Last fall, I started taking PSEO classes part-time at the University of Minnesota. I took two classes in the fall semester, and one in the spring. I enjoyed the classes I took, and learned plenty as well, both in and out of the classroom. What follows is my PSEO story. Enjoy!

My parents brought up the subject of PSEO in the fall of 2003. At first I was reluctant because I didn’t know what classes I would take, but eventually they won me over by explaining that the classes themselves weren’t as important as gaining knowledge of what college is like. We considered a couple of colleges – Macalester and the U of M. I ended up choosing the U of M because it was large and interesting and the tuition rates for full-time college (if I decide to go there) were lower than Macalester.

The U of M requires that applicants to its PSEO program submit scores from one of four standardized tests – the PLAN, the PSAT, the ACT, or the SAT. For me, the PLAN (which is a precursor to the ACT) made the most sense because it’s geared to high school students in 10th grade, which I was in at the time.

The PLAN isn’t usually used as a college application test. It’s often more of an assessment test administered to high school students. Since one doesn’t usually prepare for an assessment test, PLAN test-prep books didn’t really exist, as we quickly found out. My language skills were fine for the test (the PLAN consists of four sections, Reading, Mathematics, Writing, and Science Reasoning), but my math needed some work. Dad and I worked for three weeks or so to bring my math skills up to the level I’d need. I took a sample PLAN test first, and found what problems I could and couldn’t do. Then, we worked on the problems I didn’t know how to solve. A very helpful book was Ten Real SATs. I took quite a few SAT practice tests from that book. (The math in the PLAN is surprisingly comparable to the math in the SAT, though slightly easier.) I found that there was such a narrow range of problem types on the PLAN that, if I learned how to solve a few basic types of problems, I could do most of the questions in the math portion of the test. In fact, I didn’t regret not having studied math earlier when I realized that the PLAN math could be learned fairly quickly. The Science Reasoning section of the PLAN consists of interpreting charts and graphs, which I didn’t need to study for.

The U also asks for a transcript (narrative or graded; my parents chose narrative) and a one-page essay on one of three topics. At a PSEO orientation session that we attended at the U, the speaker said that the two factors that most influence admission are test scores and essay quality. I had already written my essay, but I subsequently rewrote it and was glad I did.

I was accepted as a part-time PSEO student. (In the application process at the U, you must specify whether you’d like to attend part-time or full-time.) I chose to attend part-time because I wanted to “test the water,” so to speak. I also wanted to have time for other things during the school year.

My parents and I both thought that I’d enjoy PSEO the most if I took a class that I was really interested in, instead of trying to fulfill a requirement. I chose one under the Environmental Science heading, called “Introduction to Environmental Science.” At the you’ve-been-accepted-for-PSEO-so-now-what orientation session, the U also strongly recommended a one-credit online course called “Alcohol and College Life,” so I decided to sign up for that as well.

I found out that one of the surprising benefits of being a PSEO student at the U of M was that I got full access to their library system and could request Inter-Library Loans. I was used to waiting about six months for the Hennepin County Library system to get an ILL item; with the U of M, it took about 11 days. Also, the size of the U’s book collection meant that I could usually just get the item there.

My environmental science class was great. Class met twice a week on the St. Paul campus. The textbook was so interesting and well-written that I would have wanted to read it for fun even if I wasn’t taking the class. (In fact, my dad started reading it too, but didn’t finish before the semester ended and I had to take my textbook back. He had me Inter-Library Loan it from the U so he could keep on reading!) The class followed the textbook pretty closely, which wasn’t a bad thing. Most of the classes were lectures, though we occasionally broke into groups of three or four to discuss environmental issues. Near the end of the semester, each group gave a presentation on an environmental topic to the entire class. I was the speaker for my group’s presentation.

I didn’t meet any other PSEO students in my first class (at least not that I know of), but it wasn’t awkward to be in a class with college students. I was 16 years old, but I looked old enough that most folks probably assumed I was a college student as well. I was asked more than once what my major was! (“Well, I don’t really have one yet…”)

The online class was OK, but not great. For one credit, it was an awful lot of work to do. The lessons could be taken at one’s own pace, but there were certain due dates for quizzes and short papers. I would go a couple of weeks without doing anything, and then spend a couple days on the computer catching up. The material was interesting; there was just a ton of it.

For my second semester, I chose one class in American Indian Studies called “Indigenous Peoples: A Minnesota Perspective.” It was very enjoyable as well. It was held on the East Bank (quite a change from St. Paul), and met three days a week. It was smaller than my environmental science class had been (30 students vs. about 65). I also met one other PSEO student and another college student who had taken PSEO at the U a few years ago and loved it.

I enjoyed my professors in both classes, though they were very different. Professor King from my Environmental Science class was very friendly and had all 65 names memorized a few weeks into the semester. She would call on people by name if they hadn’t spoken up in a while. Professor McKay from my American Indian Studies class was more strict. His tests and quizzes were harder, but he was funny and lighthearted and knew his subject very well. He was Indian, was enrolled at a reservation in North Dakota, and had attended the U of M in the General College program.

I did well on all of my classes, but I was glad I hadn’t taken a full load. For example, I acted in a homeschool theater group’s production of A Christmas Carol during the fall semester, and was on the tech crew for a different group’s play in the spring, things I don’t think I’d have had time for if I was at the U every day.

Since I took classes I was very interested in, I enjoyed my PSEO experience and learned a lot as well. It was also neat just to be on campus and get some idea of what the U is like. This fall, I’ll be taking two courses, again at the U of M. One is an introduction to Landscape Architecture, and the other is a 4000-level course in the Theater Arts department called Introduction to Audio Technology, for which I had to obtain instructor permission.

Overall, my PSEO classes at the U have been enjoyable and have fulfilled their purpose of giving me a glimpse of college life. I’ve had a great experience with the U of M and would recommend it to anyone looking for a larger university with lots to offer. I’m looking forward to going back this fall.

(This article was written by Andy Pearson and published in The Grapevine in 2005.)