time to meet with other people when I’m in a group project. That’s been really difficult.”

— Cynthia Zheng, PSEO student

Zheng’s advice for people thinking about doing PSEO: “You really have to think about your schedule.” With a course overload, Zheng has been especially aware of her management of time during the day and transportation between schools.

Miller’s class is held during the day from noon to 1 p.m., a time that conflicts with the SPA block schedule. “I find it somewhat difficult to keep up with classes that I’m missing here at SPA while I go to class at Macalester, but I’ve been managing it so far,” he said. What he misses for math class includes travel time between schools, and Wednesdays can be particularly challenging due to the late start schedule.

Southwick decided to not do PSEO this semester because of the work it involved first semester. “I [went to class] on Monday and Wednesday for one hour and 15 minutes and I probably did 5 to 6 hours of homework per week,” he said. His class was held in the evenings, and he had set up his SPA schedule so that he could have enough free periods to do homework. Combined with cross country practice, college apps, and regular schoolwork, PSEO provided a sturdy challenge for Southwick.

Southwick gave this advice for students considering PSEO classes: “It definitely adds a layer of stress, so only do it if you’re willing to work hard,” he said.

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