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, 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 and 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 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!

Why Getting Involved in your Community is Important

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Sawyer Headshot 3

This 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.

Whether you are drawn to being a part of a grassroots effort to make direct changes in your community, altruism from public service or  getting to know the “movers and shakers” in a community for a potential run for office, I have heard it all when it comes to public service.  I have served in local government, worked for multiple non-profits and the government, volunteered for the American Red Cross, helped coordinate multiple community activism events, and used my current networks to connect groups to resources.  While that seems a little all over the place, I have observed constants through my public service experience. No matter what shape my community involvement morphs into, there are threads of commonality. It is these transferable skills that illustrate the importance of getting involved in your community.

Awareness: I take comfort in being informed. But, it is more than that. Being aware of the needs and goals of your community really allows you to know the values of your neighbors and surrounding community. For example, when I initially moved to DC I noticed homeless individuals sleeping under the nearby overpass. It wasn’t until I started volunteering my time at a homeless non-profit that became aware of how prevalent homelessness is and the resources and organizations dedicated to ending it. Now, I have had my eyes opened to another dimension of life in my community.

Utilization of skills you are not utilizing in current job: Whether it is a day-to-day job you currently hold or your day-to-day schedule as a student, you probably are not using all the skills or even hobbies you enjoy. Everyone brings something to the table—whether it is volunteering your graphic design skills to draft flyers or helping an organization with their social media awareness, there are always ways to use and develop your skills.

Time management skills: There is a potential for events to be here, there and everywhere! Investing you time at community events or schedule set times for volunteering, speaks volumes of your character. Are you going to spend your time binge-watching Netflix, or helping out at an under-staffed and under-budgeted event for a local community organization while getting to know your neighbors and making a difference?

Creative thinking: Every community organization vies for attention—everyone wants “good turnouts” and adequate volunteers. In order to attract attention, creative thinking is involved. Being a founding member of an organization’s new annual event or being a part of a strategic planning initiative exercises your ability to think creatively. This skill is invaluable to your future careers.

Sense of belonging: I moved to my new neighborhood in Washington, DC five months ago. Having ties to your community and community members really makes a new home and culture a lot more welcoming and provides a sense of belonging. Moreover, being involved allows you to meet people and network. People and networks are also invaluable. The saying, “it’s all about who you know” has so far proven to be true for me and I can attribute the bulk of it to my community involvement.

Communication skills: When volunteering or being involved in your community, you learn  how to effectively communicate with all types of people. These are individuals who are not your peers or superiors like students are normally used to. But, it is group work, with mutual responsibilities. A lot of students tend to stray away from group work or feel that they end up ‘doing all the work’ or are ‘out of the loop.’ But I can personally attest that learning to work effectively in a group relies heavily on adequate communication.

My parting words of wisdom are to not get involved in your community and volunteer because it looks good on your resume. Do it because you want to make a difference and build skills. Every little bit does help and never be afraid to ask around and figure out where you can be most helpful in your community.

Proteus assists students with education-related expenses

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jasson11Jasson Villarreal is a graduate from the Professional Cosmetology Institute (PCI). Through Proteus Inc. Jasson discovered a passion for cosmetology and was able to finance his education at the Professional Cosmetology Institute (PCI). Proteus offers many programs, including the National Farmworker Jobs Program which assisted Jasson with educational expenses including classes, books, training materials and as well as a stipend for time spent in class.


I discovered Proteus after they helped a friend in Ames, so I called and inquired if they could help me as well.  It was the end of 2011 and I had been working in maintenance at McDonald’s in Ames. Things were going alright, but I was not where I wanted to be. I needed a career change.

When I contacted Proteus they connected me with Sonia-Reyes Synder. She went to work right away; and set up a time to meet with me the following week to fill out paperwork. Sonia met me during my lunch break, and we started to get things going. I was looking at attending a local community college. In a short amount of time, I applied for admission, did required testing and ultimately was accepted.

My business management class was about to start and I felt prepared, or so I thought. But then, I had second thoughts about the program I had chosen. I felt I had just jumped in and tried to beat a deadline of when a class was going to start. I wasn’t sure this was the best choice for me.

I spoke with Sonia and told her I wasn’t sure if I was following the right path. So I checked out some other options, one of which was the Professional Cosmetology Institute (PCI). I called PCI and asked if I could apply. I informed Sonia of my decision and she was very supportive. She asked me for a school supply list. It was quite lengthily, consisting of folders, pen, note cards, all black clothing: pants, shirts and shoes. Sonia got the list approved and we shopped locally in Ames.

Sonia told me that Proteus provides travel expenses, health and legal aid. I asked about the health aid, as I was having tooth pain and needed new prescription for my glasses. Sonia took care of making all my appointments, allowing me to get the medical attention I needed. Having Proteus take care of everything enabled me to better myself and focus on my future.

I enrolled in PCI and made awesome progress once classes started. Sonia was so happy for me; I could see how proud she was of my accomplishments. I was a full-time student and Proteus even paid me for a portion of the time I spent in class. This allowed me to stay and give school 100% the attention it needed for me to succeed.

By the time I graduated, I was one of the top three students and already had a job lined up in Des Moines at a Premier Salon. I stop in at the Proteus Des Moines Merle Hay location when I’m in the neighborhood, as I enjoy seeing and talking to the staff. When I see Sonia, I see her as a friend and give her a giant hug. Thanks, in big part to, Proteus, I was able to achieve my career goals with minimal student loan debt.