Mentors

Knowing How to Avoid Summer Melt Can Help Meet Your Academic Goals

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For many, summer vacation is the reward for a year of hard work and dedication in the classroom. But for those moving from high school to college, the months between graduation and arriving on campus can be fraught with challenges and distractions that can lead to students not completing their college goals.

“Summer melt” is the name given to those students who, for whatever reason, apply to a college, accept admission, but never arrive after high school graduation. There are many factors that can drive a student toward summer melt. Being aware of a few of those, and taking the steps to stay focused on the college path, can help make sure that the only thing that melts this summer is your ice cream!

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Keep in touch with Counselors and Reach out to College Advisers

School counselors are there to help when challenges arise. Before graduation, students should ask high school counselors what resources are available to them in the summer. Need a helpful boost or reminder of why it’s important to get to college? Give your counselor a call!

Colleges are also looking to help students stay on track during the summer transition, many schools can reach out to students by text and email to make sure that the important dates during the summer transition aren’t missed.

Find a Mentor

It’s always easier to tackle a new challenge if you’ve spoken to someone who’s been through it. Community groups, schools and other non-profits offer mentors who can talk to students about the transition to college. But it can be as easy as talking to anyone you know who’s either in or graduated from college. Don’t be afraid to bring up your concerns about the transition when talking to a mentor. These relationships can last beyond the transition to freshman year and can offer a resource for support both in school and down the road. To hear some advice from first-generation students about making the move to college, check out our video “What I Wish Someone Had Told Me.”

Visit the College Website

Your school’s website is a great resource to answer questions you might have before starting school. Everything from student life, financial issues, academics, organizations and more can be found on a school’s website. Take some time to review the website, even before your student orientation. You’ll have a level of expertise that will make the transition to college that much easier.

Look into Placement Testing Before Orientation

Most schools have some sort of placement testing for incoming first-year students. These tests help gauge where students are in math, reading, and writing skills and makes sure students are taking the courses appropriate for their level of understanding in each subject. Some colleges will offer these tests at orientation, others require students to do them online or on-campus before fall semester starts. Students should make sure to contact the college to know when they need to take the tests.

Check College Health Insurance Plans

Many colleges have health insurance plans for students. Students should check their college’s requirements early to see whether it is affordable. Sometimes, colleges will automatically enroll students in the college’s health care plan. If a student already has qualifying insurance, they can usually apply for a waiver. To learn more about transitioning healthcare for students after high school, read the healthcare guide.

Take the time to emotionally prepare

No matter how much you prepare, college is a big change for many people. Whether you’re travelling far away or staying close to home, college is a major step into adulthood, complete with personal responsibilities that may not have been part of your high school routine. The stress of that change can have negative effects, with many freshmen citing it as a reason for dropping out during their freshman year.

If you’re leaving home, take the time to get you (and your family) used to the idea of you not being there every day. And if you’re staying closer to home, start identifying the people you can lean on in times of stress or the ways that you can deal with the pressures of school in a positive way.

Believe in Yourself

The best support students can find to stay on path to college is themselves. Remember: You’ve done the hard part and gained acceptance to college. Your dream of an education, as well as the career and life that comes with it is in your reach. But you can’t get your degree if you don’t show up.

For more tips and advice for planning for, getting to and succeeding in college, check out Iowa College Aid’s Your Course to College.

Avoid Getting Stressed Out Over College Decision With These Tips

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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.

Three students studying and learning in a coffee shop

“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.

Some Recommendations on Recommendation Letters

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College Application Month is underway away (including the Iowa College Application Campaign, part of Iowa College Aid’s 3-Step Process), and students are working to complete packages that will best showcase to colleges who they are as a person and a student. An important, though sometimes overlooked part of the application, is the recommendation letter. A good letter can provide a broader picture of what makes a student unique and well-suited for a school, while a bad one can come off as obligatory and offer no personal connection to the subject. Here are some tips to consider when pursuing application letters:

Who Needs Recommendation Letters?

Most schools will state if a letter of recommendation is required or optional, though some may provide the opportunity to provide both. Usually, required letters will be asked from a school counselor or teachers with whom the student has worked. Even if a school only requires an optional letter, students should take advantage of the opportunity to present someone who can reinforce their strengths to an admissions officer.

Recommendations can be essential in the following situations:

  1. A student needs someone else to help explain an obstacle or hardship.  Learning disabilities, deaths in the family, unusual personal or family challenges can all fall into this category and a school counselor is often the person who can help explain.
  2. The applicant needs clarification from a school official to explain what is or isn’t on the transcript.  If a student was unable to complete a certain course because it wasn’t offered on campus or limited by school policy, the school counselor can help explain.
  3. A student knows their application will undergo review.  Letters of recommendation from teachers and optional essays will help in the holistic review process.

Who Should Write Recommendation Letters?

Finding the right person to write a student’s recommendation letter is a strategic decision. The right person will know a student well, be able add something to the application that isn’t well represented in the student resume and essays and can speak to your child’s academic strengths?

Students should include at least one academic teacher who has taught them in class for at least one full semester.  Even if the student didn’t earn an A, a the teacher who can discuss a student’s academic abilities will go a long way to supplementing a list of activities from a student’s resume. Teachers should be encouraged to illustrate with specific examples, if possible, showing how a particular project, paper or situation showed student strengths through handling the work.

Who Should NOT Write a Letter of Recommendation?

The desire to get a big or recognizable name to write a letter of recommendation will not only serve as a poor replacement for quality letters people who know the student well, they can actually undercut the impact of a letter if the writer only offers a broad recommendation that doesn’t show closer knowledge. Just because a family member might be connected to an influential community member or businessperson doesn’t mean that a letter can replace one written by a person who knows the student as a person.

#GEARUPWorks Thanks To Strong Staff, Parent Engagement in Denison, Storm Lake and Perry

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While National GEAR UP Week draws to a conclusion, the work of GEAR UP Iowa facilitators throughout the state continues. Working closely with schools, students and families, GEAR UP Iowa serves as a critical tool to increasing college enrollment and completion by 2020. Though Iowa stands as the nation’s leader in high school graduation, Iowa’s continued success and growth relies on encouraging students to continue their education beyond high school. Doing so not only gives students the skills to serve a growing economy, but to personally thrive within it.

GEAR UP Iowa Facilitator Flow Slowing works with students in Perry, Denison and Storm Lake, Iowa. As a Latina, she appreciates not only the efforts required to increase education after high school for all students, but also the unique difficulties that face Latinos as they frequently face additional cultural challenges as first-generation students. Armed with engaged teacher and parent teams in her districts, Slowing believes that GEAR UP Iowa’s work with students in these districts will make a positive impact not only on student lives but also on the health of their communities. She shares her experiences from her first year of work with Perry, Dennison and Storm Lake:

As a GEAR UP Iowa facilitator, I have had the privilege of working with Denison, Perry and Storm Lake school districts.  These districts are striving to create inclusive learning environments in their schools to better serve a diverse group of students. I am very passionate about working with underrepresented students and their families, particularly with Latinos. My daily work is informed by the importance of cultural responsive services to promote higher education among immigrant students and their families.

Immigrant students bring both opportunities and challenges to schools and communities. GEAR UP Iowa program is supporting these schools in creating a college going culture among their students, families and communities.

At Perry Middle School, counselor Jody Schuttler manages the GEAR UP grant with the great support of Principal Shaun Kruger. Both are very committed to their students and are always thinking about innovative ways to engage students and families. Some of the services that GEAR UP Iowa students received during the first year include:

  • Tutoring and mentoring
  • Enrichment activities: Students who had 90% of homework completion participated in an Adventure Learning Trip that focused on developing communication, problem solving and cooperation skills.
  • College and Career exploration: Around 150 students participated in a field trip to DMACC Center in Perry. They spent time doing hands-on activities in the fields of welding, health occupations, criminal justice and computer programming.
  • Family engagement: During parent teacher conferences, parents and students received information about the GEAR UP Iowa program and scholarships. In addition, 10 Latino families participated in Juntos “Together for a better education” , a series of workshops that promote high school graduation and postsecondary education among Latino families.

Denison’s fantastic GEAR UP Iowa team includes Director of Secondary School Improvement Scott Moran, Director of Elementary School Improvement Heather Lagerfel and Denison Middle School 8th grade teacher Maggie Gorman, who also serves as the school’s GEAR UP Iowa coordinator. This group meets regularly to discuss data on student academic performance and to ensure that GEAR UP Iowa activities address the students’ academic needs. During the first year they offered the following services:

  • After School Tutoring: Students were identified based on their academic needs and proficiency. The schools offered math and reading tutoring as well as homework help. Around 30 GEAR UP Iowa students were mentored by high school seniors in the Cadet Program. Mentors helped with homework and provided a nurturing relationship as role models.
  • Enrichment program: The GEAR UP Iowa team at Denison Middle Scholl created two after-school clubs. The Engineer Club focused on the fields of electrical, mechanical, civil, and computer engineer while the Earth Club focused on agriculture, gardening and conservation.
  • Family Orientation Night: GEAR UP Iowa students and families learned about the GEAR UP Iowa program and its benefits. Students received special certificates for their involvement. Separate meetings were held in English and Spanish to accommodate families.
  • Denison also acquired National Clearinghouse Tracking Analysis to track students’ educational attainment after high school graduation.

For the upcoming year, Denison is planning to continue their tutoring, enrichment and mentoring program, as well as activities for college exploration and family financial awareness.

Storm Lake Middle School Principal Jay Slight oversees the GEAR UP Iowa grants at his school. He is very committed to serve a diverse group of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and believes in the importance of professional development to increase student academic achievement. We are also fortunate to have an enthusiastic group of teachers and counselors who share the GEAR UP Iowa goals.

These are some of the services that GEAR UP Iowa students at Storm Lake Middle School received during the first year.

  • Support programs: Selected students participated in AVID classes to increase student achievement and interest on higher education.
  • Tutoring: Students received after-school reading and math programs, interventions during the school day and lunch “study table” in order to increase their proficiency in math and reading.
  • Mentoring: Twenty students were mentored through the “Team Mates” program, which featured many college student mentors.
  • College Exploration: Students visited Buena Vista University and had the opportunity to learn about college requirements, scholarships and financial aid while touring the campus.
  • Family Engagement: Students and families learned about the GEAR UP Iowa program and had the opportunity to learn more about Iowa State University. An ISU admission counselor shared information about college requirements and the importance on getting good grades in school and participating in extracurricular activities.

Storm Lake parents have also stepped up to offer support. Two Storm Lake Middle School parents (Emilia Marroquin, who serves as Outreach Coordinator at Head Start, and Nichole Kleepsies, County Youth Education Coordinator at ISU Extension & Outreach) have helped create a GEAR UP Iowa parent group in Storm Lake to grow with GEAR UP Iowa students as they progress through school.

Each of these communities allow me to further understand both strengths and barriers among underrepresented students as they strive to graduate from high school and continue with postsecondary education. The GEAR UP Iowa program is sending a powerful message to students, letting them know that we, as a country, believe in their potential to pursue postsecondary education and will be there to support them academically and financially through this journey. The GEAR UP Iowa program is providing services and scholarships to increase educational attainment among minority students, but most important the program presents open opportunities and brings hope.

For Des Moines and Marshalltown, #GEARUPWorks with college visits, outreach programs and family nights

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Our celebration of National GEAR UP Week continues with a look at two Central Iowa districts, Des Moines and Marshalltown. GEAR UP Iowa facilitator Tiffany Berkenes brings career experience with such groups as Trio and Upward Bound to bear on her work with Iowa College Aid, a passion that shows in her work with GEAR UP Iowa schools. She discusses the impact of programs like GEAR UP Iowa on schools and shares the ways that schools in her districts are building a “college-going” for students.Brody

“It takes a village to raise a child” is a quote that mirrors my holistic philosophy on education and how our communities and nation can most effectively guide our students towards academic success. You’ll often see me use #ittakesavillage on my @GEARUP_Tiffany Twitter posts or retweets and it is one of many reasons why I pursued this position as a GEAR UP Facilitator.

I have had the privilege of initiating collaborative discussions among schools and district personnel, parents, students, community partners, colleges/universities and other college access professionals to review needs and develop services of which will improve college and career readiness for ALL students. I truly believe that preparing our youth for higher education, the workforce, and how they can be global citizens of good character through events such as college visits, mentoring and non-cognitive skill development have a direct impact on everyone, and the economy.

Students are our future and they are my #1 priority as I work with my assigned GEAR UP districts, Des Moines Public Schools and Marshalltown Community School District. I was excited to continue working with Des Moines when I started with GEAR UP since I worked closely with their schools and students at my previous job with Upward Bound.

I’d like to highlight below some of the successes and anticipated GEAR UP activities at the middle schools in Des Moines and Marshalltown:

Marshalltown Career Days

  • Marshalltown hosted Career Days in which 80 staff and community members presented about their careers and educational paths to students and parents

Graceland U College Visit

  • Des Moines Weeks had their nearly 200 7th grade students visit Central College, University of Northern Iowa, Iowa Central Community College, Indian Hills Community College or Graceland University and all ten middle schools will be hosting college visit days this academic year
    • In fact, Weeks reported that approximately 70% of students agreed or strongly agreed that going on a campus visit changed the way they think about college in a positive way and 80% agreed or strongly agreed that they could see themselves on a college campus after they graduate from high school.
  • Marshalltown and Des Moines Goodrell staff participated in ISU Extension’s Juntos facilitator training and many schools plan on implementing this 5-session Latino family workshop series

Brody Library

  • Des Moines Brody purchased several books and resources to create a college and career library for student exploration and for teachers to use within the classroom
  • All of the schools plan on hosting family nights with speakers such as College Savings Iowa and Iowa State University’s Middle School Outreach Counselor, Nick Morton, discussing financial aid and college planning
  • Des Moines Callanan will be sending all 8th graders next month to the ISU Extension Adventure Learning Center ropes course, which will encourasge students to work on communication, problem solving, teambuilding and leadership development

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  • The Des Moines Hiatt counselor, Julia Minnehan, will be leading a new Girls on the Run program next semester, which is a transformational physical activity based on positive youth development by teaching life skills through interactive lessons and running games

I look forward to hearing how our GEAR UP students are positively impacted by these opportunities and continuing to be an integral part of the TEAM effort to enhance learning and increase college aspirations through early awareness! After all, as Nelson Mandela proclaimed, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

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!

Join a Local Networking Group

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One of the mypcost reiterated pieces of job searching advice is the importance of networking. One of the easiest ways to incorporate this is to join a local young professionals group through your company, industry or metropolitan area, such as the Young Professionals Connections of Greater Des Moines (YPC). This organization not only gives me the opportunity to make professional contacts, but also a chance to volunteer, socialize and learn more about what Des Moines has to offer.

This organization has helped me feel at home since I moved here after college graduation and continues to open more opportunities, from athletics to fashion fundraisers. Membership costs for these organizations are often very reasonable, or you may even be able to get your company to pay for it if you can make a convincing case of why this membership benefits your current position. Membership to networking groups can also include perks such discounted rates at local businesses and events.

Through YPC, I’ve heard various speakers on such topics as leadership, perseverance and how to be resourceful. Come prepared to events featuring speakers so you can ask intelligent questions and offer valuable comments. The best part of having these speakers in a small environment is the chance you get to ask questions and connect with these professionals on an individual basis. After all, you don’t want to wait until you need a job to start making connections and asking for references. Building up these relationships now will make any future job searches or graduate school applications that much easier because I’ll already have an established network of professionals.

Another important aspect to consider when joining a young professionals group is the opportunity to take a leadership role. Serving as head of a committee or project will enable you to meet even more key players in your community while also gaining valuable management skills. I look forward to pursuing one of these positions in the future and to all the volunteer opportunities available this summer.

So whether you are currently job hunting or have already begun your career, join a networking group to enrich your professional possibilities and connections!