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:


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).


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.


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.


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.

Avoiding 5 Common Errors When Completing the #FAFSA

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January is the start of FAFSA season, as students and families prepare and complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. For any student looking to receive financial aid for college, the FAFSA is vitally important, as it is the primary document that schools and states use to determine financial aid packages. In spite of its importance, though, the majority of FAFSA applications are submitted with either incorrect or incomplete information. These errors can make a significant impact on how much aid a student can receive for school. So in order to get the most out of the FAFSA application, here are some tips to avoid common errors:

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  1. Failing to Submit Because of Income

The FAFSA doesn’t serve only need-based financial aid options for students, but is a critical tool for determining financial aid options for all students. The most crucial error families make is not submitting a FAFSA at all. Some families will think that their combined family income will be “too high” to qualify for financial aid while other families will feel that because their combined family income is “too low,” that they shouldn’t bother submitting a FAFSA. Any student attending college should encourage their family to submit a FAFSA

  1. Understating Income or Overstating Assets

New rules will start for the 2016-17 school year intended to make it easier for families submitting accurate tax information. But even with those new rules, it’s important to make sur that all income is reported on the FAFSA. Contributions to a 401(k) or any other pre-tax retirement account often get ignored as reported income and can show, in effect, a higher FAFSA income than what might be shown on your tax return. Just as many families also mistakenly include retirement assets or real estate equity as part of their investments or net worth, when in fact retirement assets should not be included here. Income from rental property or vacation homes, however, can be included.

  1. Attributing Information to the wrong person

While it is often a parent completing the FAFSA for their student, it’s important to remember that the FAFSA is written from a student perspective, as if they are the one completing it. When the FAFSA refers to “you” and “yours,” it is in fact referring to the student.

  1. Not filing electronically

Online submission provides built-in edits to help prevent errors, is more time-efficient, includes an online help feature, and offers a much simpler renewal process. But make sure to avoid another common error and save as you go. Saving the application after completing every page or two will help prevent any problems if an internet connection goes down or you face some sort of technical issue.

  1. Not Paying attention to details

From making sure that the correct year’s FAFSA is being completed to making sure to take time to consider each question thoroughly, it’s important to make sure that full attention is being given to the FAFSA process. Give yourself time to think through the questions and what they are asking. Answering questions a certain way can preclude you from receiving aid or valuable information.

Don’t Freeze: Three Tips to Stay Mentally and Physically Healthy at School This Winter

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An increasing number of studies show that many college freshman give up on their education do to mental health problems. A variety of pressures combining in a new environment can make students think that school is more than they can bear. Throw winter into the mix and it can become even more difficult for students to maintain their path on the course to success.

Marlu Abarca, AmeriCorps*VISTA for Iowa College Aid shares her experience and tips for dealing with winter from her freshman year of school, a change made even more extreme having traveled across country to attend Grinnell College:


Winter: a beautiful season, but difficult to adjust to if you didn’t grow up where it snows. Growing up in Los Angeles, I did not have many opportunities to experience the cold—cold being a relative term, where 50 degrees calls for hoodies and UGG boots…all while keeping your shorts on. After moving to Iowa for school, adjusting to the winter weather in addition to the academic expectations of a place like Grinnell College was not as smooth as I expected.

Picture this: you move from a city where the downtown alone has as many people as the whole state of Iowa; add the rigor of a top liberal arts college, new people, and 0-degree weather—things are bound to be difficult. For me, being thousands of miles from my family and friends made the winter part of my first semester in college a tough experience. I found myself becoming very homesick to the point of depression, and I had to also deal with navigating a new campus with icy sidewalks. Looking back, I have three things about being a college freshman in winter would have made for a more successful experience. Check this list out and let us know what your experience was like your first winter in college!

Winter means leaving your dorm early.

I quickly learned that my usual routine of leaving my dorm minutes before class was not going to suffice if I wanted to get to class on time during the winter time. Plan to leave your dorm at least 5-10 mins earlier than you would usually, to account for ice on your path to class, snow and time to admire the cute squirrels.

Maintaining a healthy diet is difficult during the winter, but it’s not impossible.

I remember the change in the menus in the dining hall: all of a sudden we had more hot chocolate and marshmallows; more comfort food to help keep us warm during this season. But all of those calories—and sugar—add up, and do not help with feelings of homesickness. A 2010 study found that the quality of diet is more impactful than things like socioeconomic, family and other factors for levels of depression in adolescents.[1]

Mental health is just as important as your physical health.

When we feel pain, we become concerned and seek medical attention. In the same way, feeling sad, homesick or even having trouble sleeping are all important symptoms to address—especially in an environment like a college campus where you might be far away from loved ones. Take time to call or write to your friends and family and remember to take time for yourself: watch TV, browse the internet, and even visit the gym; taking time to relax and find healthy ways to cope with your winter blues—in moderation—can make a huge difference.


[1]Jacka FNKremer PJLeslie ER, et al. (2010) Associations between diet quality and depressed mood in adolescents: results from the Australian Healthy Neighbourhoods Study. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20397785

Save The Gas: Use These Tips To Save Time, Money with Virtual Campus Tours

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There’s no debate that the internet is one of the greatest communications tools of the last 50 years (if not of all time). At what other time in history has it been easier to find videos of cats falling down or collections of baby panda pictures? Gutenberg would be proud at how easily information is disseminated in the future.

With so much information and experience available as close as a keyboard, it’s no surprise that virtual campus tours have become a widely-used tool for students looking to learn more about colleges and universities. While these videos might not be as popular as tabbies flying off a couch or little pandas yawning, virtual campus tours offer more than just time-wasting fun. These tours give students and families a fuel-efficient way to learn more about potential schools during the college selection process.

While virtual tours might not give the same “feel” as being physically at the campus, they can give a good starting point for learning more about a potential match for students. Here are some things to consider about what virtual campus tours can, and can’t, do for students that take them:

  1. Virtual tours offer a limited point of view: Since these videos are meant to show campuses in their best light, students will get a good look at the highlights of the school environment, such as its architecture and landscaping. Clean and neat, this is the way that the school wants its campus to be seen. Usually, virtual tours will be led by a tour guide, narrating video and photos of the school. Often, if presented free to the use, the tour may be paid for my sponsors or advertisers. What impact that relationship may or may not have on the information provided should also be considered by the viewer.
  2. Virtual tours are a great starting point: A virtual tour can offer users a taste of the school and what it offers. Perhaps a department or program is mentioned in the virtual tour that sparks interest for a student. Not every area of academics or student life can be covered in an online tour. But often these tours will give information on how to find out more about certain programs. If not, students can exercise their Google Ninja skills to dig deeper and learn not only more about a program or department, but start to find out more about what is available to them in that area.
  3. Virtual tours offer just a taste of student life. Just like those high-res postcard-quality photos of the campus, virtual tours will offer a thin slice of student life. It only makes sense that a student won’t get a complete picture of what it’s like to be enrolled at a campus by watching a video. While a virtual tour might give an idea of prominent campus landmarks and the roles of various buildings in campus life, digging further by using Google Images, Maps or other tools will give a more balanced look into the campus experience. Check out YouTube channels or Reddit boards to get a broader sense of what student life might be like at a particular school.

Though it’s always better to visit a campus in person, a virtual tour, combined with a little bit of research afterwards, can give students a good approximation of whether or not a particular college fits with their needs. Think of virtual tours as a way to get a taste of what a campus offers without spending the money to travel to the campus. If it fits, families can then consider taking a visit IRL (in real life) already armed with a fair amount of knowledge about what to expect and be that much more prepared to talk about issues like academics, financial aid and other practical realities instead of wanting to see the sales pitch for a school.