September 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.
For college freshmen, the start of the fall term marks the next step of their education and future career! Starting college can be overwhelming and confusing, so take some time to look over these words of wisdom from Iowa students. What’s the best piece of college advice you’ve received, or most important lesson you’ve learned in your own college career? Share in the comments!
“I studied abroad the fall semester of my junior year, which was easily the best decision I have made since attending college. During my time abroad I learned so much about being independent, but then also about the world outside of the U.S.A.” Rachel Phillips, Coe College
“DO YOUR HOMEWORK. In college, there are deadlines that every teacher will enforce….And last but not least, be willing to research. Put in the time on your studies and remember this formula if nothing else: each class requires two hours of study time. Some require more because of the research and creativity involved.” Daniel Joyce, Northeast Iowa Community College
“Clubs and organizations are the key to meeting new and interesting people that share your interests, and they definitely have provided me with some of the most exciting experiences that I have partaken in thus far. Take full advantage of all that your college or university has to offer. Clubs, organizations and events really allow you to discover where your heart’s true passion lies and enrich your college experience to its maximum potential, not to mention all of the amazing friends that you will meet and great leadership experience you’ll gain! I can’t stress it enough; you won’t regret taking opportunities when they arise in college!” Paige Taylor, Iowa State University
“Make time for your parents when they come to see you. You’ll have plenty of Friday and Saturday nights to hang out with friends or go to a party, but your parents spent the better half of their lives getting you to where you are today-you owe it to them to build your schedule around their visit. Besides, having your parents in town usually means free food for you.” Justin Dwyer, Drake University
“I learned that you cannot plan your life to the ‘T,’ but you have to take chances with the opportunities that are available to you.” Kelsey Fredricks, Buena Vista University
Molly Walsh just concluded her term as a Public Allies Iowa AmeriCorps Volunteer in which she worked to compile Opportunity Iowa’s Opportunity Compass. To learn more about Opportunity Iowa and Public Allies, read her first post.
Opportunity Iowa is a new state-wide initiative that recently began gaining some ground in the Des Moines community. Opportunity Iowa is premised on the belief that no matter what zip code you live in, you should have access to the tools necessary to achieve the American dream. Des Moines Area Community College president Robert Denson was approached by the nation-wide initiative, Opportunity Nation , to consider bringing Opportunity Nation’s ideals to the state of Iowa. Opportunity Iowa hopes to engage communities in discussions about how we can create a well-rounded resource base for our teens and young adults.
One attempt at identifying available resources, as well as what resources are missing for our 16-24 year olds, is The Opportunity Compass. This interactive map highlights resources and opportunities for the involvement of teens and young adults in the Polk County area. It provides locations of resources in the following categories: education, employment, support services, immigrant and refugee services, volunteer opportunities, trades and apprenticeships, and activities and interests.
Opportunity Iowa encourages all teens and young adults to explore the Opportunity Compass to find resources that may be of benefit to them. The map is dynamic and will be updated as new and existing resources are identified. Resource providers are also encouraged to navigate the Opportunity Compass to identify gaps in service around Polk County.
The goal is to provide maps for all 99 Iowa counties over the next couple of years. We encourage organizations and individuals to get involved with the mapping process. Visit our website today to learn more about this great initiative and to navigate The Opportunity Compass. After all, it may be the key to navigating your success!
Iowa College Aid has five AmeriCorps VISTA members working on the College Changes Everything initiative in Des Moines, Burlington, Council Bluffs, Marshalltown and Ottumwa. Marlu Abarca, a graduate of Grinnell College, is on day 52 of her 365 days of service as an AmeriCorps*VISTA for Iowa Campus Compact. Campus Compact is a coalition of college and university presidents committed to fulfilling the public purpose of higher education.
When I first heard there was a volunteer position that was designated as a national service movement to eradicate poverty through education, financial literacy and college access, I thought, “sign me up!” When I told my parents that I was turning down jobs to volunteer for a year…they thought “come back home!”
As someone who is originally from Los Angeles, CA, my parents and I always assumed I’d come back home after graduating from college. But when employment prospects began to appear in Iowa and not in L.A., my parents and I quickly tried to come to terms with the idea of me being 2,000 miles away from home, family and friends—a feeling with which we were much too familiar. As a first generation college student, getting to Iowa was an uphill battle. I attended high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District where the classrooms often overflowed with students, books were in short supply, and students lacked motivation to do well in school. Although I always found doing well in school very rewarding, like many of my fellow Latino “at-risk” peers, I did not fully grasp the significance of going to college.
The college application process was not what I imagined. I quickly had to assimilate into a world of pre-college education. I had to navigate the waters of recommendation letters, resumes and personal statements. Luckily, I had an amazing college counselor who came to my AP Government class to show us how to apply for a PIN on the FAFSA.gov website. She also helped me become a finalist for the Posse Foundation scholarship, a full-paid tuition scholarship to top-tier colleges and universities around the country. Through this process I found the very place that would spark my interests in working in higher education and college access: Grinnell College.
The thing that made my final high school years stressful and anxiogenic, but also unforgettable, was the very thing that made me aware of gaps in our culture and education system that made it difficult for me to attend and successfully graduate college to begin with. It was my last year interning with Latinas/Latinos Al Exito that made me realize the impact of mentoring and having someone simply explain what college is and how affordable it can be! One of my goals for this year of service is to work closely with the Iowa College Student Aid Commission during the College Changes Everything Campaign and be a resource to Des Moines Public High School students who need help navigating the college admissions and financial aid process as I did just five years ago.
The biggest challenge I see going into my year of service is probably limiting the amount of projects and programs I commit to! With so many great efforts by the Governor and the state of Iowa to address poverty reduction through education, I just don’t see how I am going to hold back involvement. It is something that I have been working to improve during my time at Grinnell—and with such an inviting community on Drake University’s campus, I can already see that participating in some of their student groups’ efforts towards college access may be hard to resist.
David Ball is the Director of Admissions, Recruitment and Student Life at Hawkeye Community College. He has worked in higher education for almost 25 years and spent most of his tenure in the field of admissions at Hawkeye and Kirkwood Community College. He holds an Associate of Arts from Kirkwood Community College, Bachelor’s of Arts from Mount Mercy University and a Master’s of Education from Iowa State University.
Over the years I have observed common mistakes that students make when choosing a college or university. Below are some of those age old myths about the college selection process:
MYTH 1: The best time to visit colleges is after you have been admitted.
Many students have fallen for this myth only to find that none of the colleges to which they were admitted “felt” right when they visited. If possible, visit before you apply and again after you have been admitted. If you can visit only once, make it before you apply.
MYTH 2: Big colleges are best if you haven’t decided on a major.
A lot of high school students think because there are more courses to choose from, a large college offers greater options for undecided students. However, this alone should not be the deciding factor. If you are undecided, the best college is one that has core requirements that ensure you will explore new areas and fields. Also, look for colleges with strong academic advising and career counseling programs regardless of their size. Good advising can help you choose an academic and career path you will enjoy rather than one you think you might like right now.
MYTH 3: College is only for four years.
This is wrong on several fronts: Only about one of five students completes a bachelor’s degree in four years. In fact, only two of five students complete a bachelor’s degree in six years. If you plan to be out of college in four years, determine the four-year graduation rate for each of your college options. The federal government’s College Navigator provides four-year, six-year and eight-year graduation rates for U.S. colleges and universities.
MYTH 4: Your life will be ruined if you don’t get admitted to your first choice college.
Thousands of students each year do not get admitted to their first choice college and most are happy, successful individuals today. Yes, rejection is hard, but you will not be alone. Many students today are starting at community colleges and transferring to the university or college of their choice after obtaining an associate of arts degree. Research shows that community college graduates who transfer, do as well their junior year as native students who started as a freshman at the university or college.
MYTH 5: The quality of the academic program that I am interested in is the most important factor when picking a college.
About two of five students change their major field of interest before they actually enroll in college and about one of two change their major field once they enroll. Look for a college that has your current field of interest, but is also strong in all its areas.
Research on success in college and employment after graduation suggests the best way to master a major field is through a combination of learning theory and active, hands-on learning. The opportunity to do research on your own or work side-by-side with a professor on a project tends to be more valuable than simply taking more courses in the field.
One of the best ways to determine if a college is the right fit for you is to visit the campus. Your college education is a long term investment, so choose wisely! By touring the campus, you’ll get a feel for college life and if you can picture yourself at that school. Try some of the following suggestions to get the most out of college visits.
Record your experiences. Take a few minutes after each visit to jot down or type out your thoughts on the campus. After awhile all your visits will start to blend together, so keep track of each visit as it happens to make your choice easier later on.
Read the student newspaper. One of the best ways to get a feel for the on-campus culture is to read the student newspaper. This will also be a chance to find out the issues current students are dealing with and what they find important.
Explore the town and nightlife. If possible, spend the night in the town and check out local attractions, shopping centers, museums, festivals – ask current students for suggestions. Every town has a certain attraction or restaurant it’s well known for so start there!
Take a self-guided tour. Take advantage of all the activities of a planned visit, however, take some time to venture around campus without the guide. Revisit spots you didn’t get enough time during the tour, venture in buildings that house majors you’re interested in and take time to see how being on campus feels for you.
Visit a professor in your intended major. Make an appointment to visit a professor in your future major, or a major that interests you, during your visit. The professor can answer many specific questions related to your plan of study, give you a department tour and possibly let you sit in on one of his or her classes.