College and Career Planning

FAFSA goes mobile

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Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

On October 1, it will be time to submit your FAFSA. Remember, you need to do this every single year that you’re attending college! Starting this year, students and parents will have two ways to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid): a newly redesigned FAFSA website and a new mobile app.

The website is now compatible with any device, including desktop/laptop computers, smartphones and tablets. It also features a more modern and user-friendly look and feel. New “tool tips” provide easy-to-use contextual information. The goal of the new website design is to make filling out the FAFSA as easy as possible for students and parents.

Visit the new FAFSA website here and stay tuned for information about the mobile app. The 2019-20 FAFSA will be available on October 1. Follow Iowa College Aid on FacebookTwitter or Instagram to get reminders and tips for filling out the FAFSA.



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.

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.

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.

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 and Khan Academy at 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 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.