Preparing Students for College - UW HELP

Preparing Students for College

Get your students Started

Help your students get a head start on preparing for college. There’s a lot to learn and explore. There are a variety of resources for you to use with students and for your own enrichment.


To be admitted to a UW System college, students must take courses that prepare them for further studies in four core subjects: English, math, social studies or history, and natural science. These courses are known as a college preparatory, or “college prep,” program.

All UW System schools require students to complete at least 17 college prep credits before enrolling as a freshman: 13 in the four core subjects and four in subjects of the student’s choice. These four “elective” credits can be in core subjects or other academic subjects such as foreign language, art, music, or computer science. Some UW campuses accept technical and career courses for a portion of elective credits.

Subject Credits
English 4 credits
Mathematics 3 credits
Natural Science 3 credits
Social Science/History 3 credits

In addition to the “core college preparatory” credits identified, students need to complete a minimum of four elective credits as follows:

Subject Credits
Electives An additional 4 credits may be chosen from English, mathematics, natural science, social science/history, foreign language, fine arts, computer science, and other academic areas. (Two years of a single foreign language are required for admission to UW-Madison, and strongly recommended at other UW System campuses.)

Some UW System schools have additional college prep requirements. For example, UW-Madison requires two years of high school courses in a single foreign language. Visit the Admissions Guidelines and Requirements page for more information about each campus.

No matter which UW System campus your students plan to attend, they should consider earning more than 17 college prep credits. Taking challenging courses in all four years of high school helps students build the foundation they need to succeed in college.

College Credits in High School

Earning college credit before graduating from high school is a smart choice for many students. The benefits include:

  • Making progress toward your college degree
  • Getting a taste of college coursework
  • Challenging yourself with rigorous academics

There are lots of ways to earn credit that transfers to UW System campuses, including taking Advanced Placement (AP) exams and enrolling in college courses through the Early College Credit Program. Here are overviews of these options and more:

Advanced Placement Exams and Courses
The College Board designs Advanced Placement (AP) courses in more than 30 subjects, from Spanish to calculus to United States history. Specially trained teachers lead these courses at many high schools. Near the end of an AP course, students may take an exam in their subject. All UW campuses grant credit for AP exam scores of 3 or higher.

The amount and type of credit students will receive depend on their scores and the campus they plan to attend. Use the search tool to see how AP exam scores translate into credits at different UW System schools. You can sort the results by campus or academic subject.

Use the AP and IB Search Engine to see how credits will transfer into UW System Institutions.

International Baccalaureate Exams and Courses
More than 2,500 secondary schools in 150 countries offer college-level courses that prepare students for International Baccalaureate (IB) exams. Students can take these exams–and earn college credit–if they’re enrolled in a school authorized to offer them.

The IB Program is made up of standard level and higher-level courses. Students can choose to take the full IB Diploma Programme in which they take a specific number of HL and SL courses. Students can also choose to take several IB courses for college credit and not earn a full diploma. All UW System schools grant credit for HL exam scores of 4 or higher. If you complete IB’s Full Diploma Programme, you’ll earn additional credit.

The amount and type of credit students receive depends on their scores and the campus they plan to attend. Use the search tool to see how IB exam scores translate into credits at different UW System schools. You can sort the results by campus or academic subject.

Use the AP and IB Search Engine to see how credits will transfer into UW System Institutions. 

Wisconsin’s Early College Credit Program

High school students at public and private high schools in Wisconsin can earn college credit through the Early College Credit Program (ECCP). A student selected for the program may be permitted to enroll in a UW System institution, or an alternative private, non-profit institution of higher education (IHE) to take one or more courses for which the student may earn high school credit, post-secondary credit, or both. Under ECCP, the costs of the courses are shared among the IHE, the school district or private school, the state, and in some cases the student’s family.

Your school district will pay for student’s tuition, fees, and books if it does not offer a course comparable to the one students would like to take on a college campus. Your school board determines what constitutes a comparable course and whether high school credit can be granted for the college course that interests a student.

How to Apply for the Early College Credit Program:

  • Talk with your high school guidance counselor to see if it’s a good fit for you. They will consider how the class aligns with academic plans and whether you meet the pre-requisite for taking a college-level class.
  • Ask when, and to whom, the materials must be submitted to your high school.
  • Request information from UW System campuses where you’d like to take classes
  • Obtain an ECCP participation form your high school counselor or download the ECCP participation form
  • Submit your completed form to your school officials by the designated due date.
  • Follow the application or registration requirements at the campus or program you’d like to take classes with.
  • Make sure to submit any required documentation (i.e.high school transcripts along with any prerequisite documentation (AP scores))
  • Enroll in your class


  • Rank in class
  • Grade point average
  • The rigor of your high school courses
  • Letters of recommendation

Note: If you do not meet deadlines for submission of the required ECCP form (see above), you may still be able to take college courses through a UW System campus but the full costs of the credit will be carried by the student/family.

Enrolling in College Courses as a Special Student

Do you have students interested in taking courses on a college campus while in high school? They should consider applying for Special Student status at a UW System campus. Being a Special Student means students are approved to take college courses and earn college credits, but they’re not currently seeking a degree.

To be considered for Special Student status, students must meet the admission criteria of the UW System school they’d like to attend. An application for admission typically includes:

  • Admission forms
  • High school transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation

Help your students get in contact with the campus that interests them for specifics on Special Student admission and enrollment.

Project Lead the Way
Do you have students who are curious about engineering, computer science, or biomedical science careers? Check out Project Lead the Way (PLTW), which provides some Wisconsin high schools with coursework that prepares students for these fields. UW System campuses evaluate this coursework to ensure it will help students meet admission requirements.

When students apply to college, PLTW courses may count as high school science units. For this to happen, your high school must contact the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to request “equivalent to science” (ES) high school credit.

Check out the Project Lead the Way chart to see how credits will transfer to UW System campuses.

Wisconsin’s Youth Apprenticeship Programs
Hands-on learning during high school can help students meet college admission requirements. Wisconsin’s Youth Apprenticeship (YA) programs pair real-world work experiences with classroom instruction in the following fields:

  • Biotechnology
  • Engineering
  • Finance
  • Health services
  • Printing

UW System campuses evaluate these programs to ensure they will help students meet admission requirements. You can check out Wisconsin’s Youth Apprenticeship chart to see how courses will transfer to UW System campuses.

Agriculture and Science Courses
Some career-focused classes count as high school science units when students apply to college. For example, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has deemed certain courses in agriculture and science (Ag/Sci) “high school science equivalent.”. When you’re helping students prepare to complete their college applications, make sure their transcripts indicate which Ag/Sci courses meet this requirement.

To see how Agriculture and Science courses transfer to the UW System check here.

Many high schools also offer career-focused learning opportunities that may count toward college admission requirements. 

More Ways for High School Students to Earn College Credit

Advanced Placement exams and programs such as Youth Options aren’t the only ways to earn college credit while in high school. Explore other options like these:

 Independent Learning:  Students start courses anytime and work at their own pace with this opportunity offered by the University of Wisconsin Extended Campus. Students can learn online, or through printed materials mailed or emailed to their homes.
High school partnerships with UW System campuses: Some Wisconsin high schools team up with UW System campuses to offer opportunities for students to earn college credit. Here are a few programs to consider:


Regional Placement Testing

Which math, English, and foreign language courses will your students need to take in their first year of college? For most UW System campuses, students need to take placement tests to find out. Incoming freshmen typically take them through the Regional Testing Program a few months before starting college.

Students need to register for their placement test date ahead of time. Registration opens in February, and tests take place in spring and summer. A student who is unable to take the tests during the times offered should contact the campus they plans to attend. A student’s admission letter should state who to contact in this situation and list which test the student needs to take. 


Early Math Placement Tool

How ready are your students for college math courses? Which math class should students take during their senior year of high school? To answer these questions, have your students use Wisconsin’s Early Math Placement Tool (EMPT).

Offered through a partnership of the University of Wisconsin System, the Wisconsin Technical College System, the Department of Public Instruction, and Wisconsin high schools, the EMPT is free to use. It includes a placement test and a resource guide that shows how many math courses are required for each major on each UW System campus.

TRIO Programs

These federally funded programs prepare low-income, first-generation, or disabled Americans for college.  Students will find the guidance and inspiration they need to succeed in college. Participants must meet income and other eligibility requirements to participate. Learn more here: Federal TRIO Programs.

Over the years, the TRIO programs and opportunities have expanded beyond the original three:

Educational Opportunity Centers primarily serve displaced or underemployed workers with academic, personal, and career counseling for individuals who plan to enter or continue a college education.

Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program encourages doctoral study by providing service to first-generation, underrepresented college students. Named in honor of the astronaut who died in the 1986 space shuttle explosion, this program enables students who participate to take part in research and provides faculty mentors.

Student Support Services contribute to the success of low-income, first-generation college students and students with disabilities. Participants receive advising, counseling, and tutoring, and may take remedial and developmental classes.

Talent Search programs serve middle and high school students with counseling, skill development support, and academic information on college requirements, scholarships, and financial aid programs. Students are encouraged to complete high school and pursue a college education.

Upward Bound is a college preparatory program for low-income students where neither parent has graduated from college. It provides academic tutoring, counseling, and skill development for students in areas of reading, writing, mathematics, and science.

Upward Bound Math/Science Regional Center offers college preparation and counseling in math, science, and technology for students pursuing careers in math and science.

Campus Program
UW-Eau Claire Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program
Student Support Services
Upward Bound
UW-Green Bay Upward Bound
UW-La Crosse Student Support Services
Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program
UW-Madison Center for Educational Opportunity
Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program
UW-Milwaukee TRIO Student Support Services
TRIO & Pre-College Programs
Saturday Academy
Quest Project
Upward Bound Math & Science
Future Success Program
ACT Test-taking Experience and Preparation
Educational Opportunity Center
Parents Achieving Goals through Education (P.A.G.E.)
TRIO Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program
Veteran Upward Bound
UW-Milwaukee at Waukesha TRIO Student Support Services
UW-Oshkosh TRIO Student Support Services
Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program
UW-Parkside Student Support Services
UW-Platteville TRIO Student Support Services
UW-River Falls Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Program
Student Support Services
Upward Bound
UW-Stevens Point Upward Bound
UW-Stout TRIO Student Support Services
Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program
UW-Superior Student Support Services
Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement
Upward Bound
UW-Whitewater Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program
Upward Bound
UW-Whitewater at Rock County TRIO

The University of Wisconsin System provides full and equal educational opportunities to all students. Students are entitled to an accessible, accommodating, and supportive teaching and learning environment.

Since 1988, all of the UW System campuses have provided a variety of services for students with special needs, including audio textbooks, alternative testing, classroom note takers, priority registration, accessible parking, readers, equipment loan, and advising. If you are looking for additional information or resources on this topic, please visit the Americans with Disabilities Act website.

Students are best served by taking the following steps as a part of the admissions and enrollment processes:

  • Proactively disclose the need for accommodations to the campus. It is helpful to remind students that there is no automatic communication between secondary schools and institutions of higher education about an applicant’s Individualized Education Program (I.E.P.) or other accommodations.
  • Disclose requests for accommodations as early as possible. Applicants are encouraged to get in touch with the campus disability student services office early to get services set up.

Below you will find the websites for the Disability Services offices on each UW System Campus. 

Campus Website
UW-Eau Claire Visit
UW-Eau Claire – Barron County Visit
UW-Green Bay Visit
UW-Green Bay, Manitowoc Campus Visit
UW-Green Bay, Marinette Campus Visit
UW-Green Bay, Sheboygan Campus Visit
UW-La Crosse Visit
UW-Madison Visit
UW-Milwaukee Visit
UW-Milwaukee at Washington County Visit
UW-Milwaukee at Waukesha Visit
UW-Oshkosh Visit
UW-Oshkosh, Fond du Lac Campus Visit
UW-Oshkosh, Fox Cities Campus Visit
UW-Parkside Visit
UW-Platteville Visit
UW-Platteville Baraboo Sauk County Visit
UW-River Falls Visit
UW-Stevens Point Visit
UW-Stevens Point at Marshfield Visit
UW-Stevens Point at Wausau Visit
UW-Stout Visit
UW-Superior Visit
UW-Whitewater Visit
UW-Whitewater at Rock County Visit