Scholarships

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.
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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.

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.

Your Course to College: Finding Funds for School

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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.

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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.

Career-Based Loan Forgiveness Programs Can Help With Student Debt

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For most students graduating from college, financial aid debt is reality that can impact everything from buying a house to starting a family. Fortunately, there are a number of loan repayment and forgiveness programs that help those graduates in certain fields help pay down their student loan debt in return for their work.

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Programs are available on both the federal level and in the state of Iowa for those in the education, public service, healthcare and legal professions. However, the qualifications for these programs are often specific or require that the employee work in a specific geographical or subject area in order to obtain the award. Here are some loan forgiveness and repayment programs open to Iowa graduates:

Education

  • The Teach Iowa Scholar (TIS) Program provides qualified Iowa teachers with awards of up to $4,000 a year, for a maximum of five years, for teaching in Iowa schools in designated shortage areas. Qualified teachers are those currently teaching in designated shortage areas who meet all eligibility criteria. Find out more here.
  • The federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program offers forgiveness of a combined total of $17,500 from direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans in return for teaching full-time for five complete and consecutive academic years in certain elementary and secondary schools and educational service agencies that serve low-income families. Criteria and details can be found here.

Healthcare

  • The Iowa Registered Nurse & Nurse Educator Loan Forgiveness Program offers qualified applicants an annual award of up to 20% of  their total eligible federal student loan balance. Applicants must be registered nurses employed in Iowa or nurse educators teaching at eligible Iowa colleges and universities. Details here.
  • The NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program is a national program that supports registered nurses (RNs), advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), and nurse faculty by paying up to 85% of their unpaid nursing education debt. Qualification criteria and details here

Public Service

  • The John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program is federally-funded program provides loan repayment awards to public prosecutors and defenders employed in the state of Iowa who agree to remain in their positions for 3 years. Details here.
  • The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program forgives the remaining balance on Direct Loans after making 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for a qualifying government or non-profit organization. Details and qualifying employer types can be found here.

Attorneys

  • Lawyers working with the federal Department of Justice can have up to $6,000 of student debt forgiven per year as part of the agency’s Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program. Details and qualifying criteria can be found here.

 

Finding Free Money for College: A High-Paying Part-Time Job

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There’s no way around it: getting the degree or certificate that will connect you with your future costs money. No matter the type of education students pursue after high school, cost will often play a factor in not only determining where students go to school, but, in many cases, impact whether or not they complete their degree and find the career they’ve long sought.

Many students and families rely on private student loans which come with interest rates that can feel daunting not only during school but in the years after. However, thanks to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), students are discovering many roads to free money that can help reduce their student debt and help them succeed.

Completing the FAFSA arms students with a tool, a baseline of financial information and need for aid that can be used for a variety of state and federal grants, as well as private scholarships. There are many ways for students to find free money that require nothing more than the time to research and apply in order to receive some financial help for their education. Here are few places to start:

State Grants and Scholarships

The state of Iowa provides funding for grant programs to help with higher education costs. Students who receive Iowa-funded grants and scholarships must be Iowa residents, attend an eligible Iowa college or university and meet other criteria specific to each program. Scholarships and grants do not have to be repaid and can significantly reduce college expenses. The chart below provides an overview of the application requirements for each scholarship and grant administered by Iowa College Aid. For specific criteria, go to IowaCollegeAid.gov.

Private Scholarships

Every year, MILLIONS of dollars in private scholarships go unclaimed; not because no qualified candidates applied, but because no candidates applied at all.

Scholarships are available from private sources including businesses, foundations, religious organizations, community groups and fraternal organizations. High school counselors are excellent resources for scholarship information, as are libraries and college financial aid administrators.

Web searches also allow students and families to explore scholarship possibilities. Reputable organizations will NOT charge fees for scholarship searches.

Think of finding scholarships like a part-time job. If you spend 5 hours researching and applying for scholarships that lead to a $1,000 scholarship, you’ve just made $200 per hour. That’s pretty good money for working part-time! Here are some ways to track down private scholarship opportunities:

  • Work: Have your parents ask whether their employers offer college scholarships to children of employees.
  • School networks: Many high schools offer scholarships for graduating students. Also check with the area alumni association of your college.
  • Community organizations: Many community organizations sponsor local scholarships. Check your city’s website or call your local community center for lists of organizations in your area.
  • Religious organizations: Find out if your place of worship offers scholarships. If not, it might partner with other organizations.
  • Field of study: Your college might offer scholarships specific to your major. Contact your program department.

College and University Scholarships

Your college or university might provide scholarships or financial awards from its institutional funds. Often, institutional scholarships go to recipients who meet specific requirements related to particular areas of study, academic achievements, outstanding talent, leadership, athletic ability or other criteria. Contact the financial aid office and ask about institutional programs available through the college or through on-campus organizations.

Federal Grants

Federal grants are awarded to both Iowa resident and non-resident students. Eligible students can receive these federal grants for attendance at any postsecondary education institution participating in the program. Federal grants include:

  • Pell Grants
    Pell Grants are funded by the federal government to assist the neediest undergraduate students. The maximum award is $5,920 for the 2017-18 award year.
  • Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants
    Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG) are based on financial need. Eligible recipients receive between $100 and $4,000 per year. Not all colleges participate.
  • Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants (TEACH Grants)
    The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant program helps students in teaching preparation programs. In exchange for a TEACH Grant, recipients agree to serve as full-time teachers in high-need fields in public or private non-profit elementary or secondary schools that serve low-income students. These grants are available to eligible undergraduate, post-baccalaureate and graduate students for a maximum amount of $4,000 per year. Students must meet academic standards.

Taking the time to track down free money for school now may seem like hard work, but the impact it will make in saving students from debt as they start their careers will be an even greater reward as they start their careers.