Sure, college can seem daunting. The idea of four more years of school (more for a graduate degree), being away from family and dealing with the cost of your education for years after graduation. It’s enough to make you ask why you should even bother with college if you can get a job right after high school.
Iowa College Aid’s “Your Course to College” guide offers a great deal of information and tips for students preparing, applying and succeeding in college. But perhaps the best tip of all (which is why it’s right up front in the guide), is showing why college is important in the first place.
A strong career and a bright future can be possible for all Iowans. When college is added to the mix, studies have shown that things can get stronger and brighter for those with a degree. Here are four (and maybe even a few more) reasons why a college education can make a difference in your life:
College graduates simply earn more. Weekly earnings for workers with bachelor’s degrees are almost twice the earnings of workers with only high school diplomas. Over a lifetime, this can translate to a difference of more than a million dollars, and the gap is getting wider.
You’re more likely to land a job if you go to college. The unemployment rate for college graduates is about half the unemployment rate for high school graduates. The number of jobs for college graduates is growing, while the number of jobs for high school graduates is falling. More than 95% of the jobs created from 2010 to 2016 required at least some college education.
Maybe you’ll never need to solve a differential equation or quote Shakespeare, but higher education will still serve you well. College teaches critical thinking, communications and problem-solving skills. A recent survey found that employers consider these skills more important than a potential hire’s subject of study.
Quality of life
In terms of finances, health and happiness, college graduates do better. The poverty rate for people with only a high school degree is nearly three times the poverty rate for people with bachelor’s degrees. College graduates are less likely to smoke, be obese or be incarcerated. College graduates are also significantly more likely to be happy with their standard of living.
Those are the biggies. But there’s so much more that college offers students that make for a fuller and more fulfilling career and life:
- Meet people from different backgrounds and cultures
- Discover your passion
- Try new things
- Learn new skills
- Build your confidence
- Get involved in clubs and activities
- Make your own decisions
- Learn more about yourself
- Challenge yourself and prove you can succeed
- Start a tradition
- Make your family proud
Keep these things in mind when you find yourself struggling with the more frustrating parts of preparing for college and remember: the more you put into your education, the greater the reward. You can get there, you can afford it and you can succeed.
The school year is just underway. While getting used to new classes, teachers, books and more, high school students are also on their way to attaining their high school degree and looking onward to college. Many students and families don’t start thinking about college until their junior or senior years. But for those families who put college on their radar earlier, preparing and succeeding with college applications becomes much more likely.
Iowa College Aid’s “Your Course to College” is designed for families of high schoolers, both current and incoming, who are looking to understand the steps necessary to apply for and succeed in college planning. This year’s guide is available for order or download now at Iowa College Aid’s site. To highlight the new edition, here’s a look at a high school checklist, included in “Your Course to College,” which helps students and families get an overview of how they can prepare for college each year of high school.
Meet your counselor. They want to help you succeed in high school and set you up for success after graduation. Arrange a meeting to talk about your plans.
Get involved. Many college admissions officers look for well-rounded students who are involved in their schools and communities.
Set up a college savings account 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 collegesavingsiowa.com.
Choose the right class schedule. Research admissions requirements for the colleges in which you are interested.
Find out about Advanced Placement (AP) and other honors-level courses. If your high school does not offer AP courses directly, it might provide online access to courses through the Iowa Online AP Academy.
Fill your summer with volunteer and work opportunities to get a better idea of the careers you might like to pursue. Check out volunteeriowa.org to find organizations seeking volunteers.
Check in with your counselor. Ask about prerequisites you might need to take now to prepare for advanced courses in your junior and senior years.
Investigate concurrent enrollment for your junior and senior years. Concurrent, or dual, enrollment lets you take college-credit courses in high school.
Keep your grades up. Stay focused on schoolwork. Colleges will look at the grades from more than just your junior and senior years.
Take the PSAT in October. It’s good practice for taking the PSAT in your junior year, when the scores will determine National Merit Scholarship qualification.
Research financial aid options and begin searching for scholarships. Make a list of those you might be eligible for, and take note of deadlines.
Stay involved. Admissions officers like students who keep up with activities throughout high school, instead of starting them at college application time.
Start attending college fairs and arranging college visits. Call ahead to schedule appointments with financial aid and admissions offices.
Prep for college entrance exams. Download a free ACT preparation booklet from act.org. Find free official test prep for the SAT through the College Board at collegeboard.org and Khan Academy at khanacademy.org/sat. Take practice tests to determine where you might need to improve.
Focus on career and college research. Assess your skills and interests so you can consider possible areas of study. Determine which colleges offer programs that can prepare you for the career you want.
Take the PSAT in the fall to be considered for a National Merit Scholarship. Plus, it’s good practice for the SAT.
Continue college fairs and campus visits. If possible, sit in on classes that interest you and arrange to spend time in student housing.
Take the SAT or ACT in the spring and have the official scores sent to schools that interest you.
Ask for letters of recommendation. Identify teachers, counselors, employers or other adults who can attest to your achievement and abilities, and ask them to write letters for scholarship or admissions applications.
Make a timeline for your college and scholarship applications. Research deadlines now so you won’t be rushed when applications are due. Pay close attention to early decision deadlines if that option interests you.
Fill out the FAFSA4caster at fafsa.ed.gov to get an idea of how much need-based federal aid you might receive.
Review coursework with your school counselor to be sure you have taken (or are scheduled to take) all the courses you need for your preferred colleges.
If you plan to take the ACT or SAT again, register for a date at least two months before the application deadlines for all 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 October 1.
Complete and submit the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) at fafsa.gov as soon after October 1 as possible. Check with your schools of interest for their priority deadlines.
Ask your high school to send your official transcripts to the colleges where you are applying.
Compare acceptance letters and financial aid awards. Upon admittance, each college or university listed on your FAFSA will send you an award letter that shows the aid you are eligible to receive.
Take AP exams for any AP subjects you studied in high school. Some colleges might award college credit based on your exam score. Go to collegeboard.org for AP exam information.
Decision time! Choose your college and notify them by mailing your commitment deposit check.
For families and high school students, having a good gameplan for getting to, paying for and succeeding in college is valuable. That’s why we’re here to help.
Iowa College Aid’s annual “Your Course to College” guide will ship to schools and families later this month, but we’re taking the opportunity to preview some highlights and some of our favorite tips found in the guide. This week, tips to finding the best sources of funding for your college education. To find more previews and sign up to receive your copy of “Your Course to College” in print or download, visit our “Your Course to College” page at IowaCollegeAid.gov.
There are many ways to pay for a college education, and the financial aid process is not as complicated as most people think. Most students attending Iowa colleges and universities receive some form of financial assistance.
After you submit your college applications, complete these four steps:
1. Submit the FAFSA
To qualify for most financial aid, you must complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The fastest and most accurate way to apply is online at fafsa.gov. The FAFSA will gather information about your finances, your family’s finances and your college plans. You can complete the FAFSA for 2018-19 beginning October 1, 2017, using 2016 tax information.
2. Submit the Iowa Financial Aid Application
The Iowa Financial Aid Application allows you to apply for multiple state-administered aid programs with one application. Click the Iowa Financial Aid Application button at IowaCollegeAid.gov.
3. Decide on a College and Accept Aid
All colleges that you list on your FAFSA will send you a financial aid award letter if you are offered admission. Award letters will describe the financial aid package each college can offer. When comparing aid packages, consider how much assistance is from scholarships and grants (which do not have to be repaid) and how much is from loans (which must be repaid).
To accept the financial aid package offered by a college or university, follow all instructions. This might involve entering aid amounts you intend to accept in an online form or signing and returning a paper award letter by a specified deadline. Talk to the financial aid office at the college or university if an unusual circumstance delays your response.
To officially accept a college admissions offer and reserve your place, submit your deposit by the college’s reply date. May 1 is the date for most colleges.
4. Apply for Scholarships
Continue seeking and applying for outside scholarships. Think of it as a part-time job. If you spend 20 hours on scholarship applications and receive one worth $1,000, you just made $50 an hour for your efforts!
Reputable education organizations will NOT charge for scholarship searches.
With helpful tips on preparing for, and succeeding in college, Iowa College Aid’s annual “Your Course to College” has become a valuable resource for students, families and high school counselors throughout Iowa. The 2017-18 edition of “Your Course to College” will be available later this month, so we’re taking the opportunity to preview some highlights and some of our favorite tips found in the guide. This week, ways to research college visits and get the most out of your trip to a prospective campus. To find more previews and sign up to receive your copy of “Your Course to College” in print or download, visit our “Your Course to College” page at IowaCollegeAid.gov.
Visiting a college is the best way to find out if a particular school is the right fit for your future. Attending a college that doesn’t meet your academic, financial and personal needs can create real challenges to achieving your educational and career goals. While a campus tour won’t tell you everything you need to know when trying to determine college fit, it will go a long way to letting you know both what college is like and what life would be like for you on that campus. Here are some tips to get the most out of your college visit:
- Some colleges might be too far away. Start with virtual campus tours. Check the college’s website or look into online sites such as ecampustours.com and campustours.com.
- Take a campus tour, check out housing options and explore the surrounding area.
- Schedule a visit with the financial aid office.
- Get a feel for college life by eating in a campus cafeteria and staying overnight in campus housing.
- Sit in on a class that interests you.
- Talk to a professor in your intended field of study.
- Ask current students about campus life.
- Read the campus newspaper.
- Visit with advisors and members of clubs and activities that interest you.
- Document each visit, including any feelings you have.
College applications can seem daunting. For many high school seniors, the process happens in a rush during their senior year as they apply to schools that they think they’d like, but haven’t taken the time to research.
By creating a college application strategy before senior year, students can more easily target the schools that best meet their educational plans. More importantly, it can help them move through the college application process more smoothly, avoiding the chaos thanks to the research and planning they’ve done ahead of time.
Incoming seniors looking to be college application ninjas (and those juniors… and even sophomores… who want to be even greater ninjas when their time comes) know that the work they put in now will put them that much farther ahead when it comes time to start the application process. Here are three tips to start students on the ninja path this summer:
School Fit is a Two-Way Street
Finding a school that best “fits” with a student’s needs is important. Aspects such as a school’s location, average class size and available programs of study can strongly influence whether or not a student will succeed in their future plans at that school. Taking the time to look deeper at a school’s programs will help students understand where they have the best chance to get the most out of their education.
But college isn’t just about what the student wants. It might seem like a basic idea, but often students apply to schools without having a strong understanding of the type of student that the school is seeking. It’s important to know if a student’s current grades, test scores and extra-curricular activities make them a good match for the schools where they are planning to apply. Conduct research to determine if students meet all the admissions requirements before starting the application process.
Have a List and Learn as Much as You Can
Once students have a list of target schools, getting to know more about a school can give the extra information that will help students decide whether or not to commit the time to apply. Campus tours are the best way to experience life on campus and summer offers the flexibility to turn travel into college research. For those campuses that might be farther away, virtual tours on college websites give a taste of what to expect.
To really hit the ground running in the fall, students should do a little prep work before starting applications. From creating application accounts with usernames and passwords and creating a timeline for campus visits, to researching any available college application fee waivers and making a master calendar of key financial aid and scholarship deadlines, having a game plan ahead of time will make the application process less chaotic.
After years of hard work and months of waiting, students are starting to receive acceptance letters from colleges. Those students accepted into more than one college might face some difficult decisions to make when weighing the pros and cons of one school against another.
“College fit” means finding the school that best meets at student’s needs for the future, but there is no such thing as a “perfect school.” Students shouldn’t stress themselves out thinking that if they pick the wrong school, their life will be ruined. After all, college is what you make of it. But with a little research and effort, students and families can feel more secure about the school they pick. Here are some tips :
Compare financial aid awards
While cost shouldn’t be the only thing considered when deciding between schools, the financial aid offered can go a long way to giving one school an edge over another. The financial aid award letter often comes after the acceptance letter, and has many things to consider when reviewing. Check out our videos on comparing financial aid award letters for more tips (here and here).
Dig deeper with schools
Students already researched schools before applying, but now is a chance to get more detailed information to get a more complete picture of what a school offers, not only in education, but day-to-day life. Such questions can include:
- What is the graduation rate? How many students return after their freshman year?
- Are there work or volunteer opportunities that reflect a student’s major or interests?
- What do students do for fun?
- What student support services does the school offer?
Students can talk to college admissions counselors, current students, recent grads or even the college’s official website to research these and other subjects. It’s important to use only trustworthy sources of information and to recognize the difference between fact and opinion. A college’s official website and its admission officers are often the best sources of factual information about that college.
Visit — or revisit — the campuses
Now that a student has been accepted to a school, a college visit becomes even more important. Even if a family has taken a campus visit previously, going back with a more focused approach will help students see if they truly see themselves as a student at that school. Can’t visit a campus? Call or email the admission office with questions, reach out to professors in your areas of interest or ask to connect current students and recent graduates. High school counselors and teachers may also be a good source to recent grads or current students.
Think about it
Research and asking questions can provide the information that students need to make a decision, but asking and answering the important questions can only be done by a student with their family. How did the student feel during their campus visit? Did the school offer both the academic and social aspects that will lead to success? Will they be happy there? These basic questions might lead to some further reflection about each school.
Make your decision
The good news is that schools don’t need to hear back immediately. Many colleges don’t expect a final decision until May 1, so students and families have some time to make up their mind. Lay out the pros and cons and find the school that fits best with financial, academic and career goals. Remember, though, that colleges are serious about reply deadlines. Not sending a deposit by the deadline can lose a student’s place in the incoming class.
Video: Identify, Separate Loans From Grants on Award Letters to Better Understand Out-Of-Pocket Costs
Getting accepted into college is an exciting moment for students and families who are ready to embark on the next part of their educational journey, but can often be offset by concerns about just how much school will cost both now and after graduation.
Financial aid award letters help students and families get a better understanding of what to expect both in terms of money being provided by the school and state, through scholarships and grants, and costs of attendance (COA) at the school.
In part two of our “Understanding Your Financial Aid Award Letter” video series, we discuss how to best identify repayable financial aid options and separate them from scholarships and grants to get a better picture of the actual financial responsibility that will be required to attend a school.
More often than not, there is a gap between the “free” money being offered to a student and the COA, leaving families to determine the best way to meet the financial requirements.
On many letters, both federal and private loans are included as possible options to bridge that gap. However, as there is currently no standard format for schools to consistently show financial aid options, loan amounts are often included in the same area as scholarships or grants. At a quick glance, families might not realize that loans, which must be repaid after graduation, are being included with the “free” money of grants and scholarships.
For more tips, advice and information for preparing for college, check out Iowa College Aid’s “Your Course to College,” a free downloadable guide for students, families and schools available at https://www.iowacollegeaid.gov/YourCourse