The Essentials of Filling out Scholarship Applications

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Now that you have your essay topic picked out, it’s time to complete those applications! Iowa College Aid’s Tracy Davis shares some tips from her time as Financial Aid Director at Southwestern Community College during which she evaluated scholarship applications.

“Read the directions. It’s a simple, yet often over looked step,” advised Davis. “We would receive essay responses that had nothing to do with the question we asked.  Students had obviously just copied and pasted it from another application without reading what we were looking for.”

If the application requires an essay, focus on having a strong opening. This captures the reader’s attention right away and will ensure your application is memorable.

“Applications that stood out to me were always full of original thought, especially in the thesis statement,” commented Davis. “You could always notice which applicants were good writers.  Also essays are not one paragraph long, be sure it includes an introduction, body and conclusion.”

A scholarship essay is a professional piece of work; make sure that your writing reflects this. Be sure to use proper grammar and spelling.

“Some students would use text lingo and poor grammar,” warned Davis. “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of spell check and having a proof reader, such as an English teacher or counselor.”

Davis also saw some scholarships go unclaimed, such as one that required students be from a specific county and enroll in a certain program of study. While there were students who fulfilled these requirements, they didn’t apply for the scholarship.

Research all that your prospective school has to offer THOROUGHLY, and if you still have questions don’t hesitate to contact the financial aid office.

How to Write a Scholarship Award-Winning Essay

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The most dreaded aspect to scholarship applications: the essay. The first step is one of the most essential: picking a topic. One common mistake made by students is picking a generic essay topic. Reviewers are looking for a unique piece that they will remember in the midst of so many applicants. Two topics that have been seen time and time again are service projects and sports. Marie Schofer, Cornell College Director of Admissions, shares some advice on picking an essay topic.

“Many students choose to write about their participation in a community service project or a church mission trip. These are fantastic experiences that are personally meaningful and reflect on your character. The only problem: Regardless of where you traveled or what type of service you performed, the conclusion is always the same. You like to help people. This is great, but, unfortunately, it won’t differentiate you from other applications,” explained Schofer. “The game winning catch or other sports highlight is another popular essay topic. It is important to understand that the admission counselor reading your essay may not be familiar with your sport and will probably have no emotional attachment to the outcome of the District 5 semi-final game. If you do choose to write about a sports topic, consider an essay that debates the merits of the baseball’s infield fly rule or a descriptive essay of your warm-up routine.”

So what topic will make a memorable essay? While it may come as a surprise, simple topics often make the strongest picks because they allow students to showcase their writing abilities from a fresh perspective.

“I advise students to choose a topic that is interesting to them, and this topic doesn’t have to be a grandiose one. A good essay doesn’t require shock value (like a personal tragedy), but it should be thoughtful and well-written,” stated Schofer. “Simple topics often allow students to show off their writing skills better than topics that are too broad. One memorable essay weighed the pros/cons of facial hair while another described a student’s attachment to her bicycle.”

Don’t forget to have a least one-but preferably several-eyes look over those essays before submitting. For more assistance finding and writing scholarships, visit Iowa College Aid’s website.

November is National Scholarship Month!

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The National Scholarship Providers Association has declared November to be National Scholarship Month, which serves as a time to raise awareness of scholarship opportunities and encourage students to seek those opportunities. Scholarships are a form of financial aid that is completely free and will never have to be repaid by students. November is an ideal time for students to begin searching and applying for scholarships. Each post this month will be dedicated to an aspect of the scholarship process.

Sources for scholarships include: federal and state governments, private companies and institutions, community organizations, non- profit groups, colleges and universities among others. To qualify for government-funded aid, students need to file the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1 and the Iowa Financial Aid Application.

Iowa College Aid administers state-funded scholarships and grants as well as some that are not funded through state appropriations. These include:



All Iowa Opportunity Scholarship All Iowa Opportunity Foster Care Grant
GEAR UP Iowa Scholarship Education & Training Voucher (ETV) Grant
Governor Terry E. Branstad Iowa State Fair Scholarship Iowa Barber & Cosmetology Arts and Sciences Tuition Grant
Robert D. Blue Scholarship Iowa Grant
Iowa National Guard Educational Assistance Program (NGEAP)
Iowa Tuition Grant
Iowa Vocational-Technical Grant
Kibbie Grant

To find even more sources of scholarships, students should check with their high school counselor and contact the financial aid offices of colleges and universities he or she is interested in, and investigate scholarships from local community organizations, businesses and places of worship.

There are many online scholarship search tools students can take advantage of as well to find private scholarships. Such tools include a scholarship finder in the student’s I Have A Plan Iowa® account, FastWeb, Big Future, College Greenlight and the U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop.

Begin searching today for scholarships, these are FREE money, and check back each Wednesday this month for more tips on getting scholarships!

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