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Busting scholarship myths

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“I won’t qualify.”

That’s the No. 1 reason students don’t apply for scholarships—and they’re often very wrong. Today we’re going to bust some common myths.

MYTH: I’d have to be a genius or a star athlete to get any money.
REALITY: Academics and athletics are just two among many criteria that could earn you a scholarship. Some awards are based or service or leadership. Others go to students who take part in certain organizations or activities. (Iowa has a scholarship just for participants in the Iowa State Fair.) Some companies offer scholarships to the children of employees. Many scholarships are downright quirky. Do a search on Unigo and you’ll find awards for students who answer questions like “What flavor ice cream would you like to be?”

MYTH: I’ll have to write dozens of different essays.
REALITY: You can’t turn in the exact same essay for every scholarship application, but you’re likely to see some common themes in the questions, like accepting challenges or embracing new ways of thinking. Save each essay that you submit, then look for sections that can be repurposed. Just make sure you do enough reworking to answer the question being asked.

MYTH: No one with any pull will give me a recommendation.
REALITY: Your recommendations don’t have to come from “big names.” In fact, choosing someone well-known can backfire if that person doesn’t really know you. You need a recommendation from someone who understands your strengths and can offer specific examples that illustrate them. Talk to the teacher of a class you enjoyed or the advisor for an activity you took part in. What a person can say about you is much more important than his or her name recognition.

MYTH: There’s so little money available, it’s a waste of time.
REALITY: There are billions of dollars available every year. Some of that money actually goes unclaimed because not enough people apply for it. Check with your high school counselor and your college financial aid office. Do a Web search for scholarships that might suit you, whether you’re a bassoon player or a comic artist or an aspiring funeral director. The money is out there.

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Financial Aid 101: What you can get and how

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There are three basic types of financial aid available to college students.

Saving every single cent and dollar for education

FREE MONEY: Scholarships & Grants

While you have to meet certain requirements to receive grants and scholarships, you do not have to pay them back.

Grants are usually need-based aid, while scholarships are usually merit-based. Eligibility for need-based grants is determined by your family’s ability to pay for college. Merit-based scholarships are awarded based on particular talents or achievements.

Grants and scholarships can come from government sources or from private sources. By filing the FAFSA and following up with the Iowa Financial Aid Application, you apply for federal and state grants and scholarships . To find private scholarships, start with your school counselor and your college financial aid office. More tips for finding private scholarships.

Download our free “Scholarships & Grants” brochure

EARNED MONEY: Federal Work-Study

Federal Work-Study allows you to earn money in a job that relates to your course of study or fills a community need. Work-Study is administered by your college, and jobs are usually available both on- and off-campus.

The FAFSA serves as the application for Federal Work-Study. If you qualify for Work-Study, you will be responsible for landing a job, based on referrals from your financial aid office.

Learn more about Federal Work-Study

BORROWED MONEY: Federal & Private Loans

Once possibilities for grants, scholarships and Federal Work-Study are exhausted, many students still find they need to take out loans to cover the cost of college. The important thing is to be smart about how and what you borrow.

First choice: Federal (Stafford) subsidized loans—These loans will not accrue interest or come due until six months after you leave school. You must file the FAFSA.

Second choice: Federal (Stafford) unsubsidized loans—These loans will not come due until six months after you leave school, but they will accrue interest. You must file the FAFSA.

Parents’ option: PLUS loans—These loans are available to parents of dependent undergraduate students. Repayment begins immediately, although you can request postponement. You must file the FAFSA, then your parents must apply for a PLUS loan.

Last resort: Private loans—These loans are often more selective and more expensive than federal loans.

No matter what … borrow as little as possible. You do not have to borrow the full amount you qualify for. Think of this amount as a credit limit, and try to stay under it if you can.

Download our free “Student Loans” brochure

Learn more about financial aid  on our website.

Smart ways to use your winter break

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Yes, you’re on vacation, but your brain doesn’t have to be. If you’re a high school student with college plans in your future, here are ways to make productive use of this time away from classes.

Exploratory reading. You probably spend a lot of time reading books that are required for your classes. Here’s your chance to read for pleasure and explore areas that interest you.

College visits. Will you be traveling over break? Check to see if there are any colleges of interest to you nearby. Even if classes aren’t in session, contact the admissions office to ask about campus tours.

Test prep. This is a great time to get ready for the ACT and/or SAT. You can find free online resources through act.org and khanacademy.org.

Online classes. Hundreds of universities offer Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, many of them free. Shorter, self-paced courses are ideal for winter break.

Have fun. Don’t forget this one. You are on vacation, after all!

Taking the Steps to a Successful Summer Transition to College

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Once your high school diploma is in hand, it’s time to turn your focus toward starting college in the fall. Take these steps over the summer:

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Make a Budget

Review your Award Letter and pay close attention to the Cost of Attendance, which includes tuition, school fees and room and board. Depending on the school, your award letter might or might not include books, supplies, travel and personal expenses. If these costs aren’t included, be sure to account for them.

Make a Payment Timeline

When is your deposit (your official decision of where you’ll attend school) due? Your first tuition payment? Housing deposit? If you need to, make a calendar to keep track.

Request a Final Transcript

Your college might require a final official transcript to ensure that you have graduated. Request one through your high school.

Register For and Attend Orientation

Orientation allows you to meet your classmates and learn about support services on campus. At some schools, orientation is required. Even if it’s not, you’ll get a smoother start if you attend. Some schools offer orientation for parents as well.

Get Required Immunizations

Your school will probably send you a list of required vaccinations. Among the most common are vaccines for meningitis, tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis and HPV. If necessary, visit your family doctor or local clinic for vaccinations.

Complete housing forms

If you plan to live on campus, make sure you know the deadline for filling out all the required housing forms and applications.

Register for Classes

If you know your major, start taking basic courses in that department. If you’re not sure of a major, try out some subjects that interest you, but remember to include core courses like math and composition, too. Try to spread out your classes so no one day of the week is too jam-packed. If you plan to work part-time, ask your advisor for help creating a schedule that balances employment and academics.

Arrange Transportation

If you’re driving to school, think about whether you might need multiple trips to accommodate all your belongings. If you’re not going to keep a car on campus, you’ll need to arrange for someone to drive you.
For more tips and advice for planning for, getting to and succeeding in college, check out Iowa College Aid’s Your Course to College.

 

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).

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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.

Stay Cool and On Course for College by Avoiding Summer “Melt”

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Graduation is a time to celebrate. After the party is over, though, the season between high school and college can create what is called “summer melt,” where students end up giving up on college before they even make it to the first day of fall classes in which they’ve enrolled.

Students who fall into the summer melt trap often do so because the support they received from their high school counselor (or other school staff) is no longer there to help them with the final steps between high school and college. Everything from sending transcripts and completing housing forms to registering for orientation and paying tuition can weigh heavily upon a student who has no school, family or peer support.

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Facing challenges in getting information, dealing with the financial details of student financial aid and just the social anxiety of such a large lifestyle change can discourage students from making it to that first day of class.

Many of these issues can be addressed at home during summer by parents speaking with their student about college and helping them prepare for their fall semester. Encouragement is an equally strong tool. Encouraging students to attend their freshman orientation, as well as interacting with friends who are enrolled and attending college will help students not only overcome the barriers that lack of information can provide, but also give them a chance to build a network of peers to better deal with the social change of life after high school.

Just because a student may have graduated, it doesn’t mean that they can no longer reach out to their high school support system. By remaining in contact with school counselors, teachers, and college administrators over summer, students can get answers to many questions from the very people who helped them succeed in high school.

Colleges and other organizations are also looking for ways to help curtail summer melt. After reports that more students respond to text messages than emails, many schools are delivering information about deadlines and events to students via their phone. Schools are also using current students in communities that suffer from summer melt to outreach with incoming students to further help create a support network that can stem summer melt.

Above all, students should remember: They’ve done the hard part and gained acceptance to college. But they can’t get their degree if they don’t show up.

How to Handle The 5 Most Frequently Asked FAFSA Questions

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The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the most important tool for prospective college students looking to receive financial aid for their education. Regardless of a family’s income, schools use the FAFSA to determine the best financial aid packages for students, while state agenices, such as Iowa College Aid, use the FAFSA to help award state grants and scholarships.

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Needless to say, the FAFSA is vitally important, as is making sure that families fill out the FAFSA correctly. In order to help, the U.S. Department of Education created a list of five frequently asked questions to help students and families better handle the application process. Some highlights from the FAFSA FAQ include:

1. What is an FSA ID and do I need one?

The FSA ID is a username and password you use to log in to your FAFSA. You should get an FSA ID before you start the FAFSA. If you are required to provide parent information on your FAFSA, one of your parents needs an FSA ID too. Keep in mind that parents should not be making an FSA ID for their child or vice versa.

Parents will use their FSA ID to sign a dependent child’s FAFSA. However, if they are unable to get an FSA ID, they can mail a signature page.

2. How can I complete the FAFSA if my parents or I haven’t filed 2015 taxes yet?

When filling out the 2016–17 FAFSA, you’ll want to use financial information from the 2015 tax year. At this point in the year, many people haven’t received their Form W-2, let alone completed their 2015 taxes. But that shouldn’t stop you from submitting the FAFSA! If you or your parents have not completed your taxes yet, you can estimate your income and other tax return information, and then correct your application after you have filed your taxes.

3. When is the FAFSA deadline?

Because some types of aid are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, it is highly recommended that you fill out the FAFSA as soon as you can to ensure that you do not miss out on available aid.

4. Do I have to complete the FAFSA every year?

Yes, you need to fill out the FAFSA each school year because your eligibility for financial aid can differ from year to year for various reasons, including your family’s financial situation and the number of your family members enrolled in college.

5. Which FAFSA should I complete?

When you log into fafsa.gov, you will be given two different options: “Start a 2015–16 FAFSA” and “Start a 2016–17 FAFSA.” Which should you choose?

  • If you’ll be attending college between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, select “Start a 2015–16 FAFSA.”
  • If you’ll be attending college between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017, select “Start a 2016–17 FAFSA.”

Remember, you must complete the FAFSA each school year, so if you’ll be attending college during both periods of time, you should fill out both applications.

To read the U.S. Department of Education’s FAFSA advice in further detail, visit their blog.