College and Career Planning
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Answer all the questions. No points are deducted for incorrect answers, so you might as well guess.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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!
- Use all the time allowed. If you have extra time, cover your answers and rework questions from the beginning.
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:
- GPA and test scores required
- Programs and majors offered
- Cost and debt
- Graduation rates
- Job placement rates
- Graduates’ average salaries
- Size and location
- 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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.