Final Days for Submissions in the IFLiP Video CLiP Challenge

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There is still time to submit a video and win a $1,000 technology grant for your school and $250 for a team of students!

Iowa College Aid and EverFi, Inc. have teamed up again this year to sponsor the IFLiP Video CLiP Challenge! The challenge is an opportunity for students to put their creativity to work and create a short video designed to educate their peers about financial literacy concepts. Video entries may not exceed three minutes in length and must be submitted no later than Sunday, March 23, 2014 at 11:59 a.m. along with the Video Submission Form and Name and Image Release Form. Students who submit the winning video will receive $250 for the team to share and a $1,000 technology grant for their school! Submissions should be sent to julie.ntem@iowa.gov.

If you have any questions, please visit our website or call us at 877-272-4456.

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Choosing an online university

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With more and more content now available online, it is no wonder many colleges and universities are turning to online programs to better serve their students. Earning an education online can be the perfect solution for students who are unable to attend classes during traditional times or reside in remote areas. However, it is important that students do their research on an institution prior to enrolling.

Follow these tips to ensure that you are doing everything you can to make your online educational experience is a positive one.

  • Make sure the college or university is regionally accredited – Accreditation tells students and employers that an institution or a program within an institution meets specific academic standards. While there are national accrediting agencies, (ACICS, ACCSC), they typically accredit technical/career schools. You can use the U.S. Department of Education Accreditation Database to ensure the institution you enroll in is regionally accredited. For more information on accreditation, check out Best practices for transfer students.
  • Verify that your credits will transfer – If you think you may transfer your online credits to another college or university in the future, keep in mind that all schools have the right to establish their own transfer of credit policies. Do your research on the school you plan to transfer to and make sure the institution will accept all credits you earn from the online school. For more information on transfer of credits, read Best practices for transfer students.
  • Curriculum and licensure – There are many fields that require workers to hold a license, such as teaching, social work, occupational therapy, mental health counseling among others. If you plan to earn a degree in a field that requires licensure, be certain that the institution in which you enroll provides curriculum that qualifies you for that license. It is important to contact the Iowa Professional Licensing Bureau before enrolling in the program to determine if that education will qualify you for a license in your chosen profession. If you are interested in attending an online school to become a teacher, school principal or other school professional, your first step should be to contact the Iowa Board of Education Examiners.
  • Student support services – There may come a time when you need academic assistance, which can be tricky when you are not physically on campus and aren’t able to speak with people in person. Do your research to find out what level of student support the institution offers to online students. Contact the school and ask in-depth questions about their distance support services. Their responsive to your questions may be a good indication of the level of support you would receive as an online student.
  • Graduation rate – It is always a good idea to know the graduation rate of a school prior to enrolling. This rate will give you a better idea of how successful the school is at retaining its undergraduates. The College Navigator is an excellent source for finding a school’s graduation rate.
  • Default rate in the Stafford Loan Program – Be sure to check out a school’s default rate in the Stafford Loan Program. If graduates of the institution default, or fail to repay their student loans at a high rate, it could be an indicator that students are not finishing their programs, are unable to find employment in their fields or are not satisfied with their program. The national default rate in the Stafford Loan Program is 10%. If a school’s rate is significantly higher than the national average, you may wish to search for additional options to consider.

New financial regulations will also help to protect students at for-profit, nonprofit and public institutions by ensuring they have access to information about on-time graduation rates, cost of attendance and median loan debt of students in technical programs for specific occupations. Learn more here.

Best practices for transfer students

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With education now available in a variety of forms, it is becoming more common for students to transfer colleges. While some students opt to earn credits from a community college before transferring to a four-year institution, others may decide to transfer as they find the flexibility of an online program more conducive to their lifestyle. Whatever the reason, it is important for you to make sure your credit hours will transfer prior to enrolling in an institution, even if you don’t foresee transferring at the moment.

Here are some general guidelines for determining if your credits will transfer.

  • Make sure the school you plan to attend is properly accredited. There are regionally accredited schools and nationally accredited schools. While both types of accreditation are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, in many cases, regionally-accredited schools will accept transfers of credit only from other regionally-accredited schools.
  • Keep your grades up. Many schools won’t accept transfer credits if low grades were earned. If you earned a letter grade lower than a C – in a course, chances are those credit hours will not transfer to another institution.
  • Keep in mind that all schools have the right to establish their own transfer of credit policies. The school you plan to attend has the authority to determine which, if any, credits you earned from a prior school will transfer.
  • Some institutions put a limit on the number or type of credit hours they will accept. It is not uncommon for institutions to put a limit on the amount of credit hours they will allow a student to transfer in from another school. Be certain you know if there is a limit and what that limit is before you transfer.
  • Credit hours awarded for life experience, not-for-credit courses, workshops or seminars are unlikely to transfer. When registering for courses you plan to transfer in the future, be aware that credits for pass/fail courses or other not-for-credit work may not transfer. In addition, courses taken at non-collegiate institutions such as government agencies, corporations and firms may not transfer.
  • If you know you will be transferring from a community college to a four-year institution, read the institution’s policy on transfer credit hours prior to enrolling in classes at the community college. Look for community colleges that have established written arrangements with 4-year colleges and universities to accept credits earned at the community college.
  • Do not rely solely on an unofficial transcript evaluation to determine how much of a new school’s program you must complete. Some schools offer initial, unofficial transcript evaluations based on copies of transcripts from a prior school that the student has in his or her possession. You may wish to delay your registration and attendance in classes at a new school until you receive an official transcript evaluation from the new school so you know exactly how much of the program you will be required to complete. This will provide an accurate picture of how much more it will cost you to complete that program. However, the official evaluation most often occurs after the school has received an official transcript directly from the prior institution. Keep in mind that some schools will not release an official transcript if you have any unpaid bills or outstanding charges.
  • Graduation Rate. It is always a good idea to know the graduation rate of a school prior to enrolling. This rate will give you a better idea of how successful the school is at retaining its undergraduates. The College Navigator is an excellent source for finding a school’s graduation rate.
  • Default rate in the Stafford Loan Program. Be sure to check out a school’s default rate in the Stafford Loan Program. If graduates of the institution default, or fail to repay their student loans at a high rate, it could be an indicator that students are not finishing their programs, are unable to find employment in their fields or are not satisfied with their program. You can check a school’s Stafford Loan default rate here.

Finding a summer job

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For many high school and college students, holding a summer job can matter more than you think! Summer jobs provide the perfect opportunity to boost your resume and can help you begin to figure out what career is right for you, all while earning money for college expenses!

While competing with other students for these seasonal positions can be intimidating, we have a few tips that may help you land the perfect summer job!

  1. Clean up your social media – Cleaning up your social media accounts is the best place to start when job searching, especially for local positions. Ensure that your social media settings are not open to the public so that potential employers are not able to see your full profile. In addition, make sure that any embarrassing or distasteful photos, posts and comments are removed. You never know which one of your social media followers is friends with a potential employer.
  2. Start the hunt early – Don’t wait until the first day of summer to start researching job opportunities as many employers will have already completed their hiring. By looking for jobs early in the spring, you will guarantee yourself more options.
  3. Get the word out – Once you begin looking for a job, get the word out that you are on the hunt. Ask your parents to talk to friends and co-workers, talk to your teachers, school counselors, coaches and friends to see if they know of any opportunities. All of these connections could turn you on to prospective job opportunities.
  4. Use you resources – In addition to getting the word out that you are looking for a job, there are many sites online that can help you find a great summer job. Iowa Youth Jobs is a great place to start!
  5. Create a résumé – Even if you have no previous work experience, your résumé can include any extracurricular activities, volunteer work and coursework. Each of these experiences likely provided you with skills and knowledge that make you an efficient employee, so don’t leave these information out!
  6. Consider key words and phrases – When filling out an application, make sure that you use key words and phrases from the job description to describe your talents and experiences. By doing this, you’ll show potential employers how well you fit the description of what they are looking for.
  7. Prepare for an interview – Mock interviews are a great way to prepare for a job interview. Teachers, parents and friends can help you by asking you a list of frequently asked interview questions. Use this time to get to know your strengths and how you can best highlight them in an interview.
  8. Demonstrate your soft skills – Soft skills refer to qualities that allow someone to interact well with others. This might include having a good work ethic, positive attitude, effective communications skills, willingness to learn, flexibility, time-management and the ability to take criticism. These characterizes are something all employers desire in potential employees. Use the interview to show a potential employer your soft skills!
  9. Be professional – Before you leave for your interview, make sure you are dressed professionally. Even if the dress code for employees is casual, show a potential employer that you care about making an impression by dressing professionally. In addition, make sure all emails and correspondence with the potential employers are appropriate and professional.
  10. Apply for jobs you know will be there the following summer – If you held a job the previous summer, chances are your employer will be willing to hire you on again if you performed your duties well. Before you leave the job at the end of the summer, be sure to express interest to your employer about working for them the following summer. If you haven’t held a job before, try to look for work that you know will be there the following summer so that you have potential to return.

Don’t Let Spring Break ‘Break the Bank’

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With spring just around the corner, many college students are looking forward to that time-honored, rite of passage – spring break.  However, before planning for a week of bliss on an exotic beach, the Iowa College Student Aid Commission (Iowa College Aid) urges students to consider the financial burden an excursion such as this could potentially create.  Iowa students graduate with average student loan debt nearing $30,000, so piling on a thousand or two more for a fun-filled trip with friends is not the soundest financial decision.

To help students enjoy their break without breaking the bank, Iowa College Aid offers the following spring break tips:

1.) Set a budget – Create a budget that your bank account can handle.  As you plan, make certain that your travel, overnight, food, and additional expenses are covered within your budget.

2.) Stay local – When deciding upon a spring break location, consider sites and cities that are local. Airfare and gas costs can add up quickly, but by reducing the distance you are traveling you can save money and also have more time to relax!

3.) Do your research – Research hotels, campsites, and other overnight options to ensure that you are getting the most for your money. Waiting until the last minute to make these arrangements could cost you.

4.) Travel on less-traveled days and times – Consider traveling on days and at times that are less heavily traveled by others. According to independenttraveler.com, Monday afternoon through Thursday morning is generally less traveled. By booking a flight or filling up your gas tank on these days you will likely spend less than you would on a Friday through Sunday. If you intend to fly to your destination, plan to catch a flight in the morning as flights at this time tend to be significantly cheaper than those that take off later in the day.

5.) Pack well – By packing necessary items like your sunscreen and other gear you can avoid the additional cost of purchasing these items once you get to your destination.

6.) Consider driving – Airfare can be costly, so before jetting off to your dream destination, consider organizing a carpool with friends to cut down on cost.

7.) Buy groceries – Save on the cost of food by purchasing groceries when you arrive instead dining out for each meal. Try to eat in for at least two meals each day to dramatically cut back on food costs.

8.) Cut coupons – During the weeks leading up to your trip, be on the lookout for coupons and group deals. Be sure to check out sites such as restaurant.com and groupon.com to find deals online!

9.) Bring your Student ID – Many restaurants, theaters, and museums offer student discounts so be sure to pack your student ID! Don’t be afraid to ask if there is a student discount available before you pay for anything!

10.) Don’t take out loans for the trip – If you can’t afford to go on the trip without taking out students loans or charging it to your credit card, pass on the trip for this year. Instead, stay home and plan out a budget so that you can go on a trip next year!

11.) Participate in a volunteer opportunity – If spring break at home doesn’t sound appealing, look for volunteer opportunities that allow you to travel, expenses paid, in exchange for your work. Not only will you get to experience a new place, you will have the chance to meet new people, help those less fortunate and build your resume!

“Decisions students make while in college have a lasting impact on their financial futures,” stated Misjak.  “We hope these tips help college students make smart and informed decisions.”  More information about Iowa College Aid and its products and services that help Iowa families plan, prepare and pay for college can be found at www.IowaCollegeAid.gov or by calling 877-272-4456.

Gain valuable leadership experience through volunteer programs

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Molly HeadshotMolly Walsh, a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA, recently moved to Des Moines to serve as a Public Allies Iowa AmeriCorps volunteer. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Kinesiology and Health Sciences with a minor in Sociology.

It’s pretty amazing how much things can change over the course of eight months; I graduated from college this past May and would have never guessed I’d be living in Des Moines serving as a Public Allies Iowa AmeriCorps volunteer. I was one of those college graduates that had no clue what I wanted to do upon graduation, but I had this small inkling that I wanted to get off the east coast and get involved with the non-profit world. Now here I am.

I’m currently serving as lead strategist for an initiative called Opportunity Iowa, the initiative focuses on identifying resources for youth (ages 16-24) in Iowa, then recognizes where the gaps are so they can be addressed by organizations in the communities. Not only am I growing from my experience with Opportunity Iowa, but also through the Public Allies training sessions that have allowed me to learn more about the non-profit world and myself.

Public Allies’ mission is to “advance new leadership to strengthen communities, nonprofits and civic participation.” I strive every day to become a better citizen and challenge myself to be a better leader. For me, the training sessions that have challenged me the most are those that address diversity and inclusion. Growing up in the south, I never really experienced diversity. Being an ally means you wholeheartedly believe that everyone can lead; this involves identifying individuals’ assets, even the people that look and think differently from you, and working with these individuals to positively impact a community.

As allies, we have the opportunity to make a positive impact in our communities and it’s awesome because we have so much support. Our program managers, site directors and partnering organizations are there 24/7 to assist in our professional and personal development. I’m only four months into my 10-month long term of service and I’ve already grown so much as a leader, I am so excited to see what else this program has to offer!   

Start preparing for AP exams now

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Many students take advantage of AP courses during high school to not only eliminate college costs, but to experience college-level work while still in high school, therefore easing academic anxiety. However, in order for these courses to count towards college credit and/or advanced placement, you must meet a college’s specific AP policy criteria, which includes taking the corresponding AP exam. Generally, a college requires a minimum score of 3, or higher depending on the subject, before granting credit or placement.  To ensure you can reap all the benefit of completing an AP course, you must do well on the exam. Exam preparation starts now, not two weeks before the test.

Work hard all course long.  The more knowledge you acquire and retain during the course, the less cramming you’ll have to do come exam time.  Complete all the readings and take diligent notes. If you feel the course is challenging, seek extra help right away from your instructor or form a study group with fellow classmates.

Take practice tests. There are many free practice tests and questions available, such as those provided by College Board, the organization that administers the AP program. Practice well in advance so you can identify weak areas and have time to improve before the exam date.  There are also tutors and test books available at a cost to help you study for AP exams.

Know the exam format and policies. Review the official exam policies and exam format well before your test date. Doing so will allow you plenty of time to prepare and make sure there are no last minute questions, such as if your calculator is acceptable.

Stay motivated. Think of the long-term benefits that performing well on these exams will have. Picturing the money you can save by earning college credit in high school can help when struggling to stay focused. Set short-term and long-term goals for yourself regarding AP exams and reward yourself for your progress.

Prepare the night before. Prepare all the items you’ll need for the exam the night before and get a good night’s rest. Relax and do any last minute reviewing. Give yourself plenty of time to get ready in the morning and arrive to the exam location ahead of time.

Give your AP courses the time and attention they deserve, but don’t let these courses overwhelm you. Follow these tips and don’t be afraid to ask for help, and you’ll be ready for the exams in May!