How to Prepare for the ACT® or SAT®

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Your score on a college admissions test, such as the ACT or SAT, can be an important factor in helping colleges determine if you will do well if admitted to their institutions. This test score is also a key component of the Regent Admission Index and can help you qualify for merit-based scholarships. If you have already taken a college admissions test but aren’t satisfied with your score, you may want to take it again. The ACT reported that 57% of students from the class of 2013 who took the test more than once improved their composite scores. Here are some tips to ensure you perform your best.

Utilize free test prep. There are many resources for free test prep, such as in your I Have A Plan Iowa® account, the official ACT question of the day and the SAT question of the day. Ask your teachers or school counselor if your high school offers a test prep course or any other resources.

Prepare the night before. Know where your test site is so you’re not frantically searching for it the day of the test. Have your test admission ticket and photo ID set out and ready to go and make sure you know the policies on cell phones, calculators and electronic devices. Get plenty of rest and dress comfortably since you will be sitting for several hours.

Use the time wisely. There is a time limit for the test so answer the questions you can first and go back to the difficult questions at the end. The ACT does not penalize for wrong answers; scores are based on the number of questions answered correctly. Therefore, if you are running out of time at the end, answer every question since there is no penalty for guessing. On the SAT, you receive one point for every correct answer, zero points for every question you leave unanswered and a fraction of a point is subtracted for incorrect multiple choice answers.

Double check the ovals.  Every five to 10 questions go back and make sure the question you are on is aligning to the right row of answers. You don’t want to get to the end of the test and realize the question that you skipped isn’t aligning to the skipped row of answers. This also gives you a chance to make sure you didn’t smudge any ovals or fill them in illegibly.

Outline the essay. When on the writing section of the SAT, or if you chose to take the ACT optional writing section, take a few minutes to carefully ponder the question. Then create an outline for your essay before you begin to write. The people scoring your essay will be looking for a well-organized essay, which means you should have a clear introduction, thesis, body and conclusion.

A Little Teasing Never Hurt Anyone (Or does it?)

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Nate_MonsonNate Monson is the Executive Director of Iowa Safe Schools, the state’s leading LGBTQ youth and anti-bullying organization.  Since 2002, the organization has led efforts to pass the state’s anti-bullying law, inclusion of LGBTQ youth in the Iowa Civil Rights Code and statewide training efforts for educators.  The organization is hosting the 10th Annual Iowa Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth to be held April 3rd, 2015 in Des Moines.  For more information about Iowa Safe Schools please visit

All students deserve a safe and supportive learning environment.  While this statement rings true, we know that students are faced with bullying, harassment and even threats of physical violence in our schools and communities.  According to the 2012 Iowa Youth Survey, 57% of Iowa students reported being bullied.

What can you do as a parent or an educator if you know a student is a target of bullying behavior?  Here are the three recommended actions you need to take to help any student who is being bullied.

Report – The first action you need to take is to report the incident to the school’s office.  There will be bullying report forms available, as required under state law, in every school’s office.  After you request the form, ask to speak with the school counselor or school administrator on duty to inform him or her about the situation.  This will enable the school to take immediate action while you complete the form in its entirety.  A bullying investigation will be conducted following the completion of the bullying report. Every school has a designated bullying investigator, in some cases this will be the principal.

Protect – During this initial conversation, you need to work with the school administrator on the most important thing, a safety plan for the student.  This is done to ensure that no further emotional or physical harm is done in the short term.  A safety plan should include such items as: securing the route the student takes home from school, becoming aware of social media habits and alerting other educators in the building that an incident has happened.  Communication with other school staff is imperative as some may have observed things in their classrooms, and it ensures that the students involved are not unknowingly placed in a group project together.

Support – Bullying takes a high emotional toll on a person.  While a bullying situation is being solved, it is critical to support the student.  This support can come in a variety of ways such as opening outlets of communication so the student has a trusted adult to confide in or by providing activities to help build the student’s self confidence.

Remember – bullying is not a normal conflict between two people – this is a form of abuse.  It is important to respond quickly and consistently to send the message that bullying is not acceptable.There are a variety of resources to help including StopBullying.Gov; TheTrevorProject.Org; and our own website at IowaSafeSchools.Org.


October is College Application Month!

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During the month of October, Iowa College Aid hosts College Application Campaign throughout the state of Iowa. Schools are encouraged to give seniors time during the school day in which to complete college applications, ask questions about the financial aid process and prepare for postsecondary success.

We encourage all Iowa high school seniors to take time this month to complete at least one college application. Over 60% of Iowa jobs will require a postsecondary credential by the year 2018. Governor Terry Branstad showed his support of the campaign by publicly signing a proclamation at Hoover High School in Des Moines declaring October College Application Campaign Month. The governor emphasized the importance of postsecondary education in improving quality of living.

“Obtaining a postsecondary degree has been linked to higher income, increased employment opportunities, better health and increased community involvement.”

Before getting started, make sure you have all essential information gathered, such as your Social Security Number, ACT/SAT scores, dual credit information, name and addresses of all high schools you attended, GPA and class rank. Iowa College Aid’s checklist can help ensure you have all the information for your applications.  You can even practice completing a sample college application at to get the feel of it before doing the real thing! When you are ready, Iowa College Aid links to every Iowa college and university’s online application in the Higher Education Data Center. Simply select the college or university you are interested in and click on the “Apply Now” link.

After completing your application, make sure you also submit all requested documentation. Depending on the college or university, this may include an application fee (or waiver if you are eligible), letters of recommendation, official test scores and transcripts and personal essays. For more expert college application advice, review our previous post in which Coe College Associate Director of Admission Josh Kite shares tips on how to ace the application process.

After you apply to college we welcome you to share what influenced your decision to go to college with the hashtag #WhyIChose.   Below are just a few of the reasons we are seeing and we can’t wait to see what you have to say!

#whyichose1 #whyichose2 #whyichose3

AmeriCorps VISTA Carrie Christensen: College Changes Everything in Marshalltown

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Carrie ChristensenCarrie Christensen serves as the College Changes Everything  AmeriCorps VISTA in Marshalltown. Carrie holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Simpson College and a master’s degree in public health from Boston University. She is working at Marshalltown Community College to improve retention rates among students attending college while helping increase the number of college-going high school graduates.

My background has been working alongside individuals from diverse backgrounds and helping these individuals improve their communities. Prior to receiving my master’s degree in public health, I served in the United States Peace Corps as a community health worker in Nicaragua.  As a community health worker in the Peace Corps, I worked at a local health center and a casa materna (a birthing home).  My main objective in my community was to educate community members about public health concerns including HIV/AIDS, reproductive health and other communicable diseases. As secondary activities, I helped teach English classes with the local English teacher at my site and worked with adolescents to lower teenage pregnancy in my community.  It is during this time that I realized I enjoy empowering people and working alongside them to improve their communities.  This experience is what led me to obtaining a master’s degree in public health.

I am originally from Iowa, so it was a very daunting feeling to leave the comforts of home to go to the Peace Corps and also to go to Boston.  What I have learned through my Peace Corps experience and obtaining my masters is so eloquently said by Mother Teresa:  “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” I learned that in doing small things with great love we are actually doing great things. I am grateful for my experiences in the Peace Corps and the time that I spent in Boston.  I decided to become a VISTA member (Volunteers in Service to America) to continue to work alongside communities to address their specific needs.

I hope this year that I can help empower students and provide them with effective resources so they are able to attend college. I do remember the anxiety I felt as a high school student trying to navigate the college application process.  Hopefully throughout this year, I can help students have less anxiety about applying to college and assist them in accomplishing their professional and personal goals.

My goal this year as a VISTA member is to become an active member in the Marshalltown and Tama/Toledo area.  I plan to work closely with schools to encourage and educate students on the college application and financial aid processes. I also want to reach out to local businesses and organizations that work directly with students to build stronger partnerships, align efforts and learn from each other’s challenges and successes so we can understand how to help and support students better.

While I have been an AmeriCorps Vista for less than 6 weeks, I have been busy identifying and learning about barriers that keep students in my community from applying to college and filing for financial aid. During my year-long term, I hope to figure out the best way to effectively integrate sustainability into my projects, so that after my departure the community can successfully continue the college-going efforts.  I am looking forward to the coming year and serving college-bound students in my community.

National Preparedness Month: Be Disaster Aware, Take Action to Prepare!

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National Preparedness Month

September is known as National Preparedness Month – Be Disaster Aware, Take Action to Prepare –in which the Federal
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) encourages everyone to be aware of what their organization, workplace or school’s disaster plan is. FEMA also invites everyone to take part in America’s PrepareAthon! on September 30. In honor of this event, Iowa College Aid is providing safety tips from   Angie Jewett, Emergency Manager at Iowa State University .

“For a lot of college students this is their first time being out on their own, many have had someone looking out for the best interest,” stated Jewett.  “Now they have much more of a personal responsibility for their own safety that they need to be aware of.”

As part of this personal responsibility for safety, students need to seek out local and on-campus resources for emergency services.

“Students need to know where they can find safety resources. I encourage all students to follow local law enforcement and their school’s department of environmental health on social media to find information,” said Jewett.

College students should also pay attention to the emergency exit plans posted in each and every building and public venue they frequent.

“Regardless of what building you’re in, always know at least two different ways to exit that building. This is essential for not just your residence hall, but also classrooms, local restaurants you frequent and more. Always be aware of how to get out of building safely, or where to go inside of the building for safety, “advised Jewett.

Join in the conversation on September 30 using #NatlPrep and by following @Readygov and @PrepareAthon!

AmeriCorps VISTA Ben Thorp: College Changes Everything in Council Bluffs

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Ben ThorpBen Thorp is a graduate of Michigan State University where he studied English and Education. He now serves as a AmeriCorps VISTA member in Council Bluffs promoting the College Changes Everything initiative.

When I graduated college a mere five months ago, a mixture of fear and hope bubbling in my chest, I had literally no idea what I was going to do. Granted, I don’t think I’m alone when I say that, it seems this day and age a lot of people are looking blank-faced into the sky and asking “uh, seriously, what am I supposed to be doing with my life?” Unfortunately for me, my friends are all wildly self-motivated (ick), professionally-driven (what is this?), and generally likable (re: the absolute worst) young people. Therefore the impetus to do something was very, very strong. I’d been working a variety of jobs (no lie, like seven) that were all centered on education: tutoring athletes, coordinating at an after-school art studio for high school students and a story- telling project that paired college and elementary students. So when I finally started to look around for a job, education was at the forefront of that search.

I’d be remiss not to mention that inequality, and particularly education inequality, is an issue that I really do care about. My college, The Residential College of the Arts and Humanities (a small, mouthful of a liberal arts college that works as a cog in the Michigan State University system), made a big deal about “civic engagement.” This entailed putting students into the community and helping them work on a variety of issues from food access to refugee development. Through these situations, albeit begrudgingly, I realized all the ways in which our communities and institutions have neglected and abandoned people, and the responsibility that we all share to make sure that this changes. So, when I was offered a job with AmeriCorps in Council Bluffs working to “help increase college attainment,” I said “Alright, I’ll do it.”

Don’t be confused. Accepting this position doesn’t mean I have this whole “what are you doing with your life?” concept figured out any more than I did before. In fact, my very first day was filled with the sheer terror of realizing that I was expected to figure out how to best serve schools on my own. My first meeting (which was really more like “bumped into this person in the hall”) with the big boss went something like this:

“Hello Big Boss, I am Ben. What can I do to get started?”

“Increase college attainment in the school district by five percent.”

“Oh. Cool. Anything else?”

“I really hope you’re a self-starter.”

And that’s how my AmeriCorps year started off. Now, especially for someone who’s been agonizing over “how should I be living life?” a question like “how do I increase college attainment by five percent?” is not significantly less scary on any scale. But, so far, the freedom to figure this out on my own has been invaluable. While I still don’t have some of the larger answers, I have been able to develop the skills I need to make it through the smaller stuff: designing a college attainment program, developing a budget for that program, and working with community partners, teachers, and counselors to find what the students need and the best way to get it to them. It’s all still in the infancy stage, just starting to take off. But I think maybe, like my wild adventure into adulthood, it’s starting to be able to walk.

September is College Savings Month!

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2014-04-29 09.31.16September is known nationally as College Savings Month, and State Treasurer Michael L. Fitzgerald encourages all Iowans to celebrate! In honor of College Savings Month, College Savings Iowa will be giving away one $5,290 account this fall. Interested participants can learn more and register to win by visiting College Savings Iowa’s website.

Iowa College Aid would also like to take this opportunity to remind students of the importance of keeping student loan debt as low as possible and making wise financial decisions throughout their college career. We encourage students to take the following advice, courtesy of Clarke University Financial Aid Office.

  • Don’t take on credit card debt – It gets ugly quickly.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask LOTS of questions.
  • Understand that figuring out financial aid (or financing) is NOT just your parents’ responsibility.  You need to know what is going on.
  • Be aware PRIOR To starting school how you plan to pay your bills – don’t wait until the day of registration for the next semester to figure it out.
  • Get to know the financial aid staff on campus – they’re not scary – they work in higher education because they LIKE to work with students!
  • Don’t take out a bunch of loans to “live on”- pay your school bills with your financial aid, but get a job to pay for your lifestyle choices.
  • Know aid limits – loans and grants have limits – know what yours are before you decide to stay in school longer.


For further money management tips and financial aid advice, visit our website or call 877-272-3464.