Don’t Let the Second Half of Summer Go to Waste!

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As August draws near2014-04-29 13.44.04, take a look at what you’ve done with summer so far. Are you all prepared for classes in the fall? Have you learned any new skills or explored new hobbies? There’s still plenty of chances to take advantage of all that free time before college begins!

Volunteer. Not only can this experience be eye-opening and personally fulfilling, use volunteer work as a chance to gain experience in your field of choice. Interested in studying English or teaching? Try your hand at tutoring an ESL student or read during the library’s children story hour. Want to go into communications or marketing? Ask a nonprofit if you can assist in running their social media accounts or designing materials. Get creative and check out online resources to find volunteer opportunities, such as Volunteer Iowa and Volunteer Match.

Learn a new skill.  Whether it is a new language, software program or instrument, summer is a great time to pick up a new talent. There may be cheap classes available through your local community college or an online organization; however that are also hundreds of free resources for learning a new skill. Utilize YouTube tutorials, blogs and online learning communities. Some places to begin that offer useful skills for your college career include:

Take a road trip with friends. Chances are most of your friends won’t be going to the same college as you. Use summer as a chance to learn how to get to each other’s future school and where each of your friend’s will be living. This is a great opportunity to not only build more memories before everyone moves, but to figure out the boring, but necessary details of visiting such as parking.

Enjoy the rest of summer and take the time to learn something new!

Don’t Fall Prey to Student Loan “Rescue” Companies

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There are many companie2014-04-29 15.08.28s that seek to prey on Iowa students and their families as they plan how to pay for college.  A consumer advisory bulletin was recently issued by the Office of the Attorney General to forewarn Iowans of a more recent scam involving student loans. This advisory is in regards to “rescue” or “consolidation” businesses that claim they can lower student loan borrowers’ monthly payments, reduce interest rates or resolve other repayment issues.

However, many of the services these companies charge a fee for can be done for free by borrowers if they contact their student loan service provider directly. To find your loan servicer for federal student loans, visit the National Student Loan Data System. Other companies offer these services in an attempt to steal consumer identities and money. The biggest red flag is if the company is making a promise that sounds too good to be true.

Some of the scams highlighted in the advisory include:

  • Law offices or attorneys that charge fees ($300-$600) to file paperwork for borrowers that could be filed for free by the borrower if they contact the loan service provider directly.
  • Companies that require access to the borrower’s bank account under the false pretense of using it to automatically deduct payments and steal money from the account. Also, any personal identification information, such as Social Security Numbers are used to steal the borrower’s identity or sold off to other scammers.
  • Long-term scams in which the company charges consumers a service fee, down payments and collects a couple of monthly payments they claim are
    going towards the borrower’s loan. The money is never applied towards the student loan and the borrowers face late fees and penalties from payments they didn’t know they were missing.

Do not fall prey to these scams. Some of these student loan companies will have professional looking websites and may claim to be associated with a government agency or that they are working for the U.S. Department of Education. If you feel you may have already fallen victim to one of these scams, file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division.

Explore the Country Through National Student Exchange

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All of the choices and NSEopportunities college presents to you can seem daunting and overwhelming at times. I always wanted to do more traveling, and college provides ample opportunities to pursue this passion. However, when I saw the price tag associated with studying abroad and general “have-it-togetherness” required to leave the continent, I felt this goal was out of reach. Then one of the many mass emails sent to me by Iowa State University caught my eye. This particular email advertised a program known as National Student Exchange. This program allowed students in participating schools throughout the United States, Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to spend a semester or year studying at a different school. The program even allowed you to pay your visiting school’s in-state tuition if it was cheaper than the tuition you already paid at your home school!

I quickly scheduled a meeting to learn more and received a booklet of all the exciting places I could go. For the real adventurous types, you could spend a fall, spring and summer semester in the program, each time at a different school or university. I looked for a school that was still in the U.S. and about as opposite of Iowa as I could get. Another factor my advisor had to counsel me on was the acceptance rate at each school; some colleges chose to take as few as two students a semester. With this in mind, I settled on my top choice, Florida International University (FIU) in Miami. This school seemed light years away from Iowa climate and culture, not to mention there was a chapter of my sorority there.

Each participating school sends an advisor to a conference where students are placed based on their list of top three choices. I was fortunate to receive my top choice and couldn’t believe that the following spring semester I would be enjoying the balmy Miami climate while everyone else suffered through snow and bitter cold.

However, the climate was not the most shocking change I experienced during my time at FIU. Never in my life had I been a minority, nor experienced a world filled with a language I did not speak. My randomly assigned roommate was originally from Jamaica and had a mother who lived in England. It was commonplace for her and her friends to visit Jamaica or spend a long weekend on a cruise to the Bahamas. Through the program, I made friends from Boston and Virginia and met sorority sisters from all over. Having grown up in a small rural Iowa community, this all seemed so exotic and enthralling. These new friends grew up in areas so different from my hometown and had unique world views which lead to many intense, insightful discussions on everything from politics to religion to social norms.

I highly recommend the program to anyone looking to expand their horizons and see how much our incredible country has to offer in friendship, culture, food and new experiences. Plus, it never hurts to spend winter somewhere with a low of sixty degrees.

How to Succeed in College Courses

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Photo by Matt Wettengel
Photo by Matt Wettengel

This week Alyssa Rutt, former academic advisor and current program coordinator at Iowa State University, shares her tips and tricks for making the most out of the college experience.

  1. GO TO CLASS

I am sure you have heard this one before, but it is so fundamentally easy that students seem to overlook how important it is to attend class. Whether you are a freshman, transfer student, aced the class in high school or are a genius, you NEED to go to class.

So what’s so important about going to class? Simply put, it’s where learning takes place. The classroom environment is not just about learning from the instructor, it’s also about learning from your peers. Want to know what the professor thinks is important, what concepts will be on the test and how all of this applies to the job market after college? Go to class to find out!

Still thinking you can skip class? Let’s think about skipping class from a purely economic standpoint: You don’t go out to a movie, buy a movie ticket, buy movie snacks and then not go into the movie or eat any of your snacks. Paying tuition and then not going to class is like going to the movies, buying you ticket and snacks and then leaving. You spend the money, but you didn’t get the reward. You wouldn’t skip the movie, don’t skip class!

Inherent in the idea of going to class, is the idea of going to class prepared to learn. If there is reading before class, make sure you have read (or at least looked over) the chapter and reviewed your notes from the previous class. When you are in class focus on learning. Speaking of focusing on learning….

  1. Don’t bring your computer, tablet, or other electronics to class and keep your phone out of sight!

You understand going to class is important, so here is the second layer – when you are in class be present. Get rid of the digital distractions in your life while you are in class. Don’t worry about what is trending on Twitter or what your friends are posting on Facebook. It will all still be there after class. Get the most from your tuition dollars and pay attention to what is going on in class!

I know, you need you electronics to take notes. If you absolutely need your electronics to take notes, turn off your Internet connection so you are not tempted to check social media or your email.

  1. Figure out how you spend your time

In college you seem to have all of this free time and no idea what to do with yourself. This extra time becomes problematic when you have no idea how you are spending it. Take a grid with all 7 days of the week and all 24 hours in a day. Document everything you do for the next week. I mean everything – the time you spend in class, taking a shower, watching Netflix, sleeping, playing video games, eating, working, everything!

Once you have a realistic picture of how you spend your time, you can figure out what adjustments can be made to fit your commitments – like going to class, completing reading assignments and studying for exams.

  1. Understand how your grades are calculated.

One of the biggest mistakes I see students make comes from not understanding how their performance on assignments impacts their overall grade in the class.  I have seen students think they have an A or a B in a class when they have received Cs or Ds on assignments. How can you avoid this trap?

  • Understand your syllabus, how assignments are graded and how they impact your overall grade
  • Be realistic about your performance in class! If you are getting Bs or Cs on tests – you are probably not getting an A in the course. If you are not getting the grades you want, talk with you advisor or your instructors to develop different strategies for being successful.

Follow these tips for a successful colleg

e experience and don’t be afraid to reach out to your own academic advisor for more advice!

 

Get to Know Your Academic Advisor

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Photo by Matt Wettengel
Photo by Matt Wettengel

Alyssa Rutt has a Master of Science in Education from the University of Kansas and received her undergraduate degree from Iowa State University. She previously served as an academic advisor for the University of Kansas and currently works for the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University as a program coordinator.  This week she will focus on how academic advisors can assist you during your college career and future plans.

As a former academic advisor for primarily first and second year college students I have seen the full spectrum of the successes and struggles college student face. Let’s get one thing out of the way now – college does not happen in a petri dish – life happens, whether classes are in session or not.

When life happens or you find yourself stressed out about adjusting to college, there are people on campus who are there and want to help you. One of the most important people who can offer you assistance and help you navigate the transition to college is your academic advisor.

What you need to know about academic advisors:

Advisors are a fantastic resource: Academic advisors are so much more than schedule builders. They can get you in touch with campus resources including: tutoring resources, financial aid services, scholarship opportunities and ways to get involved on campus and are great starting points for any and all questions. Advisors can also provide tips for transitioning to learning in a college classroom, help you to balance your time and assist you in choosing a major.

One of the first questions I ask my advisees is: What do you do better than anyone else?  Often times students will   look at me with blank stares or just shrug, but after I let the question hang in the air for a bit, students start to                think about what their strengths are and what makes them happy. This becomes the starting point for a great conversation about what students want from their education. What do YOU do better than anyone else?

Advisors care about student success: I have yet to talk with an academic advisor who does not care about his or her students succeeding. They are in this profession because they care about students and they want to see you succeed! While advisors are there to help students, it is ultimately up to the student to reach out and ask for help.

If you are like me and you struggle with asking for help, find some comfort in the fact you are NOT the only student on campus who has a question or needs help. People around you may look like they have it all figured out, but odds are they have the same questions you do.

Start planning today what your academic advisor can assist you with and build upon that relationship!

President Obama announced expansion of ‘Pay As You Earn’ (PAYE) Repayment Plan

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Last week, President Obama gave an executive order to extend the eligibility for the income-based federal student loan repayment plan, ‘Pay As You Earn’ (PAYE). Under the PAYE plan, borrowers can have their payments capped at 10 percent of their discretionary income (income minus the poverty guidelines for their family size). Public service workers will have the balance of their loans forgiven after 10 years, for other borrowers it is forgiven after 20 years.

So why is it such a big deal? Previously, only those who first borrowed loans between 2008 and 2011 were eligible. Expanding PAYE to all federal direct student loan borrowers (with the exception of federal PLUS Loans for parents) is expected to affect up to 5 million more borrowers nationally and more than 57,000 borrowers in Iowa. Millions already take advantage of specialized repayment plans, such as the Income Based Repayment Plan which caps loans at 15% of discretionary income. Now all borrowers can take advantage of this five percent difference which is anticipated to be available by December 2015.

Borrowers on this plan must submit documentation every month in order to set the payment amount. Payment amounts may increase or decrease each year based on income and family size. Keep in mind the reduced payment amounts may mean paying more interest throughout the life of the loan and there may be taxes on any amount forgiven after 20 years.

Curious as to what your payments would be on this plan? Check out the Federal Student Loan Calculator to see an estimate. If you are interested in switching to this repayment plan, contact your lender to discuss the process and make sure this is the best repayment option for you!

Explore Student Loan Forgiveness Options

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Feeling weighed down with student loan debt? One option for debt relief is to consider student loan forgiveness programs, and more graduates qualify than you might think! One of the most popular programs is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. This option is available to those who work full-time in “public service” which includes the following types of employers:

  • Governmental organizations – Federal, state, local, Tribal
  • Not-for-profit organizations that are tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3)
  • A not-for-profit organization that is not a tax-exempt organization but provides some specific public services, such as public education, law enforcement, public health or legal services

In addition, you must have Direct Loans to qualify for the program.  Not sure if you have a Direct Loan? Visit the National Student Loan Database to see all your loans, all federal loans as of July 1, 2010 are Direct Loan. However, if you have federal loans that are not Direct Loans, you can always choose to consolidate those loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan in order to qualify.

Lastly, you must make 120 qualifying payments on a qualifying repayment plan. What does this mean? Those 120 payments must be made on time, while you are working for a public service employer. Lump sum payments or payments you make as advance payments for future months do not qualify. Qualifying plans are any Income-Driven Repayment Plans.

There are several job-specific loan forgiveness and repayment programs available at a federal and state level. There are Attorney Repayment Programs available for law graduates that work for the Department of Justice; or as a state or federal public defenders or state prosecutor for at least three years.  Teachers who serve designated low-income schools or in teacher shortage areas may qualify for Teacher Loan Forgiveness Programs. There is also the Teach Iowa Scholars Program for recent graduates who teach in eligible teachings fields at a school district or area education agency for up to five years. Health Care Loan Forgiveness Programs are available for health professionals that serve rural areas, high-need communities or areas with a critical shortage.

Explore your options for paying off student loan debt! More information on loan repayments programs can be found on the Iowa College Aid website.  If you have any questions, contact Iowa College Aid at 877-272-4456.