College

These FAFSA Tips Will Help Save Time, Avoid Mistakes

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For the second year, October 1 marks the availability of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the next academic year.  The FAFSA is a standardized application used to determine eligibility for federal grants, loans and work-study funds from the federal government.  Additionally, many colleges and states, including Iowa, use FAFSA information when determining eligibility for institutional and state financial aid programs. It’s kind of a big deal!

When it comes to the FAFSA, remember these tips:

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 http://www.fafsa.gov.  Reputable resources, including Iowa College Aid, are available to help 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.

Electronically access the FAFSA. The FSA ID comprises of a username and password. Users who have not already done so, will be directed to a link to register for a new FSA ID upon arriving at the http://www.fafsa.gov website. The registration process should take less than seven minutes.

Meet state and college deadlines.  Many states, including Iowa, have FAFSA filing deadlines for state-funded scholarships, grants and work-study opportunities. Keep in mind most colleges and universities have their own FAFSA filing deadlines. You should check with your 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 your Social Security number and your parent’s Social Security number are typed in the correct spaces.  Mix-ups like these will cause processing delays.

It’s easier than ever with the data retrieval tool. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool allows students and parents to access their IRS federal tax return information from the IRS website and securely transfer the necessary data directly into their FAFSA. It is highly recommended that you use the data retrieval tool if you are eligible as it is the best way to ensure that your FAFSA has accurate tax information.  An added bonus is that IRS transferred information means that you won’t need to provide a copy of your or your parent’s tax return to your college. 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.

Iowa Residents: Don’t forget to complete the Iowa Financial Aid Application! Upon completion of the FAFSA, all Iowa resident applicants have the option to link to the Iowa Financial Aid Application directly from their FAFSA confirmation page. If eligible, you will have the ability to pre-populate most of your demographic data to the Iowa application in the process.  This not only streamlines the federal and state financial aid application process but also solidifies access to the Iowa application if you had not been informed of its availability.

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FAFSA: The Most Important Tool for Financial Aid

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The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a key part of college financial aid. While many families might think that the FAFSA is only for lower-income households, the truth is that the application helps make federal, state and school funds available for all students, regardless of their family’s income.

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Here are some reasons to complete the FAFSA:

  1. To qualify for a variety scholarships and grants. Many federal and state scholarships (including those in Iowa) require a completed FAFSA for consideration, even when those scholarships and grants do not consider family income. FAFSA information can also impact the financial aid offered by schools in terms of grants or other awards.
  2. Some financial aid opportunities are available on a limited basis. Completing the FAFSA as soon as possible gives students the best chance for receiving those aid amounts.
  3. Completing the FAFSA earlier gives students the time to focus on other parts of college preparation, such as completing college applications, focusing on coursework and applying for scholarships.
  4. When students have completed their FAFSA, schools can more easily provide estimated financial aid offers sooner. This makes comparing colleges much easier, as students will have a better idea of what their education will actually cost them at each school to which they are accepted.

Find Your Major Without a Major Headache

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Attending college opens a student to a variety of new experiences and for many this includes new options of subjects to study. Many college students arrive at campus with an idea of what they want to study and consider for their career. But when facing new options, many students change their major at least once.

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Changing majors can lead to retaking classes, which means more time on campus and, often, more money needed in financial aid. While people are certainly prone to change and should be willing to consider which direction their life will take them, putting in some early thought to your major will make it more likely that you’ll find a major that is the right fit if you base your decision on your career planning and your experience. Here are some topics to consider:

Your Interests
Think about the types of things you enjoy. Do you prefer working alone or in groups? Do you like working with data, or would you rather work with people? Start exploring by taking classes related to your interests.

Your Abilities
What high school courses are your best subjects?  What are your strengths and weaknesses? Do you see a pattern?

Your Work Values
What is important to you? Examples of work values include helping others, contributing to your community, being creative, solving problems, producing results, making a difference, leading others, having a structured day and being recognized.

Taking the time to ask some questions (and find the answers) about your possible major can also go a long way to figuring out if your plans can offer the best future. Some things to consider about a major include:

Why do I want this major?
Are you really interested and excited about the subject matter, or are you choosing something based on what your friends or family want you to do?

What do I know about it?
Look at the requirements and course descriptions. Talk to people who are currently studying this subject, or to graduates in this field.

Which colleges are strong in this field?
Not all majors are equal on a college campus. Some colleges specialize in certain majors or are known for strong programs in particular fields.

What is the career outlook?
How many students in this major find employment in their field after they graduate? Is the demand for jobs stronger in certain parts of the country? If so, are you willing to move?

Answering these questions won’t necessarily guarantee that you’ll still consider changing majors in school. But by having a good sense of your educational goals, you’ll be more likely to find a major that sticks.

Parents: The Valuable Key to GEAR UP Success

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For many families, the idea of building a college-going culture lives within the walls of the high school, with teachers, counselors and students driving the conversation about college. Parents, however, are the key partner in helping students stay on the path to achieving their goals of making it to college.

Some parents can draw upon their personal experiences with college. For first-generation students, though, that experience may be an incomplete one. That’s when the experience of GEAR UP Iowa offers the chance to expose both student and parent to the benefits of college. In many cases, this builds an even stronger belief in what attaining a college degree can mean to their student’s future.

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Earlier this year, a select group of students and parents attended the Youth Leadership Conference as part of NCCEP’s National GEAR UP Conference. Jennifer Maliszewski, a parent from Sioux City, attended the conference with her daughter Rylie. Both were inspired by what they experienced and learned (Rylie shared her experiences earlier this year). For Jennifer, being part of the conference showed her just how valuable parent involvement can be for students working in GEAR UP schools. She shares her thoughts:

I feel so very blessed to be able to go to San Francisco with my daughter and experience this amazing summit. I watched my daughter learn new skills and make some great life long friends.
In addition to all that I was able to attend the parent institute. They taught us about all the things we can do as parents to help support our students on their journey to college.  The work books, curriculum and presenter were simply Awesome! Everything was put into terms easy for parents with no experience with college to understand and be able to navigate.
The information was priceless to me. It showed me things I never would have thought about like, making sure the school your student selects is the right fit for them and their goals. Not just the school their friends are going to or following a family tradition. Also to make sure they are challenging themselves and not just sliding by. They need the challenge to grow! Also they need to start building their resumes early and give themselves an advantage. They can accomplish this by job shadowing and internships. They also need to learn how to set goals, be persistent, be self aware, have motivation, be able to seek help, and learn how to fail forward. Failing forward means that they will fail in one way or another in their life. Students need to learn how to use that failure, learn from it and grow. There are SO many other things that are just as valuable for parents to know. It’s our job to help our students in every way we can so that they succeed in life!
My only suggestion is that EVERY GEAR UP PARENT NEEDS THIS INFORMATION. It’s too valuable for it only to be available to a few people.
Thank you again for this amazing experience!

Why Go to College, Anyway? Here’s Four (or More) Reasons!

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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.

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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:

Earning potential
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.

Employability
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.

Knowledge
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.

Start Putting Together Your College Plan Now With This High School Checklist

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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.

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Freshman Year

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.

Sophomore Year

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.

Junior Year

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.

Senior Year

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.

New to a College Campus? Make a Smoother Adjustment With These Tips!

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For new college students, the excitement of the first few days on campus can quickly turn to anxiety over meeting new people, being away from home for possibly the first time, finding ways to stay involved and balancing it all with school work. While some might find themselves paralyzed with options, having a gameplan on how to make the adjustment to college can make all the difference in starting on the right foot toward success.

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Iowa College Aid’s “Your Course to College” guide offers tips for high school students preparing for college as well as advice on how to hit the ground running once they get there. This free guide is available for order or download on the Iowa College Aid website, but to help those students looking to blaze a trail at their new campus, here are some tips on how to make the most out of the early days on a college campus and some of the changes that students will face:

Four Differences Between High School and College
  1. Managing Time
    In college, your days are not as routine and predictable as they were in high school. You might be in class just a few hours a day. Some students struggle with their newfound freedom. You’ll be expected to make your own schedule and keep up with your classes, activities and work.
  2. Academic Expectations
    You might fall behind if you simply maintain the level of effort that got you through high school. Plan on studying two to three hours outside class for every hour in class. Don’t expect your professor to seek you out if you aren’t doing well. It is up to you to find resources and to ask for help.
  3. Responsibility
    Your parents will not be there to wake you in the morning. Your professors won’t make sure you are keeping up with required reading and assignments. It is your responsibility to follow the class syllabus. Sometime the syllabus is the only notification you’ll receive about quizzes and assignments.
  4. Relationships
    You had years to get comfortable with your high school friends. It’s all new in college. It is an adjustment, and relationships take time to develop.
How to Get Involved on Campus

Much of your college experience will happen outside the classroom. Although studies should be your top priority, getting involved on campus is a great way to ease the transition into college and build your resume.

  • Meet new people
    Join a club or organization to make friends and network with those who have similar interests, goals and values.
  • Get Real-world experience
    Career-related organizations offer an excellent opportunity to build leadership, communication and teamwork skills.
  • Build connections
    Campus involvement often creates a stronger connection to your school. This will increase your college satisfaction and reduce the likelihood of transferring or dropping out.
  • Find your balance
    Campus involvement teaches you to find balance between your schoolwork and activities—a skill that will serve you in your professional career as well.
Get to Know Your Advisor

One of your most essential resources is your academic advisor. While their main task is assisting you in registering for classes, advisors can provide a wealth of knowledge regarding classes, graduation requirements, internships, job hunting and industry contacts. Here’s how to get the most from your appointments.

  • Schedule in Advance
    Advisors are busy. Email well before the date you want an appointment and be flexible. Realize that your advisor has other students to meet with in addition to teaching courses and conducting research.
  • Don’t be a Stranger
    Get to know your advisor so he or she can take your interests into account when making suggestions. Topics to cover might include insight into different professors, scheduling suggestions and goal planning. Your advisor is also a great person to write letters of recommendation.
  • Be Prepared
    Have a list of questions with you and write down the answers. When you are prepared, your academic advisor can readily point you to critical information, help you understand administrative processes and academic programs and connect you to valuable resources.
  • Share your Concerns
    Let your advisor know if you are having trouble adjusting or struggling with a class. Your advisor can put you in touch with campus resources including tutoring, financial aid, scholarships and ways to get involved. He or she can also provide tips for transitioning to college classroom learning and help you to balance your time.