Applying To Multiple Schools With Common App Can Be A Key to Success for Families

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October is #CollegeApplicationMonth, recognizing and encouraging high school seniors who are starting the process of applying for college. Iowa College Aid’s “College Application Campaign” works in schools around Iowa to help students complete at least one college application during the course of the school day.

According to many education professionals (including a high school principal and college representative), completing only one college application can severely reduce a student’s chances to getting accepted to a school. While students may have already targeted which school is their number one choice, applying to other schools will provide alternatives, should they not be accepted. The term “safety school” might be thrown around, but, for many students, finding a school that fits their needs can result in having more than one option when it comes to a school that can help them meet their goals.


One way of applying for multiple schools easily is by completing the “Common Application.” This application allows students to complete one application and then choose the schools to which the application should be sent. While this can save time, not all schools accept the Common Application. Eleven Iowa schools are included in the 149 schools in the Midwest available through the Common Application, but include public schools such as the University of Northern Iowa, as well as many private colleges and universities, such as Drake University.

For Katie Pilcher, a mother who has recently sent her son to college, the Common Application provided a great tool for saving time and relieving some of the stress connected with the college application process. She shares her recent experiences:

My advice is to attend any meetings with counselors about the application process that schools provide.  It is also helpful to become very familiar with the Common App, since most colleges use that.  Parents and students should do online searching about colleges they’re interested in so that they understand each college‘s application process and deadlines.

The whole process can be stressful at times.  My sons wanted some freedom and independence in filling out applications, yet at times they needed gentle reminders about deadlines!

Both of my sons applied to several schools so that their bases were covered and because they were interested in more than one school.  Some colleges require essays above and beyond the essay part of the Common App, which can prolong the application process and put added pressure on students.  Therefore, it’s important to determine the application process of colleges, especially when applying to several colleges.

Personal Connection is Key for College Apps, Says Drake Professor

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College Application Month focuses on encouraging students to take the first step toward their future by completing their college application. But for many students and families the process of what makes a good application can seem a mystery.

Once students have found a school that seems a good match, completing the application and essay that goes with it can be a stressful process that, when done well, can help a student stand out from the pack. But how to do that? Drake University professor Jeff Inman serves as an interviewer and application reviewer for some of the school’s most prestigious scholarships, but even he admits that the upcoming application process his 15-year-old son will be undertaking in a few short years can be daunting.


To better help students and families gain focus on the process, he offers some advice on what makes a student’s college application stand out:

While I am always impressed with the resumes of the applying students, many of who are so busy I always wonder if they have to go without sleep to get everything done, it’s the essay that really solidifies the standouts for me. Those students who don’t just answer the question, but tell a story, really catch my eye. They don’t just talk about a fictional character they relate to or a quote they are inspired by. They find a moment in their life, an epiphany they had, or a failure they learned from and relate it to the question. To me, that shows they not only understand the essence of the question but also can make the kind of connections college demands of them. That said, typos undermine everything.


As with other educators, Inman also thinks that students who limit their college search to just one application are putting themselves at a disadvantage.

There are benefits from filling out multiple applications. There are lots of amazing schools out there where students will have a great experience, learn amazing things, and grow as people. I might be in the minority here, but I don’t feel there is one perfect school for any student. So apply to the schools you feel comfortable at, provide you the opportunities and experiences you want, and work for your family.

For Belmond-Klemme Principal, Research is Key for College Application Success

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October is National College Application Month and Iowa is joining in the celebration with the annual Iowa College Application Campaign. Both programs aim to encourage and empower students to take the time to complete at least one application to a college or university during the regular school day.

For many students, especially first-generation students, filling out college applications during school allows them to get answers on related questions that they might not be able to find on their own. In honor of the Iowa College Application Campaign, we’re talking with representatives from high schools, colleges and even families who have recently gone through the college application process with their student to share their advice for those students and families completing college applications for the first time.

Greg Fisher, Principal and Athletic Director at Belmond-Klemme High School in Belmond, IA, suggests that before completing any applications that students research and target those schools that will best meet their needs. “College fit” describes that connection between student and school that can make a significant difference in whether a student succeeds or transfers to another school (or worse, drops out of college altogether).


Fisher discusses what he tells his students when they consider college applications:

When discussing college applications with students, I feel students need to do a thorough job of researching institutions of interest to them.  I talk with them about determining if the institutions offer specific academic programs in which they have a strong interest.  I ask the students to spend time looking for social aspects that will allow excellent opportunities for them to enjoy the campus and or college life.

I want the students to choose several schools, which are high on their lists and make out applications to those institutions.  With the competition to get accepted into colleges, or acceptance into specific college programs, and with the awarding of scholarships at a highly competitive level for today’s high school students, it is important that a student give themselves options as they proceed through the application process.  For a student to limit themself to a single school/program could result in the student scrambling late in the process if their original plan doesn’t work out.

Early Admissions Can Save Time, Money

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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.


Early Action
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.

Early Decision
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
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.

Rolling Admissions
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.

College Fairs Offer Students a Great Tool for Finding College Fit

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The new starting date for filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is just about here. Completing the FAFSA, though, isn’t the end of the road for college preparation. Throughout the school year, students have opportunities to visit with colleges and find out more about what each school offers and how that school does (or doesn’t) relate to a student’s plan for their future.

Making that match is called “college fit” and it can mean the difference between getting the most of education after high school and frustrations that could lead to transferring schools or, worse, not completing a degree.


The good news: Colleges offer tours that allow students to see the campus, talk to professors and students and get answers to questions about their education. Even better: Students can get much of that information without even leaving their own high school thanks to college fairs held throughout the year. These events, often held at the local high school, include representatives from schools both near and far looking to put their best foot forward for prospective students.

College fairs are the first step toward finding college fit and students who attend college fairs will get a head-start on making a smart choice on where to go to school. As with anything, approaching the event with a game plan will help students get even more out of college fairs.
Start with these five tips:

  1. Is a college strong in a student’s major? Not all high school students are going to have an idea of what their major will be, but it helps to have some idea of what they might be interested in as a career. If students have an idea, they can ask schools about programs in those areas. Some colleges specialize in certain majors or are known for having strong programs in particular fields.
  2. Does a school’s size matter? Larger schools often mean more students in classes (sometimes over 100 students), but a bustling community. Smaller colleges might have fewer students, but that might mean more direct interaction with teachers and smaller class sizes. A student can talk to representatives at a college fair to get an idea of the school’s size and start to consider which appeals to them.
  3. What’s college life like? While a visit to the actual campus will give students the best idea of what life is like at a given school, college fairs frequently include representatives from schools who are either current students or recent graduates. Of course, these representatives will always look to emphasize what makes their school better than the rest, but talking to college students is a great way for high school students to get an early idea of what life is like in college.
  4. Take all the materials available. Schools visiting college fairs will have lots of giveaways: stickers, squeezeballs, pens, and more. But the most important materials to take away from college fairs are the informational brochures that talk more about the school. These materials might not answer every question a student might have about a school, but they will frequently include websites or links to other resources to learn more if interested.
  5. Make notes, take it all in, but don’t rush to any decisions. College fairs are the introduction to schools for many students and representatives are chosen by schools to present their school in the most attractive way possible. It’s great if students are inspired to learn more about schools after a college fair. But rather than eliminate schools from their list, students would be better off ranking a list of schools that grabbed their attention and listing the reasons why that school might be a good fit. From there, it’s easy to start researching further into which schools should really make the cut.

For more tips and advice for preparing and planning for college, as well as financial aid and college information, check out Iowa College Aid’s “Your Course to College.” You can read, download or order your own copy on our website.


For First-Gen Family, GEAR UP Iowa Offers Support On Road Toward Dream

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GEAR UP Iowa serves over 7,000 Iowa students in 12 partner school districts around the state, offering tools and resources to schools looking to build a “college-going” culture in their classrooms.

But those efforts don’t stop at the school. GEAR UP Iowa engages with students and families directly, through parent and student nights, college campus tours and events like the GEAR UP Iowa Student Summit that took place at Grand View University in Des Moines earlier this summer.

A dream board drawing done by Rylie Maliszewski during the 2016 GEAR UP Iowa Student Summit. Her mother, Jennifer, says they printed and framed the drawing “ she sees it everyday and it reminds her of her goals and dreams.”

Through the combined work of GEAR UP Iowa and partner schools, the seeds of culture change can be seen growing, as students and families become increasingly aware of the possibilities that education after high school brings. Many students in GEAR UP Iowa are the first generation in their family to attend college. GEAR UP Iowa programs not only support these families in preparing for college, but also provide motivation to overcome challenges that parents didn’t face when they were in high school.

Rylie Maliszewski is a freshman at North High School in Sioux City. Her parents, Jennifer and Bill, finished their education with a high school degree. As Rylie participates in GEAR UP Iowa with an eye toward college after high school, the support provided to her is impacting both her efforts and her family’s vision of her future. To honor the last day of #NationalGEARUPWeek, they share their thoughts on GEAR UP Iowa:

Rylie Maliszewski:

GEAR UP Iowa is helping me prepare for my future. Not only do we get free money for college but they also provide SAT/ACT prep, college visits, and even tutoring and mentoring. All of these features are free to us with having this program! I am so absolutely grateful to be a part of this program! I’m a first-generation college student, with my parent’s highest level of education being a high school diploma. This experience is very new to me and my family. Not having much family to talk to about college experiences, GEAR UP Iowa gives me the opportunity to talk with college students and alumni, and explore colleges.

This summer I was chosen to go the GEAR UP Iowa Student Summit in Des Moines. I was so excited when I got accepted because I really enjoy learning how to be a better leader. The Student Summit gave me more than just information on how to be a better leader. My roommates from the Ottumwa and Davenport schools in this program are now some of my very best friends. Every night we would sit in the common area in our suite and talk the whole night. All of us were so sad to leave on the last day but we all still talk today. My favorite activity from the summit was Alan Feirer’s Leadership Workshop; it was very eye-opening to me. Not only did he teach us how to be a leader but he made it enjoyable, too! We did many small group activities and large group discussion about numerous topics. I will truly cherish this workshop and everything I learned at the Summit! I will never forget the people or the great experiences I had!


Jennifer and Bill Maliszewski:

GEAR UP Iowa has had a huge impact on our household. My husband and I only have our high school diplomas, so everything to do with college and preparing our freshman daughter for life after high school has been a bit overwhelming. GEAR UP Iowa is there for us whenever we need help going in the right direction.

Knowing that the people of GEAR UP Iowa are always there to help out gives us some peace of mind. They offer so much to help the students reach their goals, like prep classes for ACT and SAT tests, college visits, guidance on applying for financial aid and scholarships and college visits just to name a few. My family will be ever grateful for  and everything they do for the students and their families to make the transition from high school to college a smooth one. They have helped take away a lot of the stress of getting ready for life after high school!



Learning Leadership Skills and Getting a Leg Up, Thanks to GEAR UP Iowa

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Earlier this year, GEAR UP Iowa held the first GEAR UP Iowa Student Summit at Grand View University in Des Moines, IA. The four-day event gave students from GEAR UP Iowa’s 12 partner school districts a chance to meet other students, discuss leadership skills and build the tools that will make them crucial partners in change bringing a college-going culture to their high schools (plus, it was fun!).

Alan Feirer, a leadership trainer and organizational development consultant, spent a day working with students, helping them realize leadership opportunities and arming them with the tools to apply those skills on a day-to-day basis. As we continue our recognition of #NationalGEARUPWeek, Feirer reflects on the importance of GEAR UP and the way that the program allows schools to help students take advantage of their chances to become leaders during high school and beyond in their education and life.


My mother was a teen mom, and back in 1968, that circumstance forced her into an early marriage to my father, who was a substance abuser. They graduated high school, but college had to wait.

Eventually, both of them got college degrees, and my mom has pursued two (and completed one) advanced degrees! She just retired from her third profession. All three professions involved giving back; she was a substance abuse prevention coordinator, a non-profit director (for Head Start), and a Lutheran pastor.

The biggest lesson for me? Second chances are there for everyone, and they’re important to take. It’s true that my mom could have stayed married to my dad and spent her life working at a grocery store. There’s no shame in that; we need grocery store clerks. But her gifts, combined with her college degrees, opened doors for her to live a fulfilling life that changed (and saved) the lives of others.

GEAR UP Iowa didn’t help my mom; it wasn’t on option for her. But you – you’ve got a headstart, a bonus, a leg up — if you want to make a difference in your life, and in the lives of others, there’s a whole team of people ready to work with you for that.