College Visits: What to Ask

A visit to a college campus is a great way to familiarize yourself with the overall atmosphere on campus and see what daily life there may be like. It’s important to find the right fit financially and personally so that you save time and money in attaining your degree. Choose from among the questions below to ask on your next college visit.

What to Ask an Admissions Representative

  • Is admission need-blind (meaning financial background does not impact admission) or need-aware (meaning that full-pay students are more likely to be admitted or that there’s a limited number of scholarships for financially needy students)?
  • Is there an introductory freshman year experience, such as a service or camp opportunity?
  • Is there a culminating senior year experience?
  • What is the average class size for introductory or general education classes?
  • Are students required to live on campus? Every year?
  • Are dorms available or guaranteed for upperclassmen?
  • What are the food plan requirements when living on campus? How does the food service accommodate food allergies/sensitivities?
  • How do AP, IB and dual enrollment classes, SAT subject test scores and CLEP test scores count for credit?
  • How does class scheduling/academic advising work? How and when do freshmen sign up for classes?
  • How does the school help students take the right classes at the right time to graduate in four years?

What to Ask a Financial Aid Representative

  • How do outside scholarships affect financial aid? Will they replace other awarded aid or be stacked on top of it?
  • What are the work-study opportunities on campus?
  • What campus employment is available for students not awarded work-study?
  • Is alternative financial aid, such as service-based scholarships, available?
  • Do financial aid packages change after freshman year?
  • How many campus and departmental scholarships are available after freshman year?

What to Ask a Representative of Your Major

  • What is the student-faculty ratio in my major?
  • What is the average class size for upper division classes in my major?
  • What opportunities for undergrad research would be available to me?
  • How many undergraduate students conduct research?
  • Is there a separate admission process for my major, and what does that entail?
  • What is the admission rate for students of my declared major?
  • Is my major impacted or highly selective? Or, is there a chance my major will be eliminated before I graduate?
  • How many students get internships? What is the process for finding internships?
  • Do companies come to campus to recruit? Is there an annual career fair for students in my major?
  • What is the role of teaching assistants for my major?
  • What does it take to graduate in four years?

What to Ask Your Tour Guide

  • How many students live on campus versus off-campus? How many commute?
  • Are art or music spaces available to non-majors?
  • What IT services are available, and how much do they cost students?
  • What is the campus sports atmosphere?
  • What do students on campus think of my intended major? Does it have a reputation?
  • What happens when there is an emergency, such as severe weather or an active shooter?

What to Ask Students on Campus

  • How crowded are dorms?
  • What happens on weekends and breaks? Do many students leave campus?
  • What other schools did you look at and why did you decide on this one?
  • What is the social life like?
  • How do you get around campus or to shopping, the airport or the entertainment district?
  • Do most students have bikes or cars?
  • How much does it cost to live off-campus and what are the options?
  • How hard is it to get into required classes?
  • Are you able to meet with your professors when you want to?
  • What are your favorite and least favorite things about this college?
  • Where do students get food other than the dining centers?
  • How do students view fraternities and sororities?
  • What are the most popular activities on campus?

What to Ask Yourself

  • Does the student body seem friendly and welcoming?
  • Are the library and other student academic centers up to date and are students using these resources?
  • What is available to eat in the dining center and how many options are there on a daily basis?
  • Where do students gather and how do they interact with each other?
  • Does the bus system run on time and go where needed? Does it seem overcrowded or underused?
  • What do I think of the main buildings, labs and facilities for my major and other main interests?
  • What does the student newspaper, posted fliers and notices tell me about the campus?

By: Iowa Student Loan

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Start the College Conversation

Middle school is a great time for students to start thinking about and discussing their plans after high school. It may feel like your child just headed off to the first day of school, but time passes quickly and now is the time to plan for high school and beyond.

Here are eight ways to start a conversation with your student.

1. Connect current interests. Observe the things your child enjoys and discuss how these activities translate into college majors and careers. Even if you are sure your child won’t end up as a chef, talking about cooking for a living helps your student think about the connection between interests and careers. Just remember that as your child matures, his or her interests will change as well.

2. Explore career possibilities. Your student might have some idea of what you do for a living and is likely familiar with several common jobs like teacher, police officer, doctor and lawyer. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Talk about what people you work with do, as well as the careers of extended family members, friends and acquaintances. Help your student see the nuances between different careers and how people got to the point where they are today.

3. Define “college.” What do you and your student think of when you hear the word “college”? Explore the different types of postsecondary options and the types of careers associated with them to help your child understand their future choices. Visiting different campuses can help.

4. Stress the importance of academic habits. Middle school grades and test scores usually don’t count for college admission considerations, but now is the time to set good habits and define expectations. High school course rigor and grades, along with standardized test scores, play a major role in college admissions. Set the stage now by talking about what’s happening at school and how to improve.

5. Make a financial plan. Discuss the current and projected future cost of college and what that means for your family. If you expect your student to work in high school or college to help offset costs, talk about that now. In addition, let your student know what kind of college savings or funding he or she can expect from the family. This will help clarify the college choice down the road.

6. Talk about academic options. If your student performs well in middle school, there may be an opportunity to advance in coursework. Taking high school classes in middle school frees up time for more advanced classes, and even classes that count for college credit, in high school. In addition, standardized test scores may help your student qualify for substantial merit-based scholarships for college.

7. Clarify expectations. Some families assume their children will attend college; others assume their children won’t. Where does your family fall on this scale and how does that fit with your student’s own ideas? Encourage your child to think in terms of financial and personal goals and how college affects those.

8. Share your own experience. Discuss your favorite and least favorite aspects of your own education and what you would do differently. Share how the choices you made or the situations you were in affected what came after.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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Planning for Student Loan Repayment

It can be tough to know where to start with student loan repayment. After you graduate from college, you typically have six months before repayment starts on your student loans. This is your grace period, the time for you to figure out your job and living situation before you are expected to start making payments.

Gather Your Loan Information
The important thing during this time is to get your budget in line and figure out how much your monthly payments are going to be. The National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) is the US Department of Education’s central database for student aid and has the list of all your federal loans, how much you owe, your interest rate, who your loan servicer is, and their contact information. Visit https://www.nslds.ed.gov/nslds/nslds_SA/ to get started (you’ll need your FSA ID to gain access).

Private loans will not appear on the NSLDS website, so you’ll have to contact each lender individually for the loan information if you have any private loans.

Consider Consolidation
Once you have all your loan information gathered, the next decision is whether or not to consolidate. Consolidating your loans will take all your individual loans and payments and combine them into one balance and one payment.

Keep in mind that federal loans and private loans can only be consolidated together through some private loan options, and you will be forfeiting federal loan benefits to do so.

  • Private loans: Consolidation of private loans can be a good idea if you can get a lower interest rate than your current loans have individually. When you look into consolidation, inquire about the current loan rate. You can contact your loan servicer or visit their online account portal to determine your consolidation options and your repayment options.
  • Federal Loans: For federal loans, visit https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/consolidation to see the benefits of consolidation. While you can’t lower your federal loan rate, you may find other reasons this is beneficial for you.

Entering Repayment
Once you start repayment, there of several types of options for federal loans:

  • Standard Repayment
  • Graduated Repayment
  • Extended Repayment
  • Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment
  • Pay As Your Earn Repayment
  • Income-Based Repayment
  • Income-Contingent Repayment
  • Income-Sensitive Repayment

For all the details on these Federal Repayment Options, visit https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/understand/plans. For private loan repayment options, contact your loan provider.

Pick the plan that allows you to pay the debt down in the fastest amount of time with the least amount of interest. Some of the repayment options offer extended repayment terms up to 25 years and very low monthly payments. However, this just means you are incurring more interest and carrying the debt with you through most of your adult life. Other major financial decisions (such as purchasing a home) in your future can be impacted by your choice of student loan repayment plan.

You also want to focus on planning for retirement. After graduating from college retirement seems a lifetime away, however now is the best time to capitalize on that lifetime of savings. The more you can contribute to a 401(k) or Roth IRA now, the more time it has to grow.

The sooner you are out from under your student loan debt, the sooner you can start capitalizing on your financial freedom and bring your focus on your future goals.

Contributed by: Iowa College Access Network

This is Contributed Content. Any opinions, advice, statements, services, offers, or other information contained in Contributed Content are solely those of the respective author(s) or contributor(s) and do not necessarily state or reflect the opinion of Iowa Student Loan and/or this blog. See the “About” page for additional important information about Contributed Content.

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Giveaway for Educational Costs Approaches End

Iowa Student Loan’s most recent award program is coming to a close soon. The College Funding Forecaster Giveaway allowed Iowa high school students and their parents or guardians to enter drawings for awards after completing the online tool College Funding Forecaster.

Nearly 500 eligible registrants were entered into weekly drawings for two $250 awards for educational expenses. Over the course of the giveaway, $5,000 in weekly prizes were distributed to the drawing winners who completed the required steps to claim the prize.

High school 2017 graduates and their parents or guardians were also eligible to be entered into the grand prize drawing for two $1,500 scholarships to be paid directly to the winning student’s college in fall 2017. More than 400 registrants were eligible for that drawing, which will be conducted by an independent third party at the end of June. Winners will be notified in July, and the results will be published on the Iowa Student Loan website.

This was the first year for this giveaway, which encouraged Iowa families with college-bound students to use the free College Funding Forecaster tool to estimate total out-of-pocket expenses for a four-year undergraduate degree.

All Iowa Student Loan’s scholarships and programs play an important role in educating Iowa students and families about college planning and financing and in providing financial resources to help offset college costs. So far, nearly 17,000 students, parents and guardians from across the state have registered to receive valuable information, and more than 200 recipients have received more than $300,000 in awards.

Mark your calendar for the upcoming Save Now, Save Later: College Savings Plan Parent Giveaway, which opens near the beginning of the 2017–2018 school year.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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Student Loan Basics: What Parents and Cosigners Need to Know

StudentLoanBasics-ParentsNeedKnow

If a student in your life did not receive enough financial aid to cover the full cost of attendance for college, he or she may turn to you for financial help. If you are considering taking on a federal parent loan or cosigning a private student loan with your student, consider these important points.

1. Student debt is a financial decision.
You are likely emotionally invested in wanting to see your student succeed in college, but it’s important to remember student loans are a financial product and require objective, not emotional, consideration.

2. You are financially liable for the debt.
If you take out a federal Parent PLUS Loan, you are taking on the debt yourself. Carefully consider the repayment terms, interest rate and fees you may face.

If you are considering cosigning a private student loan, be aware that you will be responsible for payments if your student doesn’t make them. Late payments, delinquency and default will affect your credit.

3. The total repayment amount will be more than the loan amount.
Student loans generally accrue interest every day. Interest may also capitalize at certain times, such as when the student graduates or a period of assistance ends. This means accrued, unpaid interest will be added to the principal balance. In addition, you may have origination, late or other loan fees incorporated into the total repayment amount.

4. The responsibility can last as long as the loan term.
Student loans are not typically discharged in the event of bankruptcy or other circumstances. In addition, if your student doesn’t graduate, earn as much as anticipated after graduating or obtain the anticipated career, the debt doesn’t go away. If the loan has been disbursed, cosigners are equally responsible for payment.

Many lenders offer a cosigner release. If you are counting on being released from your obligation to repay the debt, pay careful attention to the requirements for obtaining this benefit. Your student will likely need to make a certain number of on-time payments and meet other conditions before cosigners are eligible for release.

5. Your circumstances may change before the debt is repaid.
If your child or grandchild is entering college now, consider how your income may change before the end of the anticipated loan term. Will you still be working or will you be stretching a retirement income to cover any payments? What happens if you or your student loses a job?

6. You can help your student successfully repay debt.
Preparing your student to fulfill his or her obligations for a cosigned loan or taking on PLUS Loan payments (if that is your and your student’s understanding) is an important step.

  • Research loan options. Consider interest rates, terms and fees, available repayment assistance in the event of hardship, borrower benefits and potential starting salary when thinking about your loan options.
  • Understand potential starting budget. It’s easy for an incoming college student to overestimate how much a starting career will pay and underestimate other expenses when they consider the cost of college and their ability to repay debt after graduation. Together with your student, go through ROCI Reality Check to see starting salaries and job outlook by specific major to gain a realistic view of life after graduation.
  • Monitor college success. Good grades, valuable job and internship experiences and appropriate career preparation can all help your student have an advantage in the job search. You can help your student position him- or herself for a starting salary that will allow manageable loan payments.
  • Make your plan. Experience the parent version of Student Loan Game Plan for tips and information on how to work with your student to ensure success.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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How Making Interest Payments Can Save You Big Money Later

If you’re funding part of your college education with student loans, you may occasionally receive statements, even though no payments are due. Ever wonder why?

Those statements are important, and understanding why can save you money in the long run.

They notify you that, even though you don’t have to make payments while you’re in school, interest is adding up on your loans — every single day. If this interest is not paid as it accrues or before your loans enter repayment (usually six months after you leave school), it will be added to your principal balance. If it is added to your principal balance (a process called capitalization), you will then owe more than you originally borrowed. And, the now larger principal balance starts to accrue interest on a daily basis, so you will be paying interest on the accrued interest.

How can you minimize this increase to your loan balance? If you manage to earn or save some money while you’re in school, you can make monthly payments that pay down the interest as it accrues.

Here’s an example of how making small payments every month could save you more than $1,500 over the full life of student loans.

Note: The information below is an example only. Your payment amounts will depend on the types of loans you receive and the interest rates and the repayment terms on those loans.

Making-Interest-Payments-SaveYouMoney-infographic

Download a PDF of this infographic.

Establishing Financial Habits

Making everyday spending decisions—like whether to order pizza or go to the Caribbean for Spring Break—in college, helps you establish the financial habits you’ll use in the future.

Although eating out every Friday night sounds like a good thing, it may be worth it to give up that treat in exchange for savings of thousands on your future student loan payments.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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A Monthly Budget Can Help You Repay Loans

Low on cash and wondering how you will start repaying your student loans?

Make and stick to a budget to make your monthly payments. Check out our budget calculator for more help.

If you are not out of school and in repayment, we have other calculators to help you succeed:

If you have trouble balancing your budget, check out these tips to reduce your spending:

By: Iowa Student Loan

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Know Your Student Loan Servicer

KnowYourStudLnServicer

As you begin your life after college, you likely have several different responsibilities, from a new job to managing your own insurance and other activities. One important task is to get to know the servicer or servicers for your student loans.

What Is a Student Loan Servicer?

Your student loan servicer is the organization that handles customer service, including collecting and tracking your payments, for the loan. Depending on the number and type of your student loans, you may have one servicer or several.

Why Do I Need to Know Who My Servicer Is?

You need to be aware of your servicer for several reasons.

  1. You will soon need to start repaying your student loans, and you need to know where and when to send payment. You may also want to set up features, such as an online account and automatic withdrawals, that will help you manage your student loan payments.
  2. Your servicer can help you understand and choose from available payment plans. Most borrowers enter repayment under a standard payment plan that pays off the loan in equivalent monthly payments over the full term of the loan, but you may be able to choose a different plan that works better for your current situation. If you are entering the workforce at less than what you expected to earn, you may be able to make lower payments based on your income or according to a preset formula at first. If, on the other hand, you have the chance to make higher payments now before you have additional family, car and housing expenses, work with your servicer to determine the best way to pay down your debt.
  3. Your servicer may offer assistance if needed. If you don’t have or lose your income or you face another difficulty that makes student loan repayment challenging, you may be eligible to postpone payment. You will need to work with your servicer to understand your options and choose the one that works for you. Be aware that interest continues to accrue on student loans during repayment, and unpaid interest may capitalize, or be added to your principal balance, at the end of assistance. In certain cases, you may be eligible to have some or all your student loan debt forgiven, and your servicer can help with that as well.

How Do I Locate My Servicer?

Your servicer may be the entity that provided your loan or it may be a separate entity that acts on behalf of the current owner of the loan.

  1. Determine if you have federal student loans. Often called Stafford or Direct loans, these loans are provided by the federal government and were likely included in the financial aid package you received from the college you attended.
  2. Use your FSA ID to log in to the National Student Loan Data System. If you filed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid after May 2015, you probably created an FSA ID then. If it’s been some time since you filed a FAFSA, you may need to visit fsaid.ed.gov to create an ID. Then go to nslds.ed.gov to log in and view your federal loan information, including the servicer.
  3. If you have private student loans you obtained from a bank, credit union or other lender to pay remaining college costs after your financial aid, refer to the information your lender provided when you took out the loan and progressed through school. As the due date for your first payment approaches, you will likely receive communications from the lender or servicer about how to make your payment.

If you can’t locate a private student loan servicer, contact the entity that lent you the money or your financial aid office. You may also be able to see your lender or servicer name on your credit report (remember to access a free report at annualcreditreport.com).

By: Iowa Student Loan

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Decision-Making Tips for Student Loan Debt

When available financial aid and federal student loans are not enough to cover the total college costs, many families turn to private student loans. These loans can be a useful way to cover the gap, but they are not all created equal.

When you are considering private student loan debt, use these decision-making tips.

Understand how student loan interest accrues.

  • Student loans accrue interest on a daily basis. Even if the borrower is not required to make payments while in school or for a period of time after leaving school, interest is accruing, so the repayment amount is more than the original loan amount.
  • Capitalization, or the addition of accrued interest to the principal balance, occurs in specific circumstances. According to the terms outlined by the loan’s credit agreement or promissory note, any unpaid interest will be added to the principal balance at specific times. When unpaid interest is added to the principal, interest begins to accrue on new balance, meaning that interest will be paid on interest.
  • Generally, payments are applied to any unpaid, outstanding interest with any remaining payment amount going toward principal. If a payment is not enough to cover all outstanding interest, the unpaid portion of interest is carried over to be paid by the next payment.
  • Increases to the loan balance may be prevented by payments that at least cover interest any time they are not required, such as while the borrower is in school. Most lenders allow prepayment of any amount without penalty.

Know your comfort level with interest rates.

  • Would you prefer a fixed or variable rate? A fixed rate is set for the life of the loan regardless of market conditions, helping ensure payment amounts remain constant. A variable rate may go up or down, sometimes dramatically, during the life of a loan, causing corresponding changes to payment amounts.
  • Is it important to know the interest rate before submitting the application? Some lenders provide only a range of available rates before the loan application is processed; others specify the criteria to receive specific rates. In either case, the borrower is able to decline a loan and reapply elsewhere if not satisfied with the rate received.

Be aware of fees and underwriting and credit criteria.

  • Read any information about what types of fees are assessed and when. Will an origination fee be charged when the loan is received? When do late fees kick in?
  • These fees are separate from the interest rate. An origination fee is a one-time expense; late fees are only assessed for payments made after the due date. Interest is charged on the balance of the loan until it is paid off. Compare the annual percentage rate (APR) between loans for a more accurate picture.
  • Some lenders publish more information about their underwriting and credit criteria than others do. If you are unable to find details about the types of borrowers who qualify for loans or specific rates, contact the lender for more information.

Some loans carry benefits for the borrower or cosigner.

  • Borrower benefits, such as a reduction in interest rate or the ability to release a cosigner from payment obligation, are sometimes earned by making a certain number of on-time payments, setting up automatic payments or another qualification.
  • Make sure you understand all eligibility requirements for benefits, including reasons for losing them. A payment received even a day late could be enough to end benefits.

Consider the broader picture.

  • Beyond the specifics of a particular loan, think about the lender. You or your student will likely be working with this lender for many years after leaving college while repaying the debt. Does the lender service its own loans, and does it have a good reputation for customer service?
  • Other considerations might be whether the lender is focused solely on student loans or is likely to try to market other items like credit cards to you or your student in the future, as well as whether the lender reinvests in the community through employment, nonprofit endeavors and education about student loan debt and products.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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Benefits of Summer Employment

As the school year ends once more, many students will start thinking about summer vacation and all the things they can do to fill up those sunny days.

For some this means actual vacation and a fun trip somewhere with family or friends. For others, this could mean activities around the community or a weekend road trip. For many, this means a summer job, and finding that perfect mix of work and fun.

Having a summer job is a great benefit no matter your age. For younger high school students, it’s a great way to start earning some extra cash and building some employment experience. For older students closer to graduation, this could be a time to explore future job opportunities and to save some money toward college expenses.

No matter your stage in the game – here are some great benefits to summer employment and the best ways to prepare.

Start early. If you want more than just a summer job, start early and make some connections. You could use your summer work experience as a job shadow or internship in a career field that interests you. Use your summer to experience a day in the life of a potential future career. Talk with your school counselor about local connections, or contact a local business that interests you about summer openings.

Experience. Even if your summer job doesn’t end up being in a field or industry that truly holds your passion, any work experience can be meaningful. You’re starting to build employment history and you’re going to learn about responsibility, time management, teamwork, and maybe even leadership. These are all important skills to develop and will help you when you start looking for work in areas that peak your interest.

Save. Summer jobs are a great opportunity to put some money in the bank for college. You don’t need to save every penny, but a good chunk going towards savings can save you a lot when it comes time to look at college tuition, books, or apprenticeship and job training programs. Try and save 30-50% and get a jump start on the future.  The more you are able to save, the less you have to take out in student loans and the more options you’ll have in planning your future.

Balance. With all that said, be sure and find balance. Because the saying “You’re only a kid once” is very true. Don’t work all summer long and forget to have fun. Life is all about balance and that’s a good skill to learn young. Take a weekend road trip. Go on vacation with your parents. Do a movie night, hang out with your friends, and be a kid while you’re gaining some work experience.

By: Iowa College Access Network

This is Contributed Content. Any opinions, advice, statements, services, offers, or other information contained in Contributed Content are solely those of the respective author(s) or contributor(s) and do not necessarily state or reflect the opinion of Iowa Student Loan and/or this blog. See the “About” page for additional important information about Contributed Content.

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