As larger numbers of students apply to college and colleges compete for quality students who are dedicated to their school, colleges and universities have expanded the application options available to students in order to not only manage applicant pools but also increase the number of candidates that they consider “high-quality.” When considering the college application process, it’s important for families to understand each type of admission program and what those programs require.
Colleges that offer “early action” application do so to give families a quick response to those who submit on or before their early deadline (typically early November). Early Action admission decisions are non-binding, which means that students do not have to promise to attend if accepted. They just hear back sooner. Some universities offer “Restricted Early Action,” which works much like Early Action, but limits the number of EA applications a student can submit to other schools. Colleges do this because they are looking for students who are committed to them instead of just applying early to find out sooner. While families can benefit from the quick response of applying “early action” they face an smaller applicant pool that will usually have strong candidates and a possibly more selective admissions process.
Where many early action applications require little commitment, early decision applications are more serious. Student should only apply early decision to a college if they are certain that it is the college they wish to attend. Students accepted on early decision are required to attend the college at which they were applied and accepted, as well as withdraw all other applications.
Some colleges also offer an “ED II,” which allows students extra time to apply, allowing for more research, and application preparation. ED II applications often have deadlines that are the same the regular application deadline, but receive an earlier decision, usually in early February.
For a student with a clear vision of where they want to go to school, early decision applications offer a great advantage. Not only will they be informed of a decision earlier, but they also show the admissions office that they are a student dedicated to attending their school. If they are accepted, the student has the rest of their senior year to enjoy (early decision applicants usually hear back in December). If they are deferred or rejected, there is still plenty of time to regroup and apply to other colleges.
However, students that want to compare financial aid packages may want to hold off from early decision applications and the locked-in commitment that comes with them. Being able to look at different schools and compare costs can often show a student that their dream school might not be the best long-term decision, financially.
Regular application deadlines are later than early action or early decision applications and is the time when the majority of students will submit their applications.
Having a set timeline for applications helps students take more time to reflect on their goals, visit colleges, research and narrow down a list of schools that are the best fit for their needs. Students are not limited to the number of schools to which they apply, though each school will require an application processing fee when submitting an application. Applying by regular deadlines, allows students the luxury of comparing financial aid awards and admission offers without any restrictions that might come with early applications before choosing the college that is a perfect fit and meets his financial need.
Colleges with rolling admissions offer important options and opportunities that regular deadlines do not. Rolling admissions colleges will accept and examine applications as they are sent in, instead of waiting to judge all applications at the same time. This admissions option can be great for late admissions, or for finding out early whether or not a student is accepted.
VISTA Volunteers in Ottumwa, Des Moines and West Burlington Bring Experience, Vision To Serving Communities
The Americorps*VISTA program brings together volunteers from diverse backgrounds to help engage and encourage education in communities. Throughout Iowa, Iowa College Aid, along with Iowa Campus Compact, teams with Americorps*VISTA volunteers to serve a wide and diverse group of communities. We conclude our week-long look at Iowa College Aid’s VISTA efforts by spotlighting three VISTA coordinators who bring unique experiences to their work with their communities.
Alyx Coble-Frakes recently started working as a VISTA volunteer at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa. With a degree from Wartburg College in Business Administration and Management focusing on non-profit management, Alyx served two years in Peru with the Peace Corps. She reflects on how the experience impacted her and how that impacts her ability to engage with Ottumwa as a VISTA volunteer:
It was such an amazing growing experience to live and work abroad for that time but it ignited a passion to return and help the people in my own state. When I was 15 I went on a service trip to Guatemala and I was able to see so clearly for the first time the large scale impacts of educational inequality, it was then I decided I wanted to work to give more people the chance that I was so lucky to receive.
I truly believe that education is the great equalizer and it is something that every person should have equal access to regardless of their religion, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, ability level. In order to achieve that we all have to stand together. I am honored to start this new journey as a VISITA Volunteer and am excited to see what I can learn this year. Above all I hope to be an advocate for the people I am serving with and help to inspire a great culture of college going in the Ottumwa Community.
While many VISTA volunteers will serve one year with Americorps before moving on to other opportunities, Marlu Abarca recently extended her commitment to the Americorps*VISTA program. She works closely with Iowa College Aid serving the Des Moines and Altoona community from the agency’s offices. Working in close proximity allows her to better understand the agency’s initiatives and be a voice for VISTAs around the state.
August is coming to a close and so is AmeriCorps Education focus month! It has been great reflecting during the last month on my service with VISTA through Iowa Campus Compact and Iowa College Student Aid Commission. In the last year and a half, I have been able to partner with counselors in Des Moines and Altoona to program events to help raise awareness of opportunities to make college possible for students and families in Iowa. As it is widely known, college decreases your chances of living in poverty and chance for unemployment; additionally, income is known to increase with education. So, beginning my second term with AmeriCorps*VISTA has been amazing as I get to support counselors as they try to create a culture of #EdSuccess in their schools and districts.
This year I will be recruiting and managing volunteers that will support the 3-Step Process to creating a college-going culture in schools and ensuring students are prepared for postsecondary education. The first step of the process will be implementation of the College Application Campaign which takes place during October with support from Gov. Branstad who signed a proclamation declaring October the official college application month in Iowa. The second step will be an even more important step for students who wish to continue their education after high school: FAFSA completion. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Completion Initiative takes place starting Jan 1 every year where students have the opportunity to apply for free money to go continue their studies (more info in this year’s Your Course to College). Schools expect students to fill out this information as soon as possible beginning January 1 through July 1, with more aid being offered to those that apply sooner rather than later. The last step in the process is College Decision Day which usually takes place on May 1 as that is the deadline for most schools in the US for students to enroll and send in their deposits. Schools around the nation celebrate students going on to exciting new educational opportunities on this day (here’s a video highlighting some of Council Bluff’s festivities earlier this year).
Overall, I think that this year holds great potential for schools in Des Moines, West Des Moines and Altoona. I am looking forward to connecting with more counselors to get an idea of what they envision their school or district’s participation to be in the 3-Step Process this year. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to get the ball rolling and continue working towards #EdSuccess! #AmeriCorps #VISTA # IACC
Matt Timmerberg serves the West Burlington area as a College Access Specialist at Southeastern Community College. Community service is a major part of Timmerberg’s life, having volunteered over the years for such groups as Habitat for Humanity, the Boys and Girls Club, food banks and homeless shelters. Volunteering as an Americorps*VISTA combines Timmerberg’s life-long dedication to aiding his community with a growing passion about education and education related issues that he developed during his time at Knox College in Illinois
Throughout my time at Knox College I really began to understand some of the issues facing people that do not have as easy access to college and post-secondary education as other people in the general population. While some of these issues are significant and difficult to overcome, I feel that it is important to at least try to find some solutions.
I also feel a small obligation due to my circumstances and the fact that I was able to attend and complete college with relative ease, that I should be helping others who are in much more difficult circumstances get the same opportunity. I’ve grown up with the idea that if you can work hard you can do anything, and while that holds true for most things, there are still some cases where that may not be a reality. I want to help work to make that a reality for everyone and everything. If someone is willing to put in the work they deserve the chance to better themselves however they may choose to do so in relation to post-secondary education.
I’m hoping that throughout my VISTA year I’m able to make some meaningful change in Southeastern Iowa and set things in place so that more change can take place in the future. I’m hoping to gain some more experience in public service in a more professional setting and gain a better understanding of how national and state programs work in relation to education. Finally I hope to really become engaged as a member of the community here, at both Southeastern and the greater Burlington area. I am really excited to see what I can do and hopefully make a meaningful impact throughout my year of VISTA service.
We continue our week-long look at the AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers working with Iowa College Aid to help encourage a college-going culture in communities throughout Iowa and increase college enrollment and degree attainment. For Zac Arellano, a VISTA based at Iowa Western Community College working in conjunction with Iowa Campus Compact, being a VISTA offers the opportunity not only to be a source of information for Iowa College Aid’s “3-Step Process,” but allows him to help students overcome the challenges he faced as a first-generation student. Zac shares his thoughts as he begins his year with Iowa Western.
I am absolutely stoked for this opportunity with Iowa College Aid through AmeriCorps. The college process can be EXTREMELY intimidating which is why I am thrilled to be partnering with Iowa College Aid and supporting the 3 step process. For some students it just takes some initiative, for others it takes some reflection, for me it took a combination of time, experience and empowerment.
As a first-generation, queer, student of color there were many obstacles I came in contact with. I did not understand any part of the college process: I did not know how to apply, where to apply, what I was going to study, what I wanted out of college, or where to go to find those answers. I remember my classmates discussing “good schools” but I never knew what that meant. I got in to one of the “good schools” near home but I wasn’t really happy. After attending that University for two semesters I realized it was time to branch out; I decided it was finally time to begin my own college search.
The process of transferring led me to develop personally, academically, and even professionally. I didn’t have any connection to the area or my new University. This unfamiliarity provided plenty opportunities for discovery. It also allowed me to learn how to be my own best advocate and to pass my knowledge along to others. I am particularly excited about the 3 step process Iowa College Aid promotes because it means I will be able to help students like myself.
Though I am still pretty “green” at Iowa Western I feel like this is going to be an excellent fit for me. Throughout my undergrad I developed a passion for helping fellow students out. I am so excited for what this next year will bring and I cannot wait to continue on into a career in Higher Education.
Engaging with communities to help create new opportunities for students is a key component of the AmeriCorps VISTA program. As a new school year begins around the state, Iowa College Aid is recognizing a new group of VISTA volunteers working with various community college. Starting her third year of VISTA service, Chelsea White will work with Marshalltown Community College to better connect students with financial aid options and information. She explains her experience with AmeriCorps and her hopes for the new year.
Hello from Marshalltown! My name is Chelsea White and I am currently serving as the Iowa College Aid AmeriCorps VISTA at Marshalltown Community College in Marshalltown, Iowa.
I received my high school diploma in May 2008 from Boone High School in Boone, IA, and went on to graduate from Coe College in May 2012 with my Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and History with a minor in Theatre Arts. In July 2013, I started my first term as an Iowa Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA in the Office of Volunteerism and Service-Learning at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In July 2014, I started my second term as an Iowa Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA at Iowa Wesleyan College and Club M, Henry County Youth Mentoring Program.
This is my third term serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA but my first term as a member with Iowa College Aid. Throughout the course of my next term, I will be engaging the Marshalltown community in the Three Step Process which includes the College Application Campaign, FAFSA Completion Initiative, and College Decision Day in addition to specific projects for Marshalltown Community College pertaining to Financial Literacy and other issues relevant to the student populations where I am serving. I am looking forward to my role in both college access and student success.
I chose to accept this position with Iowa College Aid at Marshalltown Community College because I wanted to further my knowledge of Student Affairs including, but not limited to, the areas of financial aid and career development. I also wanted to have the experience of serving at a community college since my background is at small private liberal arts colleges and universities. My long-term goals include achieving a Master’s degree in Higher Education and beginning a career in Student Affairs.
I’m looking forward to seeing what this year has to offer and for collaboration with the other Iowa College Aid AmeriCorps VISTA members.
VISTA College Access Program Coordinator
Marshalltown Community College
As Iowa students head back to school, members of the AmeriCorps VISTA project start their own year of engagement with students in such communities as Des Moines, Marshalltown, Council Bluffs, Ottumwa and Burlington. Iowa College Aid works closely with AmeriCorps as part of our mission to build a college-going culture throughout Iowa. This week, members at VISTA sites around the state will share their experiences and visions as they explore work with students and communities through the program. Erma Mujic, is Iowa College Aid’s VISTA Coordinator. She shares her thoughts on the importance of AmeriCorps VISTAs for communities and Iowa College Aid.
Increasing college attainment leads to stronger local and state economies, and Iowa’s economic future depends on us producing more college graduates. Iowa College Aid’s College Changes Everything initiative is based on the premise that sustained change is only possible through cross-sector coordination. Relationships based on shared responsibility and trust, development of a common agenda, shared measurement of goals, effective communication and mutual reinforcement of activities among all participants are key to successfully increasing college attainment at the community level.
Building upon the existing initiatives and resources currently available in our communities, College Changes Everything leverages the strengths and long-term plans of each participating organization. An integral part of this initiative is our AmeriCorps VISTA Project which seeks to place VISTA members on community college campuses or in school districts in order to build capacity around college access and success. AmeriCorps VISTA members are passionate and committed to their mission to bring individuals and communities out of poverty.
Members make a year-long, full-time commitment to serve on a specific project at a nonprofit organization or public agency. They focus their efforts to build the organizational, administrative, and financial capacity of organizations that fight illiteracy, improve health services, foster economic development, and otherwise assist low-income communities. Our VISTA members work to improve educational opportunities by training volunteers, creating guides and manuals, organizing workshops, and building partnerships with local organizations that create sustained change and enhance future collaboration efforts between all sectors of economy.
As students head back to school, many seniors will be kicking their college application process into high gear. While many parts of the college application process don’t need attention right away (Iowa College Aid’s 3-Step Process kicks off with the Iowa College Application Campaign in October, for example) one area that students will want to get started on early is lining up recommendation letters for both college admission and scholarship applications. Rather than scramble to determine the type of recommendation letter needed and who students should ask to write their letters, take some time now to review the following tips and create a strategy for lining up college recommendations without the stress:
Who Needs Recommendation Letters?
Most schools will state if a letter of recommendation is required or optional, though some may provide the opportunity to provide both. Usually, required letters will be asked from a school counselor or teachers with whom the student has worked. Even if a school only requires an optional letter, students should take advantage of the opportunity to present someone who can reinforce their strengths to an admissions officer.
Recommendations can be essential in the following situations:
- A student needs someone else to help explain an obstacle or hardship. Learning disabilities, deaths in the family, unusual personal or family challenges can all fall into this category and a school counselor is often the person who can help explain.
- The applicant needs clarification from a school official to explain what is or isn’t on the transcript. If a student was unable to complete a certain course because it wasn’t offered on campus or limited by school policy, the school counselor can help explain.
- A student knows their application will undergo review. Letters of recommendation from teachers and optional essays will help in the holistic review process.
Who Should Write Recommendation Letters?
Finding the right person to write a student’s recommendation letter is a strategic decision. The right person will know a student well, be able add something to the application that isn’t well represented in the student resume and essays and can speak to your child’s academic strengths?
Students should include at least one academic teacher who has taught them in class for at least one full semester. Even if the student didn’t earn an A, a the teacher who can discuss a student’s academic abilities will go a long way to supplementing a list of activities from a student’s resume. Teachers should be encouraged to illustrate with specific examples, if possible, showing how a particular project, paper or situation showed student strengths through handling the work.
Who Should NOT Write a Letter of Recommendation?
The desire to get a big or recognizable name to write a letter of recommendation will not only serve as a poor replacement for quality letters people who know the student well, they can actually undercut the impact of a letter if the writer only offers a broad recommendation that doesn’t show closer knowledge. Just because a family member might be connected to an influential community member or businessperson doesn’t mean that a letter can replace one written by a person who knows the student as a person.
Beside the easy access to Fair Squares, one of the best things about Iowa College Aid having a presence at the Iowa State Fair (find us in the Varied Industries Building) is the opportunity to help families answer their questions about preparing for college. While many parents will come with questions as their student enters their senior year of high school, other parents will ask what they can do to get their younger students prepared for college now.
Having a long view of college importance is a great gift for both a student and their family. Families can take many early steps toward financial preparedness for college (saving money, opening a 529 account, looking into the cost of schools), but families can also lay a groundwork that keeps college at the front of their student’s mind as they move through school. Even middle school students can benefit from these tips to better build a college-going culture and see the benefit for their future career, and life as an adult, college offers.
Start with strengths
Helping students explore their interests and think about what they do best is one of the easiest ways to get students to start thinking about careers and higher education. Make sure that when building strengths, families and students hold high expectations for those strengths and also discuss the areas where students can improve in an even-handed way. Students who can develop self-assessment skills of their strengths and weaknesses (and find the tools to improve those areas) will be ready to take on the challenges of college with a greater chance of success.
Connect aspirations to education
Students benefit from seeing the big picture. Finding a way to connect a student’s aspiration or interest to their education helps show the importance of continuing their education as a tool for future success. That doesn’t mean that parents should put their students on a particular road for a predetermined goal. But helping students see challenging courses as opportunities rather than requirements will help them become more engaged in school. Viewing school as an opportunity to build for the future will help students, even as early as middle school, see how education (both now and in high school) helps achieve their goals in life.
It isn’t just about test scores
The ACT and SAT are vitally important to colleges, but test scores are not the only indicators of a student’s potential, or even of their current learning. More and more, schools are recognizing the value of non-cognitive skills. It’s important that families adjust to this idea, as well. Doing well on tests will always be important, but a student’s success or future doesn’t have to hang in the balance. Helping students understand that idea will help remove some of the pressure from test-taking and develop a more well-rounded student.
Go beyond the classroom
Volunteering is one of the easiest ways for students to not only explore their interests and gain experience which will look good on college resumes, but give them the feeling of engaging with their community in a positive way. Start with organizations that reflect a student’s interest or might be in a career area in which they are interested. Getting a real-world taste of what might await them in a career will either encourage them to work even harder toward their goals or adjust their plans toward another career. Don’t wait until late in high school before volunteering. A history of involvement not only shows dedication, but also creates the kind of well-rounded, multi-tasking student that attracts college admissions officers.