Academic Advisors

Hit Senior Year Running With These College Prep Tips

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All that hard work is about to pay off! Senior year is the last, and most important, year of high school. Those students and families who have followed our “Your Course to College” tips on preparing for college during their freshman, sophomore and junior years will be ready to roll right into senior year preparations.

For those who haven’t… Fear not! There’s still time to put together a senior year checklist that will help students and families plan for education after high school without getting overwhelmed. Here are some tips to help stay on the path to college in this crucial year:

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  • Review coursework with your school counselor to be sure you have taken (or are scheduled to take) all the courses you will need for admission to your preferred colleges.
  • If you plan to take the ACT or SAT again to improve your score, make sure to register for a date that is at least two months ahead of the application deadlines for all of the colleges and scholarships you are considering.
  • Prepare a final list of colleges and submit admission applications. Most early decision and early action college applications are due in October 1.
  • Complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) online at
    www.fafsa.gov as soon after October 1 as possible. The FAFSA is the first step in the financial aid process. Check with your school of interest for its priority financial aid deadline.
  • Ask your high school to send your official transcripts to the colleges where you are applying for admission.
  • Compare acceptance letters and financial aid awards. Upon admittance, each college or university listed on your FAFSA will send you an award letter that will include the financial aid that you are eligible to receive.
  • Take AP exams for any AP subjects you studied in high school. Some colleges may
    award college credit for the course work based on your exam score. Go to www.collegeboard.org for AP exam information.
  • Decision time! Choose your college and notify them by mailing your commitment deposit check.
  • Talk to those who have been there! Iowa College Aid’s “Education Empowers” video series provides testimonials of students who faced (and overcame) challenges in getting to college.

For more tips and advice to help prepare, plan and succeed in college, check out Iowa College Aid’s “Your Course to College.” This free guide offers advice on everything from finding the right college and narrowing down a major to showing families the steps to finding financial aid and even loan repayment programs for after graduation. “Planning for Our Futures” is a publication produced by Iowa College Aid, Treasurer of State and the Iowa Department of Insurance that takes a closer look at the financial options for families looking to prepare for education after high school.

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Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Offers Scholarships, Support for Variety of Students

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After completing their applications during College Application Month, students looking toward the next step in their education face an even more daunting challenge: finding the best way to afford that education. A wide array of both state, federal and private financial aid and scholarships is available for students either starting or continuing their journey after high school, but frequently a great deal of those scholarships go unclaimed due to students not applying. Often students avoid scholarship applications because they think that scholarships are only for those students at the top of their classes or for other students whose families are in the most dire economic need.

While many organizations create scholarships to help specific types of students based on any number of factors including interest, background or ethnicity, other organizations, such as the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, offer scholarships to a wide array of students looking for assistance in affording their college education.

Three programs available to students from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation reflect the variety of students who can benefit not just from the organization’s scholarships, but from many other private scholarships. Jack Kent Cooke Foundation proclaims that their group provides “the largest scholarships in the nation to high-performing students with financial need.” The foundation considers household incomes of up to $95,000 as being in “financial need,” noting that many applicants for their scholarships will also be eligible for Pell Grants.

The Foundation’s two most notable scholarships are the College Scholarship Program and Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, both offering awards of up to $40,000 per year to students to help afford tuition, living expenses, books and other required fees at a 4-year college or university. The College Scholarship Program is available to U.S. high schools students graduating in the coming spring and intending to enroll full time at an accredited 4-year college the following Fall. The Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship is for current students at a community college are already enrolled in a 2-year institution with plans to transfer to a 4-year college or university the following fall. Both programs seek students who have a 3.5 GPA or better and, in the case of the College Scholarship Program, score in the top15% on standardized tests.

In hopes of creating students who can best take advantage of these programs, Jack Kent Cooke Foundation also offers a Young Scholars Program that provides individualized academic advising and financial support through an on-staff educational adviser who works closely with students in the program and their families to help tailor student interest and strengths while developing unique goals that will help them succeed in college. Each year, the Cooke Foundation selects up to 65 Young Scholars from a nationwide applicant pool based on a variety of qualifications that include high academic achievement and financial need, but also leadership skills, drive and persistence and the desire to help others.

For more information on these programs, or to learn more about the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, visit their website at http://www.jkcf.org/.

Using Academic Advisors Can Help Students Stay On Track Toward Graduation

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Many students see getting to college as the ultimate goal when it is really the beginning of the next journey. Continuing education after high school brings new pressures and demands. For a student who is living away from home for the first time, the impact of the first year of college can be so intense as to drive them away from their education. Nationally, 77% of first-year students return to their school for the second year. That means that 1 out of every 4 college students is likely to crumble under the demands of a college education. In Iowa, those numbers are better, with over 85% of students returning. But that still means that almost 1 in every 5 college students are giving up on their dreams of a college degree.

Students face a wide-range of pressures, including emotional, social and financial issues, but often overlooked is making the academic adjustment to college. While students may feel like they are struggling through college alone, almost every college campus offers an essential, yet underutilized, resource: Academic advisors.

Academic advisors can help students stay on track for graduation by assisting students in registering for classes and often offer a vast wealth of knowledge regarding classes, graduation requirements, internship opportunities, job hunting and industry contacts in a student’s field of career interest. Here are some tips to help students get the most out of working with an academic advisor:

Schedule appointments well in advance. During class registration, advisors are extremely busy. Email them well before a proposed appointment date and be flexible. Realize that advisors meet with several students, in addition to teaching courses or conducting research.

Visit advisors more than once a semester. Students who only go to see their advisor to register for classes are missing out on a great opportunity to get real-world advice from a professional. By letting academic advisors get to know their interests, students will find advisors offering more insightful advice on professors, scheduling and long-term goal planning.

Research ahead of time. Having information ready for an academic advisor meeting will allow students to get the most out of their time with their advisor. Students who bring items such as their degree audit/degree progress report and research program and class requirements will not only be more efficient, but show their advisor that they are serious about their goals. This kind of preparation will allow for the appointment time to focus on discussing more complex issues or questions.

Come prepared. Have a list of questions written down to make the most use of appointment time. This lets the academic advisor more readily point students to critical information, help them better understand administrative processes and academic programs and connect them to valuable resources.

Choose the appropriate office. While academic advisors are there to help students by offering knowledge on a wide variety of subjects, they won’t have the answer to every question. Students should keep in mind that other on-campus resources such as career services, tutoring assistance, financial aid office and others may be a better source for some information than the academic advisor. Seeking the opinion of friends and peers might also help determine what professor would best suit a student’s learning style.

Four Tips To Help Students Get On Track With Classes During Orientation

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The summer between high school graduation and the first day of college is important not only in preparing for Freshman year, but also for a student’s entire career at their college. While things may change once they arrive at college, students can take steps during the summer to make sure that they stay on a path to arrive, adjust and graduate in a timely manner.

Student orientation is the key to this preparation, allowing students to set their plans for success at their new school. Before attending orientation, students can arm themselves with the following questions to not only get the most out of orientation information, but develop the tools to thrive.

Q: How can a student apply credits to their degree?

Many students arrive at college, having taken AP exams or courses for college credit during high school, or are transferring units from classes at community colleges. Orientation is a great time to find out how to best deal with a student or academic advisor to turn those credits from other schools into units for program prerequisites at the new school.

Q: How does a student know what’s required for graduation?

One of the most valuable resources for any new college student is a course catalog. Not only does it list the classes required for each major, but also lists graduation requirements for the student’s freshman year. While course requirements may change during a student’s college career, most schools ensure students are able to graduate based on the requirements in place their freshman year. Students who hold on to the catalog from their first year of school will be better prepared in case they need that documentation.

Q: How can students plan a challenging, but efficient course load?

Once a student has an idea of the requirements in their major, a good game plan will help make the most of each term’s classes. Some courses required for a major may satisfy general requirements at the same time, while certain prerequisites might not be offered every term and need to be taken sooner rather than later. By balancing a course load between easy lower-level classes and more challenging upper-level classes, students will be less likely to burn out in later years.

Q: Who can provide students on course loads and their progression in their major?

Most schools require students to meet with academic advisors before registering for classes each semester. Students who get to know their advisor early on, and establish good communication with them, will benefit throughout the term, not just at the start of the semester when advisors will be serving multiple students. Students should try to find out the name of their advisor and meet with them during orientation if possible, to start the relationship during a time where deadlines and semester schedules won’t have an effect on planning.

Meredith’s Romo Steps Beyond The Classroom To Increase College Awareness for Middle Schoolers

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Though they can never be thanked enough, Monday, May 4 starts “Teacher Appreciation Week” (#ThankATeacher for those on Twitter), a week dedicated to celebrating the impact that teachers have on everyone in the community. Teachers often have a reach that extends beyond the classroom, making a real difference in the lives of both the students they see everyday and the world that student touches.

Each day this week, we’ll join in the celebration and #ThankATeacher for the work they are doing to transcend their normal teaching duties. Carrie Romo, a Spanish teacher at Meredith Middle School in Des Moines, has worked to increase college awareness in 7th and 8th graders, and giving students a goal for their hard work before reaching high school. Romo tells about the creation of “College A-Wear-ness Wednesdays” at Meredith and how the program impacts students:

Meredith Middle School's Carrie Romo

In January, Meredith began a new tradition called “College A-Wear-ness Wednesdays,”  the last Wednesday of every month. This idea was birthed by our principal David Johns.  He approached me with the idea and asked if it was something I would help to lead and facilitate due to my involvement with our “Dream 2 Teach” program (a program that mentors 7th and 8th graders who may want to become teachers through college prep and career exploration).

It didn’t take me long to think. I quickly accepted and began working with students to begin spreading the word.  On College A-wear-ness Wednesday, all staff and students are invited to participate by wearing college apparel.  Our staff definitely enjoys sporting their alma mater and they also take time out of each class period to discuss different aspects of their college journey and experiences with students.  This has spiked a lot of excitement and interest amongst Meredith students!

I have had several teachers approach me after a Wednesday and tell me that their students asked tons of questions and were excited about their future opportunities.  In addition, it has allowed some staff to reconnect with their alma mater and request donations which we giveaway to students through participation in trivia questions, whole school assemblies and general involvement on that day.

We often hear that “college is not for everyone.” But at Meredith we believe every student should and will have the opportunity to go to college regardless of their ethnic background, country of origin, socioeconomic status or other perceivable barriers.  We know that college preparation truly begins in middle school and College A-wear-ness Wednesday is helping us to foster college awareness at Meredith Middle School.

Thanks to Carrie Romo and the great teaching staff at Meredith Middle School for their hard work and passion to engage a college-going culture in their school!

Supercharging your college search with online college fairs

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Finding the right college for continuing your education is no easy task. The idea of “college fit” (that students will do best at a school that offers classes and an environment that meets not only their academic and financial needs, but matches their interests and personality) has become a hot topic for higher education. As students search for the college that offers that “perfect fit,” though, the amount of time or travel that it would take to visit schools either far or near become road blocks on their route to the right school.

Virtual college fairs have sprung up over recent years providing a way for students (and the schools looking for the right students) to break through those barriers. Just like their “brick and mortar” counterparts, virtual/online college fairs bring together representatives from schools, students and parents in an Internet-based event during a given period of time.

This provides a chance to for students and parents to ask the questions and receive the information that they’d receive from an onsite visit to a campus that might be hundreds, or even thousands of miles away. Frequently, schools will even have currently-enrolled students participate to answer questions and give a taste of what student life might offer.

Thanks to technological improvements and the inclusion of elements such as video conferencing, instant messaging and streaming video, virtual college fairs do more than let families visit a campus. The events let prospective students move at warp speed and visit multiple schools around the country all in the same day.

Want to experience a virtual college fair for yourself? CollegeWeek Live, an organization dedicated to using technology to brings schools and students together, will hold an “All Access Day” on February 19. Students who register will be able to visit with over 100 colleges and universities and get insight and information from admissions counselors and current students. If that weren’t enough, students who visit five college pages during the event will be entered for a chance to win a $2,500 scholarship, a chunk of change that sounds a lot better than spending money on the gas you’d need to drive to college visits.

For more information and registration, visit CollegeWeek Live’s site.

#NSCW15 Tips from Counselors for College Planning

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This week is National School Counselor Week, recognizing the impact that counselors have on students looking to fulfill their potential throughout their education. But rather than just sing the praises of these hard workers and our appreciation of them (Don’t worry, we are! See below), a better way to show how great counselors are is to let them do their thing: giving good advice.

So we asked school counselors in Iowa to give us tips that students looking to start their college planning will find useful. These head starts will not only help give students a quicker path down the road to college, but also make working with their counselors a little bit easier.

Our first tip comes from Tara Brokovich at Wilson Middle School, Cedar Rapids, who suggests:

“Have a cheat sheet containing pertinent information. Some things that might be on this list include: test scores, references, GPA, and extra-curricular activities. This will make it easier to have this information ready to go at a moment’s notice when applying for to schools or for financial aid and other scholarships.”

Organization is great advice for anyone. But students who might be filling multiple applications related to college will do well to keep pertinent information at their fingertips. Need a starting place for scholarships or other financial aid options? Check out our list of state grant and scholarship options. For other tips or pointers on how to start getting ready for your educational journey, take a look at our News You Can Use Student resources.

We’ll have more tips for Iowa school counselors throughout the week as part of #NSCW15. But in the meantime, here’s just a little reminder of how we feel about school counselors: We ♥ them!

Counseling week