College Affordability

Early Admissions Can Save Time, Money

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As larger numbers of students apply to college and colleges compete for quality students who are dedicated to their school, colleges and universities have expanded the application options available to students in order to not only manage applicant pools but also increase the number of candidates that they consider “high-quality.” When considering the college application process, it’s important for families to understand each type of admission program and what those programs require.

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Early Action
Colleges that offer “early action” application do so to give families a quick response to those who submit on or before their early deadline (typically early November). Early Action admission decisions are non-binding, which means that students do not have to promise to attend if accepted. They just hear back sooner. Some universities offer “Restricted Early Action,” which works much like Early Action, but limits the number of EA applications a student can submit to other schools. Colleges do this because they are looking for students who are committed to them instead of just applying early to find out sooner. While families can benefit from the quick response of applying “early action” they face an smaller applicant pool that will usually have strong candidates and a possibly more selective admissions process.

Early Decision
Where many early action applications require little commitment, early decision applications are more serious. Student should only apply early decision to a college if they are certain that it is the college they wish to attend. Students accepted on early decision are required to attend the college at which they were applied and accepted, as well as withdraw all other applications.

Some colleges also offer an “ED II,” which allows students extra time to apply, allowing for more research, and application preparation. ED II applications often have deadlines that are the same the regular application deadline, but receive an earlier decision, usually in early February.

For a student with a clear vision of where they want to go to school, early decision applications offer a great advantage. Not only will they be informed of a decision earlier, but they also show the admissions office that they are a student dedicated to attending their school. If they are accepted, the student has the rest of their senior year to enjoy (early decision applicants usually hear back in December). If they are deferred or rejected, there is still plenty of time to regroup and apply to other colleges.

However, students that want to compare financial aid packages may want to hold off from early decision applications and the locked-in commitment that comes with them. Being able to look at different schools and compare costs can often show a student that their dream school might not be the best long-term decision, financially.

Regular Application
Regular application deadlines are later than early action or early decision applications and is the time when the majority of students will submit their applications.

Having a set timeline for applications helps students take more time to reflect on their goals, visit colleges, research and narrow down a list of schools that are the best fit for their needs. Students are not limited to the number of schools to which they apply, though each school will require an application processing fee when submitting an application. Applying by regular deadlines, allows students the luxury of comparing financial aid awards and admission offers without any restrictions that might come with early applications before choosing the college that is a perfect fit and meets his financial need.

Rolling Admissions
Colleges with rolling admissions offer important options and opportunities that regular deadlines do not. Rolling admissions colleges will accept and examine applications as they are sent in, instead of waiting to judge all applications at the same time. This admissions option can be great for late admissions, or for finding out early whether or not a student is accepted.

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Keep Loan Debt Down With These Spending Tips

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With college costs rising faster than increases on household income, more and more students have student loans to help fund their education. Often they don’t fully understand all of the terms and fail to track the amounts they borrow. One of the best ways you can stay on top of this process and set yourself up for an easier repayment process, is to limit the amount of student loan debt you accrue. Taking out the smallest amount of money possible in loans will pay off in the long run.

Follow these tips to ensure that you limit the amount of student loan debt you accrue while still in school.

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Borrow only the amount you need.

Many borrowers make the mistake of taking out more loans than necessary. To avoid doing this, create a budget to determine how much loan money you will need and avoid using loan money to pay for unnecessary expenses, such as trips to the movie theater or expensive dinners.

Consider a part-time job.

If your academic schedule allows, consider finding a part-time job on campus to help supplement the cost of unexpected expenses. Be sure to check with your financial aid office to see if you qualify for work study, which will give you the opportunity to work on campus.

Consider paying your loan interest while still in school.

If you start making interest payments on your student loans while you are still in college, you will reduce the total amount you’ll have to repay. Interest payments are usually manageable and by paying off interest as you go keep outstanding interest from capitalizing on any of your balances. Allowing interest to capitalize increases your loan balance essentially requiring you to pay interest on the interest that has been accrued!

Apply for scholarships.

Scholarships can pay for portions, and at times all of your education during an academic year, but you must apply! You can find scholarships that specific to your school or department by talking to a representative from your school’s financial aid office or your department chair. In addition, the following sites are just a few places you can search for scholarships.

Choose a school that fits into the family budget.

Review the financial aid packages from the colleges where you applied and consider how much you would need to borrow from each. Keep the end in mind and select a college where your loan debt can be kept as a reasonable level to your future income potential.

The Three Letters That Will Make FAFSA Filing Easier

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For students getting ready to go to college, GPA is an important three-letter abbreviation that can help determine success in finding the right school. But three other letters are about to become equally important in helping students and families find money to pay for that education.

PPY, or “prior-prior year” refers to changes in the  Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that will go into effect starting with the 2017-18 FAFSA application, available this fall, that will make it easier for families to file for financial aid.

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The most important tool for students looking to find money to help fund their education after high school, a completed FAFSA helps schools create financial aid packages, states  determine grant eligibility and  qualify students for federal Pell and other grants.

The FAFSA determines financial need for aid based on looking at the tax return submitted by the family, or student if they are funding their own education. In the past, applicants had to wait until they or their family had completed tax returns for the previous year. If a student was completing the FAFSA for the 2016-17 school year, for example, they would be forced to wait for their 2015 tax return to be completed. Considering that many financial aid deadlines hit around May 1, the window of opportunity for getting in tax returns was very small, especially if a family waited until the April 15 tax filing deadline.

In 2015, however, President Obama signed changes to the FAFSA into law that help families apply in a more timely manner starting with the 2017-18 school year. The new FAFSA guidelines not only extend the application filing dates (starting October 1 as of this year), but allows families to use an older tax return, their prior-prior year return.

So in the case of the 2017-18 FAFSA, families can use their PPY return from 2015, as opposed to waiting to complete their 2016 tax return. By allowing this flexibility in which tax returns are needed for the FAFSA, families and students will no longer need to wait to complete the FAFSA as early as possible. And by filing the FAFSA early, students will get information about their financial aid opportunities earlier in the college application process, as well as make themselves eligible for state grants and scholarships well before deadline dates.

As with any changes, PPY might seem intimidating until families better understand the convenience it brings to the FAFSA completion process. Many organizations have created FAFSA toolkits to help navigate the changes in this year’s FAFSA. Both NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling) and NASFAA (National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators) have created FAFSA toolkits aimed specifically at understanding the impact of PPY on this year’s application.

For students that will be looking for financial aid in 2017-18, these sites offer vital tips to navigating the changes in the FAFSA. But all families can benefit from learning how three simple letters will make obtaining college financial aid easier for their students when the time comes.

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.

Get Ahead of The College Prep Game With These Sophomore Year Tips

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For many students, college preparation kicks into gear starting during their junior year of high school. But as yesterday’s post showed, students who know that college is in their future can work toward their goals as early as freshman year. But what happens during sophomore year? Besides maintaining the good habits established during freshman year, there are a number of options available to sophomores looking to keep their momentum going toward college.

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Putting in the effort now with some of these tips will take the pressure off come junior and senior year:

  • Keep those grades up. It’s important to stay focused on your schoolwork. After all, colleges will look at more than your grades during your junior and senior years.
  • If you plan to take the SAT, take the PSAT in October. It’s good practice for taking the PSAT in your junior year when the scores will count towards National Merit Scholar consideration.
  • Investigate concurrent enrollment options for your junior and senior years. Concurrent enrollment, sometimes called dual enrollment, enables students to take college-credit courses in their high
    school setting.
  • Research financial aid options and begin searching for scholarships. Make a list of those that you think you would be eligible for, including deadlines.

For more tips on preparing for college, check out Iowa College Aid’s “Your Course to College.” This guide helps students and families not only prepare for education after high school, but offers step-by-step advice for financial aid, finding the right college and profiles of every postsecondary school in Iowa.

Another Iowa College Aid publication, “Planning for Our Futures” offers families further information on financial aid and options on how to prepare for your student’s education.

Yes, You Can Prepare for College as a Freshman!

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Starting high school can seem like the beginning of a whole new world and, certainly, one where college seems far away. But the truth is that in four short years, today’s freshmen will be the graduating Class of 2020.

We’ve already talked about ways that students can start thinking about college by taking college visits or researching scholarships early. Once the school year starts, though, it becomes important to think for the future, but also take the steps necessary to succeed in this new transition to high school. Iowa College Aid’s “Your Course to College” guide not only offers tips and information for students preparing to start their final year of high school, but also gives advice for those students just starting high school.

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Here are some tips from “Your Course to College’s” Student Checklist for freshmen looking to succeed this year, while still planning for future success.

  • Meet your counselor. He or she is there to help you succeed in high school and to help set you up for success after graduation! Set up a meeting to talk about your plans for high school and the future.
  • Get involved. Many admissions officers look for well- rounded students who participate in school activities and are involved in their communities throughout all years of high school.
  • Set up a college savings account, if you  don’t already have one, or continue to add to an existing account. College Savings Iowa is sponsored by the State of Iowa and can be started with as little as $25. Find more information at www.collegesavingsiowa.com.
  • Choose the right class schedule. Find out about college entrance requirements for the schools you’re interested in.
  • Find out about Advanced Placement (AP) and other honors-level courses. If your high school does not offer AP courses directly, they may provide online access to courses through the Iowa Online Academy.
  • Fill your summer with volunteer activities and work opportunities that can give you a better idea of what type of career you would like to pursue.

Check out the full Four-Year Student Checklist here and sign up to receive the 2016-17 edition of “Your Course to College” here. Iowa College Aid’s “Planning for Our Future” (produced in conjunction with Iowa Insurance Division and Treasurer of State’s office) offers more detailed information and advice on financial planning for a student’s education at all ages (even starting in elementary school or earlier). Order a copy here.

Find A School That Fits Your Needs During Iowa Private College Week

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Though Iowa Private College Week concludes today, Iowa’s private, not-for-profit colleges continue to offer opportunities to students from around the world to benefit from small class sizes and focused programs that lead to more students graduating in four years than larger Regent universities.

Today, we finish our week-long look at the schools participating in Iowa Private College Week, featuring a sneak preview of each school’s listing in Iowa College Aid’s upcoming 2016-17 “Your Course to College” publication (review earlier posts from Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday). This annual guide helps students prepare for college with academic and financial tips to put together an effective plan for education after high school. The guide also includes informational listings for all of Iowa’s colleges and universities. For more information about “Your Course to College” visit Iowa College Aid’s website.

St. Ambrose University, Davenport, IA

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Enrollment: 3,300; Tuition & Fees: $28,870; On-Campus Room & Board: $9,000 (varies); Est. Books & Supplies: $1,200; Priority Deadline for Aid Filing: March 15; Types of Programs: Engineering, Nursing, Teacher Education, Physician Assistant, Engineering, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Pre-Law, Graphic Design, Speech- Language Pathology, Business and Healthcare Sales

Rated among the top universities in the region by two national ranking publications, St. Ambrose University is a coeducational, liberal arts university affiliated with the Diocese of Davenport. Students received more than $48 million in financial aid last year and the new BEE Finished in Four Years Plan guarantees timely degree completion. Maintaining an 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio, St. Ambrose offers professional and liberal arts undergraduate majors, master’s and doctoral programs. No classes are taught by graduate assistants.
In addition to strong academics and a growing study-abroad program, students enjoy a dynamic campus that features some of the nicest residence halls in the Midwest, a wide range of varsity and intramural sports, more than 80 student clubs and organizations — and a reputation for amazing personal attention. A new Wellness and Recreation Center is scheduled to open fall, 2017.

St. Luke’s College, Sioux City, IA

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Enrollment: 245; Tuition & Fees: $19,960; Est. Off-Campus Room & Board: $8,180; Est. Books & Supplies: $1,253; Priority Deadline for Aid Filing: March 1; Types of Programs: Health Science, Nursing, Radiologic Technology, Respiratory Care and Clinical Lab Sciences

St. Luke’s College has a 113-year history of educating health care professionals with bachelor’s degree programs in nursing and health science; associate degree programs in nursing, radiologic technology and respiratory care; certificate programs in medical laboratory science, phlebotomy and clinical pastoral education; and advanced specialty programs in CT, MRI, sonography and mammography.

Located on the campus of UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s, the College provides programs with experience-based clinical learning in a hospital environment. The curriculum is designed with a foundation in the biological, physical and social sciences, integrated with theory and experience in the clinical lab setting. The College emphasizes hands-on, patient care learning. Student involvement with patient care begins early in the first year of study.

University of Dubuque, Dubuque, IA

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Enrollment: 2,200; Tuition & Fees: $28,700; On-Campus Room & Board: $9,124; Est. Books & Supplies: $950; Priority Deadline for Aid Filing: April 1; Types of Programs: Accounting; Aviation; Biology; Business; Computer Graphics & Interactive Media; Health, Wellness & Sport; Nursing; Philosophy; Psychology; Religious Studies; Sociology; Speech Communication

The University of Dubuque is a private, coeducational professional University with a focus in the liberal arts. Our commitment to nurturing the mind, body, and spirit, as well as encouraging students to explore their fullest potential, is part of a rich Christian heritage that dates back to the University’s founding in 1852.

UD’s welcoming interfaith community comprises one of the most diverse campuses in the Midwest consisting of students from 35 states and 20 countries. Over the last 15 years, the University has invested over 200 million dollars in renovations and new construction to academic buildings and residence halls. The University awards more than $15 million in student scholarships annually. Students are academically focused, technologically motivated, and professionally prepared to meet 21st century needs. Opportunities are experienced through nationally recognized programs in Aviation, Business, Computer Graphics/Interactive Media, Education, Environmental Science, Nursing, and a new Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies.

Wartburg College, Waverly, IA

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Enrollment: 1,537; Tuition & Fees: $38,380; On-Campus Room & Board: $9,460; Est. Books & Supplies: $1,110; Priority Deadline for Aid Filing: February 1 (Prospective Students), March 1 (Current Students); Types of Programs: Liberal Arts and General, Teacher Preparation

Wartburg is a private, Lutheran, liberal arts college with an enrollment of 1,537 students, including 132 international students from 55 countries. Dedicated to challenging and nurturing students for lives of leadership and service as a spirited expression of their faith and learning, Wartburg focuses on a traditional curriculum enriched by a variety of learning opportunities. Through travel, study abroad, experiential learning, service learning, civic engagement, community service, undergraduate research, and close work with individual faculty, Wartburg students embark on a journey of discovery to embrace their passions, unlock their potential, and realize their purpose.

Notably, 93 percent of Wartburg graduates complete their degrees within four years, and 98 percent are placed in jobs or graduate schools within six months of graduation.

William Penn University, Oskaloosa, IA

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Enrollment: 1,921; Tuition & Fees: $24,510; On-Campus Room & Board: $6,667; Est. Books & Supplies: $1,206; Priority Deadline for Aid Filing: July 1; Types of Programs: Liberal Arts, Nursing, Pre-Professional, Teacher Preparation

William Penn University offers a quality liberal arts education that is firmly rooted in leadership development. Professors who care about your personal goals, combined with opportunities for campus and community involvement, build an educational foundation that will prepare you for success!

Founded by Quaker pioneers, William Penn University embraces traditional values of integrity, simplicity, compassion, ethical practice, acceptance, tolerance and service. It is also one of the most diverse campuses in Iowa, with students from 42 states and 20 countries.