Explore the Country Through National Student Exchange

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All of the choices and NSEopportunities college presents to you can seem daunting and overwhelming at times. I always wanted to do more traveling, and college provides ample opportunities to pursue this passion. However, when I saw the price tag associated with studying abroad and general “have-it-togetherness” required to leave the continent, I felt this goal was out of reach. Then one of the many mass emails sent to me by Iowa State University caught my eye. This particular email advertised a program known as National Student Exchange. This program allowed students in participating schools throughout the United States, Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to spend a semester or year studying at a different school. The program even allowed you to pay your visiting school’s in-state tuition if it was cheaper than the tuition you already paid at your home school!

I quickly scheduled a meeting to learn more and received a booklet of all the exciting places I could go. For the real adventurous types, you could spend a fall, spring and summer semester in the program, each time at a different school or university. I looked for a school that was still in the U.S. and about as opposite of Iowa as I could get. Another factor my advisor had to counsel me on was the acceptance rate at each school; some colleges chose to take as few as two students a semester. With this in mind, I settled on my top choice, Florida International University (FIU) in Miami. This school seemed light years away from Iowa climate and culture, not to mention there was a chapter of my sorority there.

Each participating school sends an advisor to a conference where students are placed based on their list of top three choices. I was fortunate to receive my top choice and couldn’t believe that the following spring semester I would be enjoying the balmy Miami climate while everyone else suffered through snow and bitter cold.

However, the climate was not the most shocking change I experienced during my time at FIU. Never in my life had I been a minority, nor experienced a world filled with a language I did not speak. My randomly assigned roommate was originally from Jamaica and had a mother who lived in England. It was commonplace for her and her friends to visit Jamaica or spend a long weekend on a cruise to the Bahamas. Through the program, I made friends from Boston and Virginia and met sorority sisters from all over. Having grown up in a small rural Iowa community, this all seemed so exotic and enthralling. These new friends grew up in areas so different from my hometown and had unique world views which lead to many intense, insightful discussions on everything from politics to religion to social norms.

I highly recommend the program to anyone looking to expand their horizons and see how much our incredible country has to offer in friendship, culture, food and new experiences. Plus, it never hurts to spend winter somewhere with a low of sixty degrees.


How to Succeed in College Courses

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Photo by Matt Wettengel
Photo by Matt Wettengel

This week Alyssa Rutt, former academic advisor and current program coordinator at Iowa State University, shares her tips and tricks for making the most out of the college experience.


I am sure you have heard this one before, but it is so fundamentally easy that students seem to overlook how important it is to attend class. Whether you are a freshman, transfer student, aced the class in high school or are a genius, you NEED to go to class.

So what’s so important about going to class? Simply put, it’s where learning takes place. The classroom environment is not just about learning from the instructor, it’s also about learning from your peers. Want to know what the professor thinks is important, what concepts will be on the test and how all of this applies to the job market after college? Go to class to find out!

Still thinking you can skip class? Let’s think about skipping class from a purely economic standpoint: You don’t go out to a movie, buy a movie ticket, buy movie snacks and then not go into the movie or eat any of your snacks. Paying tuition and then not going to class is like going to the movies, buying you ticket and snacks and then leaving. You spend the money, but you didn’t get the reward. You wouldn’t skip the movie, don’t skip class!

Inherent in the idea of going to class, is the idea of going to class prepared to learn. If there is reading before class, make sure you have read (or at least looked over) the chapter and reviewed your notes from the previous class. When you are in class focus on learning. Speaking of focusing on learning….

  1. Don’t bring your computer, tablet, or other electronics to class and keep your phone out of sight!

You understand going to class is important, so here is the second layer – when you are in class be present. Get rid of the digital distractions in your life while you are in class. Don’t worry about what is trending on Twitter or what your friends are posting on Facebook. It will all still be there after class. Get the most from your tuition dollars and pay attention to what is going on in class!

I know, you need you electronics to take notes. If you absolutely need your electronics to take notes, turn off your Internet connection so you are not tempted to check social media or your email.

  1. Figure out how you spend your time

In college you seem to have all of this free time and no idea what to do with yourself. This extra time becomes problematic when you have no idea how you are spending it. Take a grid with all 7 days of the week and all 24 hours in a day. Document everything you do for the next week. I mean everything – the time you spend in class, taking a shower, watching Netflix, sleeping, playing video games, eating, working, everything!

Once you have a realistic picture of how you spend your time, you can figure out what adjustments can be made to fit your commitments – like going to class, completing reading assignments and studying for exams.

  1. Understand how your grades are calculated.

One of the biggest mistakes I see students make comes from not understanding how their performance on assignments impacts their overall grade in the class.  I have seen students think they have an A or a B in a class when they have received Cs or Ds on assignments. How can you avoid this trap?

  • Understand your syllabus, how assignments are graded and how they impact your overall grade
  • Be realistic about your performance in class! If you are getting Bs or Cs on tests – you are probably not getting an A in the course. If you are not getting the grades you want, talk with you advisor or your instructors to develop different strategies for being successful.

Follow these tips for a successful colleg

e experience and don’t be afraid to reach out to your own academic advisor for more advice!


Get to Know Your Academic Advisor

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Photo by Matt Wettengel
Photo by Matt Wettengel

Alyssa Rutt has a Master of Science in Education from the University of Kansas and received her undergraduate degree from Iowa State University. She previously served as an academic advisor for the University of Kansas and currently works for the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University as a program coordinator.  This week she will focus on how academic advisors can assist you during your college career and future plans.

As a former academic advisor for primarily first and second year college students I have seen the full spectrum of the successes and struggles college student face. Let’s get one thing out of the way now – college does not happen in a petri dish – life happens, whether classes are in session or not.

When life happens or you find yourself stressed out about adjusting to college, there are people on campus who are there and want to help you. One of the most important people who can offer you assistance and help you navigate the transition to college is your academic advisor.

What you need to know about academic advisors:

Advisors are a fantastic resource: Academic advisors are so much more than schedule builders. They can get you in touch with campus resources including: tutoring resources, financial aid services, scholarship opportunities and ways to get involved on campus and are great starting points for any and all questions. Advisors can also provide tips for transitioning to learning in a college classroom, help you to balance your time and assist you in choosing a major.

One of the first questions I ask my advisees is: What do you do better than anyone else?  Often times students will   look at me with blank stares or just shrug, but after I let the question hang in the air for a bit, students start to                think about what their strengths are and what makes them happy. This becomes the starting point for a great conversation about what students want from their education. What do YOU do better than anyone else?

Advisors care about student success: I have yet to talk with an academic advisor who does not care about his or her students succeeding. They are in this profession because they care about students and they want to see you succeed! While advisors are there to help students, it is ultimately up to the student to reach out and ask for help.

If you are like me and you struggle with asking for help, find some comfort in the fact you are NOT the only student on campus who has a question or needs help. People around you may look like they have it all figured out, but odds are they have the same questions you do.

Start planning today what your academic advisor can assist you with and build upon that relationship!

President Obama announced expansion of ‘Pay As You Earn’ (PAYE) Repayment Plan

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Last week, President Obama gave an executive order to extend the eligibility for the income-based federal student loan repayment plan, ‘Pay As You Earn’ (PAYE). Under the PAYE plan, borrowers can have their payments capped at 10 percent of their discretionary income (income minus the poverty guidelines for their family size). Public service workers will have the balance of their loans forgiven after 10 years, for other borrowers it is forgiven after 20 years.

So why is it such a big deal? Previously, only those who first borrowed loans between 2008 and 2011 were eligible. Expanding PAYE to all federal direct student loan borrowers (with the exception of federal PLUS Loans for parents) is expected to affect up to 5 million more borrowers nationally and more than 57,000 borrowers in Iowa. Millions already take advantage of specialized repayment plans, such as the Income Based Repayment Plan which caps loans at 15% of discretionary income. Now all borrowers can take advantage of this five percent difference which is anticipated to be available by December 2015.

Borrowers on this plan must submit documentation every month in order to set the payment amount. Payment amounts may increase or decrease each year based on income and family size. Keep in mind the reduced payment amounts may mean paying more interest throughout the life of the loan and there may be taxes on any amount forgiven after 20 years.

Curious as to what your payments would be on this plan? Check out the Federal Student Loan Calculator to see an estimate. If you are interested in switching to this repayment plan, contact your lender to discuss the process and make sure this is the best repayment option for you!

Explore Student Loan Forgiveness Options

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Feeling weighed down with student loan debt? One option for debt relief is to consider student loan forgiveness programs, and more graduates qualify than you might think! One of the most popular programs is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. This option is available to those who work full-time in “public service” which includes the following types of employers:

  • Governmental organizations – Federal, state, local, Tribal
  • Not-for-profit organizations that are tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3)
  • A not-for-profit organization that is not a tax-exempt organization but provides some specific public services, such as public education, law enforcement, public health or legal services

In addition, you must have Direct Loans to qualify for the program.  Not sure if you have a Direct Loan? Visit the National Student Loan Database to see all your loans, all federal loans as of July 1, 2010 are Direct Loan. However, if you have federal loans that are not Direct Loans, you can always choose to consolidate those loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan in order to qualify.

Lastly, you must make 120 qualifying payments on a qualifying repayment plan. What does this mean? Those 120 payments must be made on time, while you are working for a public service employer. Lump sum payments or payments you make as advance payments for future months do not qualify. Qualifying plans are any Income-Driven Repayment Plans.

There are several job-specific loan forgiveness and repayment programs available at a federal and state level. There are Attorney Repayment Programs available for law graduates that work for the Department of Justice; or as a state or federal public defenders or state prosecutor for at least three years.  Teachers who serve designated low-income schools or in teacher shortage areas may qualify for Teacher Loan Forgiveness Programs. There is also the Teach Iowa Scholars Program for recent graduates who teach in eligible teachings fields at a school district or area education agency for up to five years. Health Care Loan Forgiveness Programs are available for health professionals that serve rural areas, high-need communities or areas with a critical shortage.

Explore your options for paying off student loan debt! More information on loan repayments programs can be found on the Iowa College Aid website.  If you have any questions, contact Iowa College Aid at 877-272-4456.

Join a Local Networking Group

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One of the mypcost reiterated pieces of job searching advice is the importance of networking. One of the easiest ways to incorporate this is to join a local young professionals group through your company, industry or metropolitan area, such as the Young Professionals Connections of Greater Des Moines (YPC). This organization not only gives me the opportunity to make professional contacts, but also a chance to volunteer, socialize and learn more about what Des Moines has to offer.

This organization has helped me feel at home since I moved here after college graduation and continues to open more opportunities, from athletics to fashion fundraisers. Membership costs for these organizations are often very reasonable, or you may even be able to get your company to pay for it if you can make a convincing case of why this membership benefits your current position. Membership to networking groups can also include perks such discounted rates at local businesses and events.

Through YPC, I’ve heard various speakers on such topics as leadership, perseverance and how to be resourceful. Come prepared to events featuring speakers so you can ask intelligent questions and offer valuable comments. The best part of having these speakers in a small environment is the chance you get to ask questions and connect with these professionals on an individual basis. After all, you don’t want to wait until you need a job to start making connections and asking for references. Building up these relationships now will make any future job searches or graduate school applications that much easier because I’ll already have an established network of professionals.

Another important aspect to consider when joining a young professionals group is the opportunity to take a leadership role. Serving as head of a committee or project will enable you to meet even more key players in your community while also gaining valuable management skills. I look forward to pursuing one of these positions in the future and to all the volunteer opportunities available this summer.

So whether you are currently job hunting or have already begun your career, join a networking group to enrich your professional possibilities and connections!

Prepare for a successful career by gaining internship experience

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Kate T  Headshot 2Our guest blogger this week is Kate Tindall. Kate is a student at Iowa State University where she is working to earn degrees in Journalism and Mass Communication and Political Science, with a minor in Economics. She currently serves as a production intern for the City of Ames, Channel 12. This past year, Kate also served as an intern for the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics. 

Warning: The following statement will look repetitive … An internship prepares you for a job, helps you gain business connections and looks great on a résumé.

Yes, those are valid reasons for finding and accepting an internship. Of course, if you’re accepting an internship SOLELY because it beefs up your résumé, you might question how much you will get out of that experience. But those reasons are both overused and a bit misleading.

I wanted an internship because I wanted my college experience to work for me. I wanted to see what I could DO with my degree. Before internships, I had worked on farms, in lumber yards, at nursing homes and for libraries. All those jobs prepared me to work hard. Now I wanted a vocational internship. I wanted my activities and classes to build my career. When I got the internship offer from Ames Channel 12, the May 20 start date couldn’t roll around fast enough.

Luckily, I found an internship where I am encouraged to ask as many questions as needed to produce a good broadcast. My favorite part of the learning experience is producing a feature like “The Hall of Mayors” (a special feature to showcase the history of Ames mayors) and critiquing that feature to make the next project better. Because I seek feedback from this internship, I find that opportunity in all internships, teaching assistantships and jobs. When attending internship interviews, try asking whether constructive feedback is a part of the experience.

Remember how an internship prepares you for a job? I learned quickly that I was not preparing for a job. I was preparing for a career. The difference? A job is specific to certain tasks. You learn those tasks, and you are set. But at a good internship, you don’t simply learn tasks. You learn skills you’ll use after the tasks become irrelevant. Those include confidence, communication skills and solving problems efficiently.

I thought I had learned this in college classes. Wrong! An internship provides immediate challenges that are only learned in the work world. If the monitor decides to stop working at 6:55 p.m. and the meeting starts at 7 p.m., I still broadcast with what technology still works (true story, by the way). Because of these challenges, class work frazzles me less. A simulation, final exam or law case brief is less daunting once vocational challenges put class into perspective. I now enjoy career challenges. Sometimes it’s nerve-wracking, but it’s not scary. Because of the confidence that comes with appreciating challenges, things like class tasks are just exciting!

Kate T on Job
Kate working on the set of a Channel 12 production.

Gaining connections are just as important as gaining skills. But one tip? Don’t wait until you get an internship to make connections! Make connections in high school by meeting with potential employers and job-shadowing. Then make more connections at a future internship. I enjoy my internship because I work with government employees, Ames citizens and university students on a daily basis. Ask potential employers for an internship description. Always look for internship opportunities that improve your skills and foster new connections in your field.

I love lists. I love calendars and I love time-management. So when I took the responsibility of an internship, I thought, “This will work.” But I have also shouldered semesters with full class-loads, two internships and activities. With all my calendars, it can be a handful. To keep sane, I have accepted there are only so many hours in a day. I set limits (sometimes with alarm clocks) on time for any one school project, social event or activity. Good time management saves me a trade-off between my internship, school and life in general.

So, have you found an internship with mentors to give you constructive feedback? Are you confident the internship will build your chosen skills? Does the internship give you a chance to meet those in your field and in your community? If so, be passionate about pursuing that internship! I have, and I look forward to going into work every morning. That is an exciting internship experience!