College Attainment

Get Prepared for College Life With These Summer Activities

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While it may feel like a time to celebrate your accomplishments (and you should), the summer before starting college can have a huge impact on your success as you move forward. Rather than be a potential victim of summer melt, take the time to do these activities to help you arrive at college motivated, excited and prepared.

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Sign Up for and Attend Orientation

Many colleges have mandatory orientations for incoming students. But even if your school doesn’t require it, try your best to attend anyway. This is especially important if you haven’t been able to visit the college beforehand. You’ll get a chance to see where things are on campus, check out the dorms and eating facilities, and scope out the local amenities. There will likely be special sessions where you can meet faculty, register for classes, get your student ID, and purchase a parking decal.

You may get an invitation to orientation or your college may leave it up to you to register, so be sure to check their website for a schedule. And if possible, bring your parents along. Orientation can be a little overwhelming and it’s nice to have the support. Your parents can also get answers to some of the questions they have, get a feel for where you’ll be spending your time, and possibly have an easier transition when it’s time to let you go.

Find (and Get to Know) Your Roommate

Since many colleges require incoming freshmen to live in dorms, chances are high you’re going to have a roommate and it’s likely the first time you’ll be sharing your living space with someone outside your family. Some colleges use an online roommate finder to try to match you up with someone that shares similar interests, schedules, or study habits. Some colleges host a roommate fair where you can look for a roommate yourself.

Take the time to find out what you’ll need to do and do it as early as possible. Typically, you can start looking as soon as you’ve committed and paid a housing deposit. And if you can find out who your roommate will be early, go ahead and start getting to know them before you get there in the Fall. Communicate via email or text, or friend them on whatever social media they’re using.

Fortunately, living in a dorm lets you avoid some of the hassles you can encounter when living with a roommate. You won’t have to worry about having a roommate who doesn’t pay their rent, for example. The school will take care of that. Still, living with someone can be challenging, so take the time to learn how to spot a terrible roommate before moving in with them and read up on some other good ways to avoid roommate tension.

Register for Fall Classes as Early as Possible

Registering for college classes might start before you even graduate high school. Some college offer early online registration sometime during May. For others, you might have to wait for orientation or, depending on your major, for a meeting with a freshman advisor. You’ll need to check to see how soon you can register for classes. Take a look at the college’s website or call your admissions counselor. That’s what they’re there for.

As soon as you find out when you can register, go ahead and do it. There are couple of advantages to registering early:

  • Classes fill up. While you’re pretty well-assured of getting into your basic required freshman classes, popular electives fill up fast. Registering early means a better chance of getting in.
  • There may be summer reading. Some classes have required reading lists for the summer. Why not go ahead and get started now, since the summer’s just going to get busier.

If you’re having trouble picking classes, or if you haven’t chosen a major yet, read through the course descriptions and get in touch with an advisor who can help you out. If possible, talk to a professor or students in your department of study and see what they recommend. When you choose classes, try to choose a balanced load if you can. Create a weekly schedule that works well for you, consider getting some requirements out of the way, and try to strike a balance between the types of classes you take. It’s not fun getting stuck writing half a dozen papers or getting stuck working out multiple problem sets every night.

Now that you’ve registered for classes, you can start looking at the textbooks you’ll need. It’s possible some professors won’t have decided on a book yet or that some specialty books may not be available early. But for most classes, especially core classes, you shouldn’t have any trouble.

When it comes to buying your textbooks, you have a few choices: buy them new, buy them used, or rent them. Unless there’s no other option, skip buying new books in favor of buying used or renting. Be sure to check out our complete guide to getting cheap textbooks and our readers’ five favorite sites to buy textbooks cheaply. There are even apps out there to help you compare costs.

Spend Some Time with Family and Friends

This summer may be the last time you can get all your current friends together at once, so take the time to build some memories. Throw a party, take a road trip, or if you’re looking for something a bit cheaper, go camping. Just do it early in the summer, because some people may leave for college or jobs earlier than others. And be sure to get any new contact information (like college email and physical addresses) they have so you can keep in touch.

You’re excited to get out on your own, so it can be easy to forget that while your parents are also excited for you, a major phase of their life is ending. And believe it or not, you’re going to miss them when you’re no longer seeing them every day. Get them involved in your plans. If you have younger siblings, don’t forget to show them some love, too. Their lives are also about to change. And there’s one last person to take care of: yourself. You will likely find yourself without nearly as much alone time as you’re used to. Take the time to do some things on your own, even if it’s just binge watching your favorite shows.

Learn Some Life Skills

There are a number of good skills to learn before striking out on your own. We’ve covered a lot of them in the past. Two of the most important skills you can learn this Summer include:

  • Finances. Hopefully, you’ve already got your own checking and savings account at this point and have had some practice using them. If not, sign up now and learn how to use them. Look for a bank that has a presence at your school or at least has in-network ATMs available when you need them. Take time to get a head start on your finances and avoid some dumb mistakes.
  • Laundry. Lots of kids have never really done laundry or any other real cleaning by the time they leave for college. If that describes you, spend some time this summer learning how to do laundry like a boss. Learn how to decipher laundry tags and maybe even download an app to help you out. It’s not too hard and you can practice while you’re cleaning out your closet and getting packed up for the move.

If you take care of all this, you’ll be well on your way to a more organized and enjoyable Fall semester. Depending on your situation, there may be a few other odds and ends you’ll want to take care of, like making an appointment with your doctor, cleaning up your social media sites, and changing your mailing address. But most of all, enjoy yourself!

Knowing How to Avoid Summer Melt Can Help Meet Your Academic Goals

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For many, summer vacation is the reward for a year of hard work and dedication in the classroom. But for those moving from high school to college, the months between graduation and arriving on campus can be fraught with challenges and distractions that can lead to students not completing their college goals.

“Summer melt” is the name given to those students who, for whatever reason, apply to a college, accept admission, but never arrive after high school graduation. There are many factors that can drive a student toward summer melt. Being aware of a few of those, and taking the steps to stay focused on the college path, can help make sure that the only thing that melts this summer is your ice cream!

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Keep in touch with Counselors and Reach out to College Advisers

School counselors are there to help when challenges arise. Before graduation, students should ask high school counselors what resources are available to them in the summer. Need a helpful boost or reminder of why it’s important to get to college? Give your counselor a call!

Colleges are also looking to help students stay on track during the summer transition, many schools can reach out to students by text and email to make sure that the important dates during the summer transition aren’t missed.

Find a Mentor

It’s always easier to tackle a new challenge if you’ve spoken to someone who’s been through it. Community groups, schools and other non-profits offer mentors who can talk to students about the transition to college. But it can be as easy as talking to anyone you know who’s either in or graduated from college. Don’t be afraid to bring up your concerns about the transition when talking to a mentor. These relationships can last beyond the transition to freshman year and can offer a resource for support both in school and down the road. To hear some advice from first-generation students about making the move to college, check out our video “What I Wish Someone Had Told Me.”

Visit the College Website

Your school’s website is a great resource to answer questions you might have before starting school. Everything from student life, financial issues, academics, organizations and more can be found on a school’s website. Take some time to review the website, even before your student orientation. You’ll have a level of expertise that will make the transition to college that much easier.

Look into Placement Testing Before Orientation

Most schools have some sort of placement testing for incoming first-year students. These tests help gauge where students are in math, reading, and writing skills and makes sure students are taking the courses appropriate for their level of understanding in each subject. Some colleges will offer these tests at orientation, others require students to do them online or on-campus before fall semester starts. Students should make sure to contact the college to know when they need to take the tests.

Check College Health Insurance Plans

Many colleges have health insurance plans for students. Students should check their college’s requirements early to see whether it is affordable. Sometimes, colleges will automatically enroll students in the college’s health care plan. If a student already has qualifying insurance, they can usually apply for a waiver. To learn more about transitioning healthcare for students after high school, read the healthcare guide.

Take the time to emotionally prepare

No matter how much you prepare, college is a big change for many people. Whether you’re travelling far away or staying close to home, college is a major step into adulthood, complete with personal responsibilities that may not have been part of your high school routine. The stress of that change can have negative effects, with many freshmen citing it as a reason for dropping out during their freshman year.

If you’re leaving home, take the time to get you (and your family) used to the idea of you not being there every day. And if you’re staying closer to home, start identifying the people you can lean on in times of stress or the ways that you can deal with the pressures of school in a positive way.

Believe in Yourself

The best support students can find to stay on path to college is themselves. Remember: You’ve done the hard part and gained acceptance to college. Your dream of an education, as well as the career and life that comes with it is in your reach. But you can’t get your degree if you don’t show up.

For more tips and advice for planning for, getting to and succeeding in college, check out Iowa College Aid’s Your Course to College.

A College Money Plan Now Helps Avoid Problems in the Fall

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Students have a lot to deal with as they prepare for college and figure out how to pay for their education. But what about once they get to school? Financial aid can help pay for the cost of school, but covering that distance between direct costs (tuition and school fees) and indirect costs (food, books… and just about everything else) is often the first chance for students to explore what it’s like to live with the same financial pressures as an adult.

Having a good game plan is important either planning for college or dealing with creating a budget and financial goals during (and after) college. Here are some tips to help students develop positive habits with money both now and throughout their life:

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  1. Make a budget. Commit to creating a monthly budget AND live within your budget each month.
  2. Utilize a calendar. A calendar is not just for plotting your class schedule, campus organizational meetings, and social events. A calendar can be an effective tool for managing the due dates for your monthly bills—rent, cell phone bill, car payment, utility bill, etc. Making note of due dates helps to ensure that you will not miss a payment and potentially harm your credit history.
  3. Shop around for text books. Many bookstores, as well as online retailers, offer used textbooks for much cheaper than buying a “new” textbook. If you won’t want to keep your textbook for future reference after a class has concluded, consider renting a textbook for the semester.
  4. File the FAFSA on-time, every year. If you plan on attending college in the upcoming school year, be sure to file your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) prior to your college’s priority deadline. Doing so will ensure you are considered for all financial aid opportunities the school has to offer.
  5. Get a part-time job. A part-time job can allow you to meet your basic needs, as well as reducing the amount of student loans you need to borrow. Working 15 hours per week at a part-time job can dramatically reduce your need for student loans to cover living expenses. Additionally, most colleges have numerous on-campus employment opportunities for students.
  6. Plan early for a summer internship. During the first week of the spring semester, visit your college’s career placement office and discuss your desire for an internship during the upcoming summer with a career advisor. Career advisors can provide information about companies looking for interns, as well as information regarding career fairs on campus. Many internships  pay a stipend or salary which can help pay for expenses while you’re in college and can lead to a job after graduation.
  7. Know your financial aid options. Visit the Financial Aid office on your campus during the first three weeks of the spring semester to discuss your current year’s financial aid and to check into scholarships and grants available for next year.
  8. Be a savvy shopper. At the grocery store, opt for the store-brand product. It is often significantly cheaper than its name-brand counterpart, and the money you save can be used to pay interest on your student loans or keep you from having to borrow more loans next year.
  9. Protect your Personal Information. If you aren’t already, start safeguarding your Social Security Number, credit card and bank account numbers, along with any other non-public personal information. Shredding sensitive information will ensure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands and can help protect you from identity theft.
  10. Separate Needs from Wants. Although it may seem like you need that morning latte from the local coffee house to start your day; at $3.50 per day, that adds up to $1,277.50 per year! Make your financial choices based on what is necessary to meet your basic needs, and avoid wasting money and borrowing more to satisfy your wants.

Keeping these 10 tips in mind can be difficult. But by doing even a few of these, students set themselves up for a financially fit future.

Avoid Getting Stressed Out Over College Decision With These Tips

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After years of hard work and months of waiting, students are starting to receive acceptance letters from colleges. Those students accepted into more than one college might face some difficult decisions to make when weighing the pros and cons of one school against another.

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“College  fit” means finding the school that best meets at student’s needs for the future, but there is no such thing as a “perfect school.” Students shouldn’t stress themselves out thinking that if they pick the wrong school, their life will be ruined. After all, college is what you make of it. But with a little research and effort, students and families can feel more secure about the school they pick. Here are some tips :

Compare financial aid awards

While cost shouldn’t be the only thing considered when deciding between schools, the financial aid offered can go a long way to giving one school an edge over another. The financial aid award letter often comes after the acceptance letter, and has many things to consider when reviewing. Check out our videos on comparing financial aid award letters for more tips (here and here).

Dig deeper with schools

Students already researched schools before applying, but now is a chance to get more detailed information to get a more complete picture of what a school offers, not only in education, but day-to-day life. Such questions can include:

  • What is the graduation rate? How many students return after their freshman year?
  • Are there work or volunteer opportunities that reflect a student’s major or interests?
  • What do students do for fun?
  • What student support services does the school offer?

Students can talk to college admissions counselors, current students, recent grads or even the college’s official website to research these and other subjects. It’s important to use only trustworthy sources of information and to recognize the difference between fact and opinion. A college’s official website and its admission officers are often the best sources of factual information about that college.

Visit — or revisit — the campuses

Now that a student has been accepted to a school, a college visit becomes even more important. Even if a family has taken a campus visit previously, going back with a more focused approach will help students see if they truly see themselves as a student at that school. Can’t visit a campus? Call or email the admission office with questions, reach out to professors in your areas of interest or ask to connect current students and recent graduates. High school counselors and teachers may also be a good source to recent grads or current students.

Think about it

Research and asking questions can provide the information that students need to make a decision, but asking and answering the important questions can only be done by a student with their family. How did the student feel during their campus visit? Did the school offer both the academic and social aspects that will lead to success? Will they be happy there? These basic questions might lead to some further reflection about each school.

Make your decision

The good news is that schools don’t need to hear back immediately. Many colleges don’t expect a final decision until May 1, so students and families have some time to make up their mind. Lay out the pros and cons and find the school that fits best with financial, academic and career goals. Remember, though, that colleges are serious about reply deadlines. Not sending a deposit by the deadline can lose a student’s place in the incoming class.

Video: Identify, Separate Loans From Grants on Award Letters to Better Understand Out-Of-Pocket Costs

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Getting accepted into college is an exciting moment for students and families who are ready to embark on the next part of their educational journey, but can often be offset by concerns about just how much school will cost both now and after graduation.

Financial aid award letters help students and families get a better understanding of what to expect both in terms of money being provided by the school and state, through scholarships and grants, and costs of attendance (COA) at the school.

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In part two of our “Understanding Your Financial Aid Award Letter” video series, we discuss how to best identify repayable financial aid options and separate them from scholarships and grants to get a better picture of the actual financial responsibility that will be required to attend a school.

More often than not, there is a gap between the “free” money being offered to a student and the COA, leaving families to determine the best way to meet the financial requirements.

On many letters, both federal and private loans are included as possible options to bridge that gap. However, as there is currently no standard format for schools to consistently show financial aid options, loan amounts are often included in the same area as scholarships or grants. At a quick glance, families might not realize that loans, which must be repaid after graduation, are being included with the “free” money of grants and scholarships.

For more tips, advice and information for preparing for college, check out Iowa College Aid’s “Your Course to College,” a free downloadable guide for students, families and schools available at https://www.iowacollegeaid.gov/YourCourse

Better Understand Your Financial Aid Award Letter With This Video

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Getting accepted to the college or university of their dreams is the culmination of a years-long effort. But receiving an acceptance letter isn’t the end of the journey, just the start of the next one.

For many families, the excitement of being accepted into a school is often soon replaced by concerns of how to pay for that education. Even those families who have put together a strong financial plan for college may not have a clear picture of what school will cost when their student leaves home.

 

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Our new two-part video series helps families better understand their Financial Aid Award Letter. Watch Here

 

The financial aid award letter is a document sent to families by the school shortly after the acceptance letter, if not included as part of the acceptance package. The award letter includes cost of attendance and other estimated costs, as well as any scholarships, grants and other funds to help pay for a student’s education.

As there is no standard format for presenting information on the financial aid award letter, families might have a difficult time comparing the actual costs of one school versus another, let alone clearly understand their financial responsibility to their student’s education.

In our new two-part video, we look at the elements of a financial aid award letter and offer tips to families for understanding the true cost of a college education. By following these tips, families can better compare schools and ask the questions of financial aid officers to make the best financial decision for their student’s education.

Didn’t Get Into Your First-Choice School? Here’s How to Move On

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It’s that time of year when mailboxes fill up for high school seniors anxious to start their college careers. College acceptance letters are a fantastic reward and validation for years of focus and hard work for students ready to move on to the next phase of their life. But what about those other moments when a student must deal with not being accepted to the school of their dreams? Here are some tips to dealing with what could otherwise be a real downer:

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It is okay to be disappointed, but don’t blame yourself. If a student doesn’t get into their first-choice school, it might hurt. Take the time to let feel disappointed, be it an hour, a day or a week. But don’t let the negative feelings linger. Often, not getting an offer to enroll at a school has little to do with an individual student. While their GPA and test scores may have been good enough, the increasing numbers of changing factors that admissions officers have to consider (from an increased number of early decision and early action applications, geographical balance issues and more) can put applicants unfairly in the crosshairs. Add in the ever-growing importance of college rankings that reward schools for the number of students they reject, while punishing the same schools for students that turn down acceptance offers, and a student might feel that schools are looking for reasons to say “no.”

Focus on what’s to come, not what might’ve been. If a student has applied to more than one school, it’s likely they will receive an acceptance offer from another school. Instead of dwelling on the schools that didn’t feel they were the right fit, students should focus on, and get excited about, those schools that see them as a great partner in learning.

Know that college is more about what one does than where one goes. While there are schools with names that will open doors after graduation on reputation alone, no school defines a student. More than just attending a school, college is about what a student does once they get there. Regardless of the school they attend, students should keep an eye on using the opportunity to discover their strengths, passions and develop the skills that will give them a rewarding, life-long career.

The college admissions process is technical, complicated and ever-changing. No matter where the college decision process takes a student, they should always remember that the opportunity to continue and develop their education is a rare and unique opportunity, no matter where they go to school.