Free publications available for 2018-19

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Iowa College Aid serves Iowa students and families by providing free resources to make college possible for all Iowans. These publications can be digitally downloaded any time, or physical copies can be mailed to you. Download them or order print copies here. Publications available are:

This all-encompassing guide offers help planning, preparing and paying for college. It includes a year-by-year checklist and a directory of Iowa schools. It is also available in Spanish.

This brochure provides a rundown of free state and federal aid available to Iowa college students.

This brochure covers the process of completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the Iowa Financial Aid Application (IFAA).

This brochure is a guide to student loans and repayment options, plus tips for paying off debt faster.

This brochure provides details about state and federal programs to help Iowans in high-demand jobs pay off student loans.

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8 strategies to help you on your ACT

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Is about time for you to take the ACT? Or maybe you’re gearing up for an ACT practice test? A little bit of strategy can go a long way. Remember these tips:

  1. Know your strengths. Is reading your strongest section and math your weakest? Complete your easiest section first. This will give you confidence for the rest of the exam.
  2. Budget your time. Before the test, calculate how much time you need per section. Do you know you’ll need extra time on math? Budget your time accordingly on other sections.
  3. Work questions out of order. Don’t waste valuable time on questions you probably won’t get right. The Princeton Review suggests you categorize questions:

NOW: Does this question look OK? Do you know how to do it? Do it now.

LATER: Will this question take a long time? Leave it and come back. Circle the question number for easy reference.

NEVER: Know the topics that are your worst and learn when to move on. Don’t waste time on questions you shouldn’t even attempt. Instead, use more time to answer the “Now” and “Later” questions accurately.

  1. Answer all the questions. No points are deducted for incorrect answers, so you might as well guess.
  2. Find the wrong answers. The ACT is multiple choice, which means the correct answer is on the page somewhere. Eliminate answer choices that you know are wrong before you guess.
  3. Try to answer from the test creators’ point of view. Circle key words to help you focus on the central point. What do you think they are trying to test?
  4. Color inside the lines. The ACT is scored by machine. Don’t miss points because you left stray marks or smudges around the bubbles. Don’t forget your No. 2 pencil!
  5. Use all the time allowed. If you have extra time, cover your answers and rework questions from the beginning.

Check your social media presence!

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A year ago, 10 young people thought they were on their way to Harvard. Offensive memes they posted in a Facebook message group wrecked those plans—Harvard rescinded their admissions.

That example might be drastic, but your social media presence can get you into trouble when you apply for college or a job. One in three college admissions officers and nearly three-quarters of employers say they check candidates’ social media profiles.

Here’s how to make sure social media doesn’t work against you:

Pouring drinking at a partyDon’t post photos of inappropriate behavior. These might include underage drinking, semi-nudity, drug use or offensive gestures.

Don’t bad-mouth your school—or any other schools, for that matter. Keep content related to your education positive and aspirational.

Never, ever post anything that could be construed as discriminatory. Don’t even share, re-post or like this content unless you’re willing to be held accountable for it.

Don’t lie about your activities or accomplishments. Example: posting someone else’s photo and saying you took it. A reverse image search will expose you in a matter of seconds.

If you ever wonder “Should I or shouldn’t I?” about a social media post, here’s a guideline: Would you show this to your grandmother? If not, keep it offline.

Never stop your scholarship search!

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Did you think your scholarship search was over when you accepted your financial aid package? Think again!

You can—and should—continue to look for private scholarships as long as you’re enrolled in college. You might need to replace aid that lapses after your first year, or you might want to take advantage of scholarships offered only to upperclassmen. Maybe you want a smaller loan total than you qualified for. Whatever your reason, keep hunting for that free money. Just make sure your financial aid office knows about any new scholarships you accept.

Scholarship sources to consider:

  • Your college or university: It might provide scholarships related to areas of study, so check in with the financial aid office if you change majors.
  • Employers: As you’re networking for internship or job opportunities, ask about scholarships for students planning to enter that field.
  • School networks: It’s not too soon to check with your college’s alumni association.
  • Community organizations: If you’re studying in a new city, new options could be open.

Always remember: Reputable organizations will not charge fees for scholarship searches.

7 ways an on-campus career center can help you

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Many campuses have a career center or job placement center. These offices run job boards, on-campus employment, internship programs, job fairs and professional readiness training. Their job is not only to help you gain experience and be successful while you’re in college, but also to help you succeed after you graduate.

Here are a few ways they can help you:

  1. Find a part-time job. Career centers run job boards specifically for students seeking on-campus jobs, but they also allow businesses and organizations in the community to post open positions.
  2. Find an internship. Employers frequently use on-campus career centers to fill their internship positions.
  3. Get help selecting a major/career. Career centers are staffed with academic advisers who can help you identify areas of study and jobs that interest you. Some career centers even offer for-credit courses dedicated to career and major exploration.
  4. Attend a job fair. Check with your career center to find out what job fairs and networking events they offer. Job fairs are a great opportunity to meet potential employers.
  5. Mock interviews. Practice makes perfect when it comes to interviewing for internships and full-time jobs. Careers centers have experts who will help you improve your interview skills.
  6. Resume/cover letter help. Are you wondering why you’re not getting results with your application materials? Have a pro look them over and make improvements from there.
  7. Find a full-time job after you graduate. Many employers work directly with universities to fill open positions and recruit new talent. Career centers can also reach out to organizations on your behalf to inquire about job placement.

15 must-have items for your dorm

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We’re not talking about weight. This “Freshman 15” list contains 15 must-have items if you plan to live on campus.

  1. Fan. Not all dorm rooms are air-conditioned. Even if yours comes with an AC unit, you and your roommate might not agree on the temperature, and the AC might not work fast enough on hot days or after trips to the gym.
  2. Robe and flip-flops. You might not use a robe at home, but unless you are an exhibitionist, it will come in handy when dashing from your room to a shared bathroom to take a shower. Flip-flops are a must if you don’t want to walk barefoot down the hall or stand in a shower that has been used by the masses.
  3. Power strips and adapters. There are never enough outlets for all your necessities (laptop, phone, tablet). Adapters will come in handy if your room doesn’t have three-pronged outlets.
  4. Shower caddy. If you have to share a bathroom, a shower caddy helps you haul your shampoo, conditioner, soap, shaving supplies and toothbrush back and forth.
  5. Umbrella. You will need one unless you want to drip-dry while sitting in class.
  6. Snow boots. Frostbite is not fun. Snow boots are not optional in Iowa.
  7. Tool kit. It’s extremely useful when putting together boxed furniture or fixing minor problems in your room.
  8. Dry erase board. Hang one on your door for your roommates and hall mates to leave messages when you are out.
  9. Water bottle and travel mug. Face it now: College students are broke. You can save money and the environment by carrying your own water or making your own coffee.
  10. Lamp. You’ll appreciate the extra light during late night cram sessions or when a crowded room forces you to get ready at your desk.
  11. Door stop. Prop your door open when moving, for ventilation or to get to know other students in the hall. Who is brave enough to knock on a closed door just to say “Hello”?
  12. Sewing kit. Your parents aren’t going to be there to sew a button on your shirt.
  13. First aid kit and health insurance card. Headaches and college students go together like macaroni and cheese. Keep aspirin and other pain relievers on hand, along with bandages and disinfectant. If you need a doctor, you’ll also need your health insurance card.
  14. Drying rack. Dormitory dryers aren’t always reliable, or available.
  15. Fabric freshener. Tiny room, mounds of dirty clothes, bed sheets that haven’t been washed in a while—yes, this is necessary.

Finding the right college for you

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No single college is right for everyone. To make your decision, consider “college fit”: how well a school meets your academic, financial and social needs. Here are some factors to keep in mind:

Academic needs:

  • GPA and test scores required
  • Programs and majors offered

Financial needs:

  • Cost and debt
  • Graduation rates
  • Job placement rates
  • Graduates’ average salaries

Social needs:

  • Size and location
  • Diversity
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Student-to-faculty ratio
  • Housing options

Research schools and rank them by college fit. Once you narrow down your list, you can approach college applications with a clear focus. Find more information here.

Six campus resources you should explore

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Everyone handles the transition from high school to college differently. But whether you’re a first-generation student or a legacy, traveling to another state or living at home, remember that you’re surrounded by people who want to help you succeed. Explore these resources on campus and ask for help when you need it:

  • Health center: Scope this out (location, hours, fees) before you need it. You don’t want to stress over these details while you’re feeling crummy.
  • Library: Digitized collections with search engines are far more reliable than Google. Plus, librarians are trained to help you track down the information you need.
  • Tutoring or writing center: Student employees are trained to assist their peers. These centers might offer one-on-one or group assistance.
  • Fitness center: Your campus activity fee might already cover your membership, so work up a sweat.
  • Counseling center: Student life—and life in general—can be stressful. You don’t have to muddle through alone.
  • Job placement center: This is a great place to start your career search later or to look now for part-time jobs or occasional weekend work.

Tips for transfer students

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Sometimes your first college choice isn’t the right fit, or you might start your education at a two-year college with intentions to continue at a four-year school. For a smooth transfer, start planning as soon as possible.

Here are some tips:

  • Keep your grades up. Continue to go to class and turn in assignments. The college where you transfer will want your most recent transcripts and might have a grade requirement.
  • Select a new college. Determine what factors contributed to your decision to leave your current college, and take them into consideration when selecting a new college.
  • Go on a campus visit. Your experiences on your current college campus might help you identify the benefits you want and need from a new college experience.
  • Talk to advisors. Work with advisors at both your old and new campuses. Ask if your classes will transfer. To make certain, you can request that your prospective college review your transcripts before you apply. Also check into the student service organizations and activities on your new campus.
  • Apply for admission. Check the admission requirements at the college where you intend to transfer. If you want to transfer course credits, you’ll need to submit your most recent transcript. Ask your admissions officer about placement exams, registering for classes and signing up for orientation.
  • Secure your housing. If you plan to live on campus or in an apartment, you’ll need to get the process rolling as soon as possible so you have a place to live when classes begin.
  • Apply for financial aid. You cannot simply transfer current financial aid to your new college. You’ll need to add your new college to your FAFSA to receive a new financial aid package. You also should notify your current financial aid office of your plans to transfer. Some types of financial aid cannot be awarded by the new college until the old college cancels your aid. Contact current scholarship donors to see if scholarships can be transferred. If you plan to borrow, you might need to complete new loan applications.

6 things you can gain from your summer job

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Some lucky high schoolers land jobs in fields they are interested in, but many students work a summer job for the sole purpose of earning extra cash. Whether you’re scooping ice cream, babysitting or lifeguarding, you can gain plenty of valuable skills and experiences from your job.

  1. Communication skills. Sure, you did group projects in school, but you were probably partnered with people your own age. A summer job is a great opportunity to work with people who are different from you. It’s important to get along with people of different backgrounds, ages, neighborhoods, etc. to be successful in college.
  2. New friends. Along with learning to be productive with different types of people, summer jobs are a great way to become friends with people from different grades, schools and ages. Maybe you’ll meet someone who will help you out in school or in your career down the road.
  3. College job. Landing your first job in college will be a whole lot easier if you already have work experience and a resume. Employers want to hire someone who is responsible, can manage their time and can work with different types of people. You’ll easily stand out from other applicants who don’t have work experience.
  4. Letters of recommendation. Most scholarship applications and many college applications require letters of recommendation. Holding down a job shows maturity and work ethic, two qualities that colleges value. Who better to write you a letter than someone who was able to count on you to get a job done?
  5. Learning the value of money. It’s hard to understand the value of a dollar if you haven’t earned it. Put a percentage of your paycheck into savings for college or other pursuits. It’s never too early.
  6. Time management. Research shows that busy students are better students. A job during the summer (and during the school year) and/or extracurricular activities boost grades and reduce procrastination.

Loan payments too high to handle? These repayment plans can help

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Do you need a lower monthly payment on your federal student loans? Does your outstanding federal student loan debt represent a significant portion of your annual income? Income-driven repayment (IDR) plans are designed to make your student loan debt more manageable by reducing your monthly payment amount.

Some of the following income-driven plans may be right for you:

  • Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (REPAYE)
  • Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (PAYE)
  • Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR)
  • Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR Plan)

You cannot use this tool if you are in default on your federal student loans. Only the ICR plan is available for Parent PLUS Loans.

Note: There is no application fee to complete an Income-Driven Repayment Request. You may be contacted by private companies that offer to help you apply for Income-Driven Repayment, for a fee. These companies have no affiliation with the U.S. Department of Education (ED) or ED’s Federal Loan Servicers. Learn more here.

How to make a great impression at your internship

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You aced the interview and landed an awesome internship. But now what? Get the most out of your experience by doing these 12 things.

  1. Arrive early and prepared. Do some homework before your first day. You shouldn’t rely on your boss to explain every single aspect of the organization.
  2. Get to know your boss and their work style. Do they want to be continuously updated throughout the day, or are they hands-off? Is it OK to talk about non-work things with them, or are they strictly professional?
  3. Accomplish what the internship description said. You, of course, need to complete everything the employer wants from you but make sure you are getting everything you need, too. What’s the point of completing the internship if you don’t learn anything or gain marketable skills? Make sure your internship coordinator is keeping their end of the bargain.
  4. Make sure expectations are clear. You and your boss should be on the same page from the very beginning regarding your hours, pay and goals.
  5. Go above and beyond. Ask for more work when you’re done with the assigned tasks. Be proactive and challenge yourself.
  6. Get to know the other staff. Internships are an awesome way to make connections. Learn everyone’s names, be nice and become a part of the team. Make yourself memorable, and make sure they’ll miss you when you leave. You might even leave with a mentor.
  7. Anticipate needs. Treat your internship like a real job. Do you know that August is a busy month for your boss? Try to figure out what will be needed from you and get a head-start. You’ll save stress and impress your boss.
  8. Dress for success. Sweatpants might be OK for class, but they are not acceptable for your internship. You will never regret dressing professionally. The best-dressed interns make the best impressions.
  9. Practice time management. Internships look great on resumes because they show employers that you’re able to juggle academics, extracurriculars and maybe even another job. Stay organized and figure out a system to manage your time effectively.
  10. Track your accomplishments. Collect specific facts and figures about your internship and/or your performance to use on your resume. Example: “I interviewed 30+ subjects for a study on the socioeconomic effects of smoking.”
  11. Ask for feedback. Ask on a regular basis, not just at the end of the internship. It shows initiative and can help you make any needed adjustments or improvements to leave on good terms.
  12. Show your gratitude. Let your boss and coworkers know that you appreciate the opportunity every day. Say “please” and “thank you.” Once the internship is over, be sure to send thank you notes.

10 graduation speech quotes everyone should read

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Graduates around Iowa are getting ready to embark on the exciting next step in life. As mortarboards soar over packed gymnasiums, we all should take a step back and reflect on the wisdom of some famous commencement speakers.

  1. “There is no straight path from your seat today to where you are going. Don’t try to draw that line. You will not just get it wrong, you’ll miss big opportunities. And I mean big—like the Internet. Careers are not ladders, those days are long gone, but jungle gyms. Don’t just move up and down, don’t just look up, look backwards, sideways around corners. Your career and your life will have starts and stops and zigs and zags. Don’t stress out about the white space—the path you can’t draw—because therein lie both the surprises and the opportunities.” —Sheryl Sandberg
  2. “Ignore the stilly 30-Under-30 list that the Internet throws at you before you’ve even had your morning cup of coffee. Those will be the bane of your existence post-graduation, trust me. Trust me. Comparing yourself to others’ success only slows you down from finding your own.” —Octavia Spencer
  3. “You all have opportunities and skills and education that so many folks who came before you never could have dreamed of. So just imagine the kind of impact that you’re going to make. Imagine how you can inspire those around you to reach higher and complete their own education.” —Michelle Obama
  4. “We have, if we’re lucky, about 30,000 days to play the game of life. And trust me, that’s not morbid. In fact, it’s wisdom that will put all the inevitable failures and rejections and disappointments and heartbreaks into perspective.” —Ariana Huffington
  5. “So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. … You can fail at what you don’t want. So you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.” —Jim Carrey
  6. “Take your risks now. As you grow older, you become more fearful and less flexible. … Limit your ‘always’ and your ‘nevers.’ Continue to share your heart with people even if it’s been broken.” —Amy Poehler
  7. “Our country doesn’t depend on the heroism of every citizen. But all of us should be worthy of the sacrifices made on our behalf.” —John McCain
  8. “Work hard but work smart. Always. Every day. Nothing is handed to you and nothing is easy. You’re not owed anything. … No job or task is too small or beneath you. If you want to get ahead, volunteer to do the things no one else wants to do, and do it better. Be a sponge. Be open and learn.” —Bobbi Brown
  9. “The world is more malleable than you think, and it’s waiting for you to hammer it into shape. … That’s what this degree of yours is—a blunt instrument. So go forth and build something with it. Remember what John Adams said about Ben Franklin: ‘He does not hesitate at our boldest measures but rather seems to think us too irresolute.’ Well, this is the time for bold measures, and this is the country and you are the generation.” —Bono
  10. “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” —Kurt Vonnegut

Hey, high school sophomores! Set your goals for next year

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If you’re looking ahead to your second-to-last year of high school, here’s a to-do list for you. Check these items off during your junior year, and you’ll be squarely on track to get to college.

  • Prep for college entrance exams. Download a free ACT preparation booklet from org. Find free official test prep for the SAT through the College Board at collegeboard.org and Khan Academy at khanacademy.org/sat. Take practice tests to determine where you might need to improve.
  • Focus on career and college research. Assess your skills and interests so you can consider possible areas of study. Determine which colleges offer programs that can prepare you for the career you want.
  • Take the PSAT in the fall to be considered for a National Merit Scholarship. Plus, it’s good practice for the SAT.
  • Attend college fairs and go on campus visits. If possible, sit in on classes that interest you and arrange to spend time in student housing.
  • Take the SAT or ACT in the spring and have the official scores sent to schools that interest you.
  • Ask for letters of recommendation. Identify teachers, counselors, employers or other adults who can attest to your achievement and abilities, and ask them to write letters for scholarship or admissions applications.
  • Make a timeline for your college and scholarship applications. Research deadlines so you won’t be rushed when applications are due. Pay close attention to early decision deadlines if that option interests you.
  • Fill out the FAFSA4caster at ed.gov to get an idea of how much need-based federal aid you might receive.

4 myths and 4 facts about student loans

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After you exhaust other financial aid and employment opportunities, student loans can be a good option to cover educational expenses. When borrowing, remember that unlike grants or scholarships, which do not need to be repaid, student loans must be repaid with interest. You should always be 100 percent clear about what you are signing up for.

Myth #1: I don’t need to worry about my student loans while I’m in school.

Truth #1: You need to think ahead. Don’t blindly take out student loans without considering your major or future career—or without finding ways to minimize your debt while in school.

Myth #2: I should borrow as much as I can.

Truth #2: You should borrow the minimum you need. Loans are a helpful way to get an education that might seem out of reach, but be informed before you borrow. Your future self will thank you!

Myth #3: I have to pay back 100 percent of my student loans.

Truth #3: Maybe not. Depending on the type of loan and your profession, forgiveness programs can help you pay back a portion or all of your student loans.

Myth #4: I need to pay someone to help me with my student loans.

Truth #4: You should never have to pay someone to help you with your student loans. Contact the financial aid office at your college for assistance.

Find more information about student loans here.

How to cure senioritis

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Bored student distracted during a class at classroomFinishing the final classes of high school or college can feel impossible. Many students start to miss class, evade homework and let their grades slip—all classic signs of senioritis. How can this “disease” be cured?

  1. Stop it before it starts. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. When you notice yourself starting to tune out, find ways to stay motivated. Have friends and family hold you accountable, and set goals for yourself.
  2. Remember that grades still matter. Colleges can reconsider admission decisions if your GPA plummets. They can also reconsider financial aid packages they’ve already offered. Scary, right?
  3. Set small, specific goals. Don’t let the big picture (graduation, scholarships, etc.) scare you. Take things one step at a time. Just focus on doing well on your next big exam, attending all your classes and getting enough sleep.
  4. Ask for help. Talk to a teacher, parent, school or someone else you trust. Tell them how you’re feeling and describe issues you’re facing. They might help you in a variety of ways like giving homework assistance, cooking meals or even just offering encouragement.
  5. Take time to relax and sleep. Burning the candle at both ends all the time doesn’t solve concentration issues. Having trouble staying awake in class? Schedule nights where you have plenty of time to wind down with a book or movie and go to bed early.
  6. Keep yourself challenged. Are you slacking because you’re bored with school? Get involved. Find inspiration that will get you out of bed in the morning. Volunteer for a student organization, offer to help a teacher or plan some senior activities. This is a great opportunity for self-improvement.
  7. Keep your eyes on the prize. You wouldn’t give up running a long race if you could see the finish line, would you? End your high school or college career on a high note. You’re almost there! You got this!

 

This one thing is guaranteed to enhance your college experience

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College is a time to meet new people, develop new or existing interests and gain experience that will help get a job after graduation. If there was one thing you could do to accomplish all these things, wouldn’t you do it? Join a student organization related to your career goals, and join another one for fun. Check your college’s website for a list of clubs and attend the student organization fair. Tons of perks come with getting involved on your campus, but here are few important ones:

  1. Make friends. Joining a club is the easiest way to find people who have a shared interest or passion. People who share interests are generally the easiest people to build friendships with. These people will, in turn, introduce you to more students who will expand and diversify your social circle.
  2. Relieve stress. Academics are important and should be a top priority, but you will need to take a break. Joining a group with other chemistry majors will be helpful when you want to complain about homework or need help studying, but it’s also important to join a group to have fun. It’s a bonus if your club involves exercise (dance club, outdoor club, etc.), which provides extra stress relief.
  3. Increase focus. Studies show that staying busy and engaged on campus will improve your grades and focus. If you go back to your dorm room right after class, you probably won’t have a focused five-hour study session. (Let’s be real, you’ll probably watch Netflix and accidentally take a nap.) However, if you need to finish an assignment within a two-hour period before you go to student org activities, you’ll be more productive and focused.
  4. Build self-confidence. Most student organizations offer leadership opportunities that can build confidence and improve decision-making abilities. Being around older, more experienced students can help you develop these skills in a low-pressure environment.
  5. Network. The old saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” has truth to it. Making connections with students going into the same field will help you down the road. An older member of your student organization might even help you land your first job out of college. On top of the personal connections, student organizations give you the opportunity to build marketable skills like teamwork, communication and leadership. They also show that you can manage time and responsibilities.
  6. Learn about yourself. Joining a student organization can show you your own strengths and weaknesses. You find out what you’re good at and what you enjoy. Maybe you find that you love multitasking and creative brainstorming. Equally important, you can find out what you don’t like. Maybe you realize you hate being the organization’s secretary and you’re better off in roles that focus on big picture, strategic planning.

How to save money on college textbooks

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Abstract blurred of stops of books, textbooks or fiction in book store or in library. Education, school, study, reading fiction concept. For abstract backgroundTextbook costs can make your jaw drop. They can be one of the pricier extra expenses that go along with attending college. But these tips can save you hundreds of dollars every semester:

  1. Don’t buy new textbooks. If you can, always go for used. Glossy new pages might be pretty, but you won’t be able to resell a book for its full price. You can purchase used textbooks from Amazon and other internet sites, through your college bookstore and from classmates. See if there’s a social media page where fellow students sell books.
  2. Use an older edition. If your instructor assigns a brand new text book, ask if it’s OK to use an older edition. Editions typically don’t change much year to year, so you can probably get away with an older, cheaper one.
  3. Look beyond the bookstore. College bookstores might not have the best prices. Some offer used books and rentals, but it’s still important to check prices elsewhere.
  4. Rent your textbooks. Many campus bookstores, along with websites like Chegg, offer rentals. This is often a good option because you can pay less and you don’t have to worry about trying to sell the book after the semester. However, you should still look at all your options on a case-by-case basis.
  5. Ask previous students. Ask someone who’s taken the same course if you really need the book or if they’d sell you their old book.
  6. Use e-books. Some textbooks are available for a lower price in an online edition. If you don’t have an e-reader, you can usually read e-books on your laptop, iPad or smartphone.
  7. Share with a classmate. If your schedules allow or you don’t expect to need the textbook frequently, split the cost of a textbook with a classmate. You can meet up for study sessions, or one person can take photos or make copies. You can’t make copies of an entire book without violating copyright laws, but a few pages here and there is fine. If your instructor wants you to buy an entire textbook but assigns only a few pages of reading from it the whole semester, you’re probably not violating copyright laws by making a single copy of those pages for your homework.
  8. Check the library. Your school probably has limited copies of frequently used class textbooks. See if you can reserve them ahead of time and save some money.
  9. Wait until the first class to buy. Sometimes professors will work with students who can’t afford to pay hundreds for a single textbook. Some will tell you right away that you’ll only use a few sections of the textbook, or they’ll offer supplementary options that are free or cheap. The first day is usually spent going over the syllabus, but be prepared to buy the textbook quickly if you need to.

Thinking about taking a gap year? Read this first

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Some students take a year between high school and college to work, volunteer, travel or save money. Many educators say that kids who take a break after high school are more mature when they arrive at college and are more engaged in their education moving forward. This is particularly relevant to students who burned out in high school from years of AP classes, test prep, volunteer projects, sports, music lessons and other extracurricular activities.

Still, gap years can be scary for parents and other adults who care about a student’s success. Many fear that one year will turn into two years and will eventually lead to their student never completing a degree.

When considering a gap year, students should take these three steps:

  1. Apply to college and defer enrollment. That way, there is something waiting for you at the end of your gap year. Some colleges also might let you defer their scholarships—check with the financial aid office.
  2. Make sure you apply for financial aid during your gap year. File your FAFSA, apply for scholarships, grants and loans, etc. Remember, you can file your FAFSA starting on October 1 and the earlier you submit it, the better.
  3. Form a concrete plan. Studies show that students who have a concrete plan are much more likely to start college after their gap year. Ask yourself: What will you accomplish during the gap year? Sitting on the couch playing video games doesn’t count. Will you have a job? How will you pay your bills/save money? Will you volunteer? Will you do an apprenticeship or study abroad?

You can find more information from the American Gap Association, gapyearassociation.org.

This is the best kept secret for college-bound students

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When you are selecting a college to attend, you want to know how much it’s actually going to cost, if you’ll make enough to pay off loans, what the current students are like, etc. Gathering all this information takes a ton of time, especially if you’re not sure where you want to go. Luckily, the U.S. Department of Education offers a valuable online tool to help you compare schools and make an informed decision. For any school that offers post-secondary education in the United States, the College Scorecard, collegescorecard.ed.gov, will show you:

  • Costs—Not the published costs, but the average annual costs that students actually pay, broken down by family income and compared to the national average.
  • Loan debt—How many students take out federal loans, graduates’ typical debt and monthly payments, and percentage of students paying down debt compared to the national average.
  • Earnings after school—Average graduate’s salary compared to national average, and percentage of graduates who earn more than students with only a high school diploma.
  • Student body—A demographic breakdown of the student population by race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status.
  • Success rates—Retention rate after one year and graduation rate, compared to the national average.
  • Test scores—Standard range of SAT and/or ACT scores for students who are admitted and enrolled.
  • Academic programs—Available areas of study, as well as the most popular programs offered.

This combination of factors gives you a more complete picture of your investment and potential payoff from attending a specific school. A school with high costs, high loan debt and low graduation rates, for instance, might not offer your best chance of success. A school with high costs might be a more reasonable choice, however, if it also offers high graduation rates and high salaries for graduates.

While these might be important factors, the most important pieces of the equation will be how a school fits with your needs. The College Scorecard lets you look up specific schools or search based on criteria such as location, size and degrees offered. It also offers predetermined searches such as “Affordable Four-Year Schools with Good Outcomes” or “Find a Community College in Your State with High Salaries.”

Happy college hunting!

How to ace the exam every time

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Studying for an exam can make anyone feel anxious—even overwhelmed. Here are tips to help you ace the exam, big or small, every time.

  1. Don’t procrastinate. Give your brain enough time to process and retain information. When you find out about the exam, immediately mark the date when you need to begin studying. Waiting will just stress you out.
  2. Organize your study space. Some people have trouble concentrating with a million things in front of them. Clear off your desk or clean your room. Do whatever helps your brain focus.
  3. Know yourself. Figure out what time of day you focus best. (Early morning? Lunch? Before bed?) How do you study best? (Alone with silence? Listening to music? In a public place?)
  4. Turn off your Internet, TV and phone. If you get distracted by these things (who doesn’t?), save them as a reward for completing your study session. If you need your computer to study, try an app like this one that blocks websites for a short time. Give your phone to someone until you’re done studying.
  5. Set timed goals for each study session. A schedule will help you stay focused. Example: Study three chapters of U.S. History for 30 minutes, take a 10-minute break and then make a study guide for your math test in 20 minutes.
  6. Make flashcards. Make free virtual flashcards and quizzes on websites like Quizlet.
  7. Explain the material to someone. This is a great use for a study group. Take turns explaining relevant items to each other. You will learn from your peers, but you will also remember the material better if you can internalize and explain it.
  8. Study in different places. Different locations force your brain to form new associations with the study material. Basically, the more unique memories you have with the material, the better you’ll remember it.
  9. Rewrite your notes. Copying your notes by hand is a great way recall older material and reinforce your knowledge.
  10. Get creative. Make up stories and songs about the material. You’ll be surprised how much better it will stick in your brain.
  11. Take breaks. Plan to take breaks while studying. Get a snack. Dance around. Play music. Do jumping jacks. Breaks are beneficial for your brain and concentration.
  12. Plan your exam day. What time will you leave? What will you eat beforehand? How will you get there? Plan to arrive early so you’re not flustered.
  13. Be positive! Half the battle is believing you can win! You got this!