The Money Matters! New Survey Suggests Financial Aid Determines School Selection

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Finding a way to pay for post-secondary education can dictate whether students complete their work toward a degree, but knowing about financial aid options can also play a role not only in applying for schools, but to which schools a student applies.

A recent National Bureau of Economic Research paper surveyed worked on addressing earlier research that showed lower-income students were less likely to apply for highly-selective schools, even though those schools would offer enough financial aid to make the student’s education less expensive than the less-selective school to which the student eventually applied.

In this study, researchers intervened with different means of communication to students, encouraging them to apply and including information about financial aid options. The students were split into four groups that received the following information:

  • A group who received upfront information about the net cost of college (including what would be offset by financial aid)
  • A group who received reminders about college application deadlines
  • A group who received fee waivers for college applications
  • And a control group who received nothing.

The results were clear: Those students in the group who received information about both the net cost of college AND their financial aid options sent out more applications than any of the other three groups. Knowledge of financial aid options is not only useful information, but a powerful tool for students looking to achieve goals in their higher education.

For Iowa students, access to financial aid options abound from state scholarships and grants to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which helps connect students with the financial aid offices at their target schools.

Scholarship Sites Help Students Sort Options

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A vast array of scholarships stand waiting for students who are looking to cut down the cost of their college education. From state-based scholarship and grant programs to private organizations looking to fund the leaders of tomorrow, the opportunities for students can sometimes seem overwhelming, even with the help of the Internet.

Getting the word out about scholarships has become much easier thanks to the internet and social media, with many scholarships appealing to a variety of students who can apply for these awards in different and interesting ways (from social media-based applications to scholarship essays that could fit in a greeting card). To help connect students and scholarships, a variety of websites have sprung up, providing free information to students looking to find the right scholarship match. Here are few to consider in your quest for cash:

1. Scholarships.com
The name says it all, and this website offers a thorough database of scholarships for students ranging from general interest awards to specific-skill based awards. Facebook and Twitter-based scholarships reflect the engagement the site has with its users, frequently tweeting unique and timely information on available scholarships.

2. Chegg.com
Known predominantly as an online textbook retailer, Chegg.com helps students take a personalized approach to the scholarship hunt. Creating a free account allows students to save interesting scholarships, apply directly through the website and have new and relevant information on scholarships e-mailed to them.

3. DoSomething.org
As the name implies, this organization encourages rewarding students for taking action in their community in either social or environmental issues. From taking steps to save water to helping redefine what makes a “real princess” to recycling clothes, the scholarships at DoSomething.org ditch the writing side and focus on the doing.

4. Cappex.com
Any student looking to prepare for college knows that it takes a team to prepare for that next step. Cappex.com aims to bring the scholarship search to that team approach, including access for high school counselors and teachers to help students in their search for the right scholarship. The site also involves college comparison and college fit tools to further help students prepare.

Fit-ness Test: A College Fit Checklist

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When many students, sending in an application to college might seem like the initial step toward taking the next step in their education. Those students who have worked hard finding the right “college fit” will turn in that application as the conclusion of research and consideration that makes them confident in both applying to a school that meets their needs and presenting themselves as a perfect candidate to help that school excel.

With more than 3,000 colleges and universities around the country, the idea of finding a school where a student can succeed academically, socially and emotionally seems a daunting task. Big name universities may capture the imagination, but smaller, lesser-known schools might present the right match of student and student life. Most schools will have something appealing to offer students who come looking.

But rather than get caught up in the annual rituals of selection (student application, acceptance by the school and, finally, student decision), taking the time to factor in college fit will make the right college an easy choice and not a leap of faith.

A good college “fit” is one that will:

1. Offer a program of study to match your interests and needs.

2. Provide a style of instruction to match the way you like to learn.

3. Provide a level of academic rigor to match your aptitude and preparation.

4. Offer a community that feels like home to you.

5. Value you for what you have to offer.

Use these guidelines when considering colleges both individually and comparatively. Taking the time to see how you potentially fit into a school is just as much about what the school brings to you as what you bring to the school. Finding that right balance will help you get that much closer to a successful and rewarding college experience.

“Degree In Three” Program Offers Fast Track to UI Diploma

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Time is certainly money when it comes to colleges, as students look to find ways to balance the time it takes to complete their degree with the cost of continuing their education. A new program starting at the University of Iowa in 2015 might help students achieve that goal, by compressing four years of school into three.

The “Degree In Three” program will offer first-year students entering the University of Iowa in 2015 a specifically-designed program that creates heavier course load and proceeds at a much faster pace than that of four-year students. The program will initially be offered in Communication Studies, English, History, International studies, Marketing and Theatre Arts.

The program includes course checkpoints in each major that “Iowa Degree in Three” students will need to meet in order to complete the major in three years and advising support they need to work through the program and continue consideration of the pace and workload.

Interested students will need to declare their interest in the program during their first semester and those wanting to add a second major, a minor or a certificate will not be eligible. But for those students already attending the University of Iowa with specific goals, starting their first year with earned college credits, or are ready to complete more courses per term than average, the “Degree In Three” program offers a way to complete a degree on a fast track.

More information on the “Degree In Three” program can be found on the University of Iowa website.

Reverse transfers offer a path to a degree for students leaving four-year programs

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For students transferring from community colleges to four-year schools, the goal is usually achieving a bachelor’s degree. But sometimes students who make that move find obstacles in their path on the way to that degree that make completing four years not possible. Whether it be financial issues, family concerns, health or any other number of concerns that forces their education to take a backseat, many students transferring from a community college to a four-year program find themselves saddled with all the cost of financial aid, but none of the benefits of a degree.

In an increasing number of states, including Iowa, reverse transfers offer a way for those students to use their units from both community college and classes taken at their transfer school toward earning an associate’s degree at a participating community college. Currently, all three Iowa regent universities offer some form of opportunity for students to reverse transfer credits to one of 15 community colleges.

Transfer in Iowa is a website created by the Iowa Board of Regents to help students see what options are available for both transfers to a regent university or reverse transfers to community colleges. The site provides guidance on how to inquire with a student’s university’s financial aid office to begin a reverse transfer and suggests to confirm with the community college which units will count toward transfer, as each college will individually evaluate course work to determine which units will be credited.

It may require a little bit of legwork, but reverse transfers offer students a way to still achieve their associate’s degree, a valuable tool in the growing job market, even if they are unable to complete their bachelor’s degree.

Supercharging your college search with online college fairs

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Finding the right college for continuing your education is no easy task. The idea of “college fit” (that students will do best at a school that offers classes and an environment that meets not only their academic and financial needs, but matches their interests and personality) has become a hot topic for higher education. As students search for the college that offers that “perfect fit,” though, the amount of time or travel that it would take to visit schools either far or near become road blocks on their route to the right school.

Virtual college fairs have sprung up over recent years providing a way for students (and the schools looking for the right students) to break through those barriers. Just like their “brick and mortar” counterparts, virtual/online college fairs bring together representatives from schools, students and parents in an Internet-based event during a given period of time.

This provides a chance to for students and parents to ask the questions and receive the information that they’d receive from an onsite visit to a campus that might be hundreds, or even thousands of miles away. Frequently, schools will even have currently-enrolled students participate to answer questions and give a taste of what student life might offer.

Thanks to technological improvements and the inclusion of elements such as video conferencing, instant messaging and streaming video, virtual college fairs do more than let families visit a campus. The events let prospective students move at warp speed and visit multiple schools around the country all in the same day.

Want to experience a virtual college fair for yourself? CollegeWeek Live, an organization dedicated to using technology to brings schools and students together, will hold an “All Access Day” on February 19. Students who register will be able to visit with over 100 colleges and universities and get insight and information from admissions counselors and current students. If that weren’t enough, students who visit five college pages during the event will be entered for a chance to win a $2,500 scholarship, a chunk of change that sounds a lot better than spending money on the gas you’d need to drive to college visits.

For more information and registration, visit CollegeWeek Live’s site.

Iowa Jump$tart Coalition To Give Money To Those Who Know How To Save

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It might sound simple, but a big part of having money is saving money. In a world where opportunities abound, tempting you to spend that hard-earned cash, meeting your education goals often depends on being able to grow your savings.

Iowa Jump$tart Coalitition has made a reputation for creating financial literacy in classrooms throughout the state. The group is currently holding an essay contest to see how students take those lessons to heart. Iowa students in grades 7-11 can write 300 words on the following questions: “What is the biggest obstacle to saving your money?” and “What technological and/or banking solutions might help you and your friends begin to save?”

Entries are due March 27, 2015 with one $1,000 winner to be announced on April 10, 2015. The winner and finalists will read their essays during Iowa Jump$tart’s “Money SmartWeek” event later this year. For full details and how to apply, visit Iowa Jump$tart’s website here.