5 Tips for Those Preparing to Study Abroad

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This week’s blogger is Jesa Pace, who studied Journalism and service-learning program called Camp Adventure. This week, Jesa will provide some tips for those considering going abroad.

While study abroad programs offer great opportunities for students, there is much more to consider aside from where you would like to study or travel. Things like obtaining a passport, receiving appropriate immunizations and completing program paperwork must all be taken care of before students hop on the plane. So, if you are considering a study abroad program, here are some things to consider before taking off.

Passport: When studying abroad, a passport is required to entire any country you may decide to study in. Passports can take weeks to arrive, so it is important to apply for your passport long before your departure date. Along with a passport, you may need to look into obtaining a VISA of some sort. Because my stay in South Korea amounted to more than three months, I was required to obtain a VISA in order to stay in the country for that length of time.

In addition to obtaining a passport and a VISA if needed, it is INCREDIBLY important to keep both with you while traveling. On my way to South Korea for the summer, I was scheduled to have a two-hour layover in Japan. When I got off the plane in Japan, I immediately went through security.

Immunizations: Prior to leaving, I spent an afternoon at the Student Health Center on campus where I was tested for TB and was given specific vaccinations. I had to communicate closely with the coordinators of my programs during this stage to make sure I was not missing anything. While the visit did not take long, there was a significant amount of paperwork involved, and I was glad I got it out of the way ahead of time. Had I waited until the last minute the appointment would have been incredibly stressful.

Communication: Prior to leaving, my parents and I looked into a variety of different mobile options for me to use while abroad. Many of the options through our service provider were pricey, and in the end, I opted not to get an international cell phone plan. Instead, I purchased three months of unlimited Skype Mobile Minutes. Although this did not allow me to speak with my friends and family from a mobile device, it did allow me to call their phones at any time from my laptop.

While I thought the Skype Mobile Minutes worked great, my parents were not sold. I was never able to speak with them over the weekends when my friends and I were traveling the country as we rarely had internet service. Though this caused many sleepless nights for my parents, it was quite liberating to be so free of technology.

Homesickness: I knew that it was inevitable that I would get homesick at points during the trip, and I tried to prepare myself. I formed close friendships with other students in the program, which gave me others to talk to when a bout of homesickness would strike. I also reminded myself that I was only there for a short time and tried to Skype with them as often as I could, which made it easier.

Fear of going: For many students that study abroad, there is some fear that goes along with actually making the decision to study abroad in the first place. As the deadline to make the decision to stay or go approaches, it is easy to think more about commitments, family, friends and significant others that you will miss while away. For me, it was particularly difficult to leave my boyfriend for that length of time. However, I would have to say that everything turned out, seeing as we are now happily married!

While it may be difficult to get over the fear of actually going through with it, it helps to talk with others who have done similar programs in the past. Listening to all of their stories and experience was all I needed to overcome my fear.

IFLiP Video CLiP Challenge Launched

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In November, Iowa College Aid and Everfi launched the 3rd Annual IFLiP Video CLiP Challenge. The challenge invites Iowa high school students to create short videos to educate their peers about financial literacy concepts.

Teams of students have the option to create a video or a series of vine-like clips demonstrating knowledge gained through the Iowa Financial Literacy Program. The challenge, which opened in November and runs through March 23, 2014, asks students to submit videos, up to three minutes in length, to inform and entertain others on a financial literacy topic of their choice. Entries will be judged on overall impact, creativity and accuracy of content. The team with the winning video will receive prize money for team members to share and a technology grant for their high school.

For more information about the challenge and to view an example video, visit our website.

Photo of IFLiP Video CLiP Challenge Flyer

Make a Resolution to Complete Your FAFSA Early

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For many college-bound students, obtaining financial aid is essential for affording education costs. You have likely heard that it is important to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon after January 1 as possible. However many do not understand why this is so important.

Filing the FAFSA will determine your eligibility for federal, state and in some cases, institutional aid. Financial Aid refers to grants and scholarships, student loans and work-study. It is important to file your FAFSA early as some forms financial aid are limited and awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

Here are some tips to help you complete your FAFSA quickly and stress free.

Come prepared. FAFSA completion will go much quicker if you have the following items.

  • Social Security Number
  • Parent’s Social Security Number
  • Driver’s license number (if you have one)
  • Alien Registration Number (if you are not a citizen)
  • 2013 federal tax returns, including W-2 information for you and your parents (or the most recent taxes if you haven’t filed yet)
  • Records of untaxed income received in 2013 for you and your parents
  • Current bank statements and investments records for you and your parents
  • 2013 business and farm records
  • A list of schools you are interested in attending
  • A PIN for you and a PIN for you parent in order to sign you FAFSA electronically

File the FAFSA no matter your financial situation. Even if you do not think you will qualify for need-based financial aid, you should still file the FAFSA. Many colleges require that you file the FAFSA to be considered for institutional aid. In addition, you are required to complete a FAFSA to be eligible for federal Stafford loans and completing the FAFSA does not obligate you to accept any of the aid offered.

Never pay to file the FAFSA. You can file the FAFSA for free at www.fafsa.gov.  Reputable resources, including Iowa College Aid, are available to help you for free. In addition, more than 50 College Goal Sunday events will be held throughout Iowa to provide one-on-one assistance with FAFSA filing. Dates and locations of the events can be found here.

Meet state and college deadlines. In Iowa, several state financial aid programs have priority FAFSA filing deadline as early as March 1. Keep in mind, most colleges and universities have their own FAFSA filing deadlines. Students should check with their college of choice to determine its priority deadline for financial aid and if additional documentation is required.

Double check information to avoid delays. Review your FAFSA information before you submit it for processing. Make sure the student’s Social Security number and the parent’s Social Security number are typed in the correct spaces. Mix-ups like these will cause processing delays.

It’s easier than ever. One of the newest enhancements, the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, allows applicants to automatically transfer the required tax information to the FAFSA, which saves time and reduces applicant error. Students and families can file the FAFSA prior to completing their 2013 taxes by using estimated income information. The tax data should be available within 1-2 weeks of electronically filing taxes and then the IRS Data Retrieval Tool can be used to make a FASFA correction, streamlining the completion of the FAFSA.

Check your email. If you provide an email address when you complete the FAFSA, a link to view your results will be sent to that email within 3-5 days. Make sure to check your email regularly for your results.

Electronically sign your FAFSA. The electronic application is not complete until both the student and parent electronically sign the FAFSA using their Federal Student Aid Personal Identification Numbers (PIN). Filers can apply for student and parent PINs while completing the FAFSA online, or they can go to the Federal Student Aid PIN website, www.pin.ed.gov, to obtain PINs prior to starting the FAFSA.

Following these tips will make filing the FAFSA a relatively quick and painless process! Once the student’s FAFSA has been processed, each school they applied to will send a financial aid award package. Each will include the amount of scholarships, grants and loans the student qualifies for at the respective institution for the term indicated. Compare these award letters to make an informed decision on continuing your education!

Gain Valuable Experience Abroad

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This week’s blogger is Jesa Pace, who studied Journalism and Mass Jesa PaceCommunications at Iowa State University. While in college, Jesa participated in a unique study abroad and service-learning program called Camp Adventure.

During my first year of college, I was introduced to many different academic clubs and programs. The study abroad programs sparked my interest and I soon developed an immense desire to participate in a semester abroad, however I did not know much about the different options available.

It was October of my freshman year when a friend told me about a program she had participated in the summer before called Camp Adventure. She explained that Camp Adventure Youth Services was a service-learning program offered through the University of Northern Iowa. The program trains students over the course of a semester to serve as interns on American military bases, embassies and other installations around the world. While in the program, interns may do a variety of jobs, from running day camps to providing swimming lessons for children on the base. Camp Adventure interns also receive 12 college credit hours.

Once interns are given their placement, the program covers the cost of interns’ transportation, room and board. With all of this considered, Camp Adventure seemed like the perfect program to earn college credit, travel internationally, experience a new culture and work with children, all in a very fiscally responsible way. It was an opportunity I could not pass up and just a few weeks later, I found myself at an interview.

In January, I was accepted into the program and began the training process. Each week I attended four hours of training, quickly learning the ropes of being a camp counselor. In the spring, I was told that I would be stationed at Camp Walker in Daegu, South Korea for the summer and would be working with four college students from the University of Northern Iowa and The University of California Davis. I was incredibly excited!

In June, I left for Daegu with an open mind and very little knowledge about where I would be living. I would be spending my summer in. I never imagined then that I was about to embark on a truly life changing experience.

I spent my days during the week teaching swimming lessons in the morning and running a summer camp in the afternoon. One day each week, we would take the kids on a field trip, which was great because it also allowed the other counselor and me to experience more of the country. Working with these kids was an incredibly eye-opening experience as many of them had spent most of their lives moving from one base to another with their families, while one or even both of their parents served our country in a variety of ways.

On the weekends, we took trips all over South Korea. We spent most of our time hiking, visiting beaches, touring temples and learning more about the country’s history. Some of the highlights of the weekends were going kayaking, bungee jumping and visiting the largest statue of Buddha in South Korea.

My three-month placement in Daegu flew by and I enjoyed every minute of my time there, making it incredibly difficult to leave the kids and the other counselors. Looking back, I have realized that there was no better way for me to spend that first summer while in college. Not only was it an experience of a lifetime, I was able to get a semester ahead in my degree with the credits I earned, not to mention that my performance allowed me to be eligible for and participate in a four-week Camp Adventure Program in Italy the following winter break! On top of all of this, the program was a great resume builder and a material talking point for me during interviews for internships in my field of study that came to follow.

While Camp Adventure is a great program for students, it is not the only opportunity available that can provide work experience, college credit and the opportunity to travel. I would encourage all students to do their research and get involved on campus to learn more about the great opportunities out there. It is an excellent way to gain that initial internship experience you need while doing something incredibly meaningful for yourself and others at the same time.

11 Tips for GRE Preparation

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Sawyer HeadshotThis week we will feature guest blogger Sawyer Baker, a graduate student at The George Washington University and intern for Pathways to Housing D.C. Sawyer began her education at Iowa State University, earning degrees in Political Science and Sociology.

The strength of your application to a graduate program is multi-faceted: statement of interests, writing samples, GPAs, extra-curricular activities, past research projects, etc., and the list goes on. There is one component, however, that attempts to capture your writing skills, grammar, vocabulary, math and reading skills in a pesky number–the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). So, how do you get into the percentile required or suggested by your first-choice school? Unfortunately, there is no sure-fire way to accomplish this, but here are some tips and tricks that helped me:

1. Set the date. For me, there was no way I would have been motivated to study if I did not have this set in stone and paid for. I also tried to have something fun planned for the evening following my test. On test day you will not only be relieved to have the test complete, but you will have something to look forward to upon completion.

2. Take a practice GRE to assess your strengths and weaknesses. I found that I Have A Plan Iowa offers a free practice test through their online course curriculum open to the public. College campuses may also provide these to current students. If those are unavailable, GRE workbooks contain practice tests and/or prior administered GREs.

3. Block off time in your schedule to study. Treat it like a college course and create a study plan based on your practice GRE. Look at your current class schedule if you are an enrolled student and plan around other exams/papers. Avoid cramming the night before the exam.

4. Determine what materials will be needed to improve your score. Should you pay for a prep course? (I did not.) Should you get a tutor for math? (I did.) Should you purchase flashcards? (I did and didn’t use them.) I was told that the best way to prepare for the verbal reasoning section is to just read, read, read.) Find what is right for you and your budget!

5. Take a trial run to the testing location. You do not want to get lost on your way to the testing center the day of your GRE as it is already a stressful day! On the day of, make sure you arrive early and bring proper identification.

6. Make sure the GRE is not the first thing you read on test day. Read the morning paper, a chapter from a non-academic book, etc.

7. Accept the fact you may have to take the GRE twice. Yes, I was the student who initially planned on taking the exam once and ended up taking it twice. Make sure you allow enough time between your first GRE and admission deadlines to take it again if needed. (Note: you can only take the GRE once a month!)

8. Understand how the GRE is scored. The year I took the GRE, the scoring scale/percentiles had recently been altered. Knowing how you are assessed and how your test questions translate into a raw score is important to know. For example, if a vocabulary question has two blanks, you will need to get them both correct to receive credit for the question.

9. Find support from friends and family. There was a running joke that no one was allowed to read my tweets on Twitter unless it contained a GRE-level vocabulary word! Share your study schedule and ask others to help keep you on track.

10. Know where you need your scores sent. Immediately following your test, you will need to know where you want your scores sent. On test day, it’s free for up to four schools. Following the test day, there is a fee. I was told that I should send my scores even if I felt I could have done better. You not only paid for the exam and spent a whole day taking it, not to mention hours of studying, but you will be able to resend new scores to the same institutions if you re-take the test.

11. Eat a good breakfast. Bring a snack for your break time. Decide what to wear (for example, if you take off a jacket during your timed test, you may have to leave the room to put it in a locker, causing an undue break) – just be prepared and plan ahead. See http://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/test_day/.

But, most of all, do not let the GRE send you into a panic. It is only ONE component of your admissions package. It is important to meet percentile requirements and compare yourself to what the recently admitted class’s mean score was. However, not applying for your first-pick school because you barely missed cut offs will leave you with the burden of ‘what ifs’. Own the GRE. Own your score. Good luck!

Disney College Program

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This week’s blogger is Martese Ehm. Martese is a 2013 graduate of Iowa State University and earned her degree in Mechanical Martese at DisneyEngineering. During her time at Iowa State, she participated in a semester-long program called the Disney College Program, gaining experience that would help her to land a job after graduation.

Knowledge can come from the funniest of places, even the happiest place in the world. In fall 2010, I went on the most life-changing internship to Walt Disney World. I know what you are thinking, “Walt Disney World? What do you do at Walt Disney World for an internship?” Well, let me tell you. I will discuss my experience in three parts: Earning, Learning and Living.

Earning: First things first; you want to know how I made money at Disney. The program that I participated in is called the Disney College Program. The only qualifications are that participants must be 18 years or older and enrolled in a college or university. There are a slew of different positions that you can apply for: attractions, quick food and beverage, merchandising, transportation, lifeguard, mousekeeping, etc. I earned my money by working at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Quick Food and Beverage. I worked in the best and most busy part of the park, Sunset Boulevard. Two of the most popular rides and two of the most popular shows were located in the area where I worked.  Working in that high-volume area, I learned to work under a lot of pressure and with large crowds. Because Disney has a reputation for stellar customer relations, my résumé stood out to employers. An additional bonus was that I worked side by side with people from all over the world and learned to communicate with them to solve problems quickly.

Learning: When I was not working during my internship, I was in class. But it was not your average class where you sit watching the clock and wishing it was over. This was an exciting, edge-of-your-seat type of class. I took two classes. The first was called Creativity and Innovation, and I received college credit for taking it. This class gave me the chance to explore how crucial innovation is to individuals, organizations and the entrepreneurial process. Today I often find myself looking over the book we used for the class.

The other class I took was called the Professional Development Studies Series on Engineering. Being an engineer, this class was a perfect fit. I was able to meet and network with Imagineers—the engineers who design the rides for the Disney Parks—and go behind the scenes of many rides and services, and I even competed in an engineering competition (I am still in contact with the people I met from this class)! Going on all these behind-the-scenes tours, I learned no matter your training/profession, you can get a job with Disney. Disney touches all aspects of life. One example; a marine biologist could work at EPCOT at the Living with the Seas area due to the fact that they have one of the largest saltwater tanks in the world. In addition to all of the above, these classes were free!

Living: I lived in an apartment that was just for the students participating in the Disney College program. I made friends and lived with people from every continent. I was able to learn different cultures from my friends during this program. During the holiday season, and I celebrated with friends from other places and they shared stories from their countries. Even today, my best friend is the roommate I lived with during my Disney internship. Our time off together was always fun because we got free admission into the parks, so when not working, we were busy exploring in the parks!

The Disney Internship gave me better communication skills, a positive attitude, time management skills, the ability to problem solve, teamwork skills, flexibility, working well under pressure, friends for a lifetime, knowledge of other cultures and memories that I will hold dear for the rest of my life.  When I went to look for a full time job, I had ten interviews. In all ten of those interviews, the employers always asked me about my Disney experience instead of my engineering experience.  If I could leave you with one bit of advice, it would be this: If you are thinking of doing an internship, but are unsure where to turn, apply for this program. The experience is great, and who knows what you will learn or who you will meet along the way.

Department of Education Launches Financial Aid Toolkit

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Recently the Department of Education launched the Financial Aid Toolkit to meet the growing needs of students, counselors and the college access communities. The toolkit is available at FinancialAidToolkit.ed.gov and boasts a variety of features and tools aimed to assisted guidance counselors, classroom advisers and students as they make their way through the college planning process. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out this great resource that offers everything you need to know about preparing for college all in one place!

Financial Aid Toolkit