Choosing the Right College Fit


So you’ve visited a few campuses and narrowed your college choices to a few schools. Now what? The strategies below can help you determine which to move to the top of your list.

1. Reconsider your short list.
Why is each school on your list to begin with? Does it have a great reputation in your intended field of study? Was it easy to relate to the students on campus? Is it the most affordable? Write down the best features of each of your top schools.

Decide which features are most important to you. Instead of assuming you’ll feel lost at a larger university because you come from a small town or that it will important to be within an hour of home, ask others how their expectations matched up to reality in their own college experiences. Your family and friends, who know you best, can also help you rank characteristics in order of importance.

2. Go back to campus.
If you have the time and opportunity, go back for a second campus visit. This time, immerse yourself to get a better feel for the atmosphere. Stay overnight in a dorm; sit in on a large lecture and a smaller class from your major. Talk to a professor or academic adviser, and ask students what they like and don’t like.

Finally, just walk around and hang out where the students do — the union, the commons and the local establishments — and observe. Can you see yourself talking to the students at the next table? Do you feel safe in the community?

3. Compare real benefits to actual costs.
Give each of your college choices a score for benefits, including reputation in your area, connections to possible employers and industry advancements, and placement and graduation rates.

Then, give each of your college choices a separate score for net costs. Compare financial aid award letters or the school’s online net cost calculator instead of the published rates for each. Make sure you consider costs for your entire college career, not just the first year. Don’t forget that variations like distance from home and residence options can increase or decrease total expenses for each college.

By: Iowa Student Loan

In-State Vs. Out-of-State Colleges

As you consider different colleges, are you looking at both in-state and out-of-state institutions? Consider these important differences when you think about the location of your chosen school.

InStatevsOutofStateDownload a PDF of this infographic.

When it comes to public, in-state colleges and universities, tuition is usually less for in-state students compared to what students from other states will pay. Tuition costs for in-state and out-of-state students do not usually differ, however, when it comes to private colleges and universities.

Travel expenses can really add up if you attend school outside of your home state. If you go to school across the country or even a few states away, you’ll likely need to consider auto or airline costs if you want to head home during breaks as well as costs to either store your belongings or get them to and from school each year.

If you attend school in your home state, it may be easy to travel home to visit with friends and family on weekends. And, it’s likely some of your high school classmates will end up at the same campus, giving you a sense of confidence in a new environment. If you want to be more independent, you’ll have to work a little harder to avoid the temptation of the familiar.

If you cross state lines for school, you may only see your family two or three times during the school year and you may be the only person from your high school attending college at your campus. You’ll be able to interact with new people, maybe from very different backgrounds than your own and with varied experiences than what you’ve experienced in your hometown. It’s an easy way to become more independent but could lead to feelings of loneliness for some.

Your number of choices for in-state colleges and universities are obviously limited compared to what is on offer in the other 49 states, but you can make the most of an in-state school. Check out study abroad opportunities, statistics on students from other states and countries, and learn what academic programs they offer that are considered cutting-edge or tops in the country.

Out-of-state schools may offer you more specialty program opportunities as well as different climates, new surroundings and different challenges.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Is Community College the Right Place to Start?


Many students choose to start their college careers at a two-year community college. Is it right for you? Compare your options below.

Two-Year Community College Four-Year College or University
Annual in-state tuition and fees*

Costs are typically lower at two-year colleges.


• National average: $3,347
• Iowa average: $4,541


• National average (public four-year): $9,139
• Iowa average (public four-year): $7,857
• National average (private four-year): $31,231
• Iowa average (private four-year): $29,650

Annual room and board*

Many students at two-year colleges choose to live at home and commute.


• National average: $7,705
• Midwest average: $6,486


• National average (public four-year): $9,804
• Midwest average (public four-year): $8,968
• National average (private four-year): $11,188
• Midwest average (private four-year): $9,691

Type of degree

If you plan to transfer from a two-year college to a four-year institution, you should first check how and if specific credits will transfer.

• Associate degrees and certifications for trade-related careers
• Transferrable general education requirements
• Bachelor
• Post-graduate degrees
Hands-on experience • Close association with area industries
• Often offer local apprenticeships and internships
• Can be limited for undergraduate students
• Opportunities for local, national and international internship, cooperative education and study-abroad programs
Campus experience • Traditional to commuter campus
• More limited campus activities
• Traditional
• Extensive campus activities and clubs
Confidence in major or career choice • Little opportunity to explore variety of majors
• Opportunity to achieve a two-year degree, work and then re-evaluate
• More opportunity to explore before declaring a major
• Changing majors and five- or six-year graduation rates are common
Classroom instruction • Career professionals
• Nontenured instructors
• Tenured professors
• Nontenured professors
• Other instructors
• Graduate students
Admission requirements • High school graduate
• Placement test may be required
• ACT or SAT may be required for specific degrees
• High school graduate
• ACT or SAT usually required
• Minimum high school grade point average
• Essay, interview or other requirement may be needed
Schedule flexibility

Do you need to work around a work or family schedule?

• Daytime and evening classes
• Some weekend classes
• Online classes
• Mostly daytime classes
• Some evening and online classes

*2014–2015 Trends in College Pricing, College Board

 By: Iowa Student Loan

Choose a College – Data Now Included

Choosing a college is an important part of the ritual of many high school students at this time of year. Finding that “perfect match” may have just gotten easier with the release of the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard website.


In these days of surging student loan debt, it is important to select a college that not only meets your academic requirements but also provides you with the opportunity to get your education without taking on an unrealistic amount of student loan debt. You also want to be sure that the college you select has a good track record of meeting the needs of all students, including providing you with a quality education and a high probability of success.

Why You Should Use the Scorecard

The College Scorecard adds a dimension that has been missing from many college choice activities – an easy-to-access, reliable treasure trove of data to help you make that crucial decision.

With the click of a mouse you can bring up information about a single university or college or easily compare multiple institutions. Some of the important information now available to future college students and their families include:

  • Average annual net cost – quite often, the price that families pay is less than the price shown on financial aid websites because of university-sponsored scholarships and grants; the average annual net cost is the adjusted price
  • Graduation rate – what percentage graduate after 6 years (for 4-year schools) or 3 years (for 2-year schools)
  • Future salary expectations – the median salary for graduates 10 years after initial enrollment and the percentage of graduates that earn more than those with only a high school diploma
  • Total federal student loan debt, the proportion who borrow, and the typical monthly payment on those loans
  • Diversity information – percentage of students receiving a Pell Grant and the proportion of various racial and ethnic backgrounds
  • ACT and SAT test score range of students that get accepted
  • Most popular majors and available areas of study

A comparison to national averages is also provided for many data elements – an important comparison when deciding on your best option for the future.

How You Can Best Use This Data

One of the best uses of the new tool is its ability to compare multiple institutions. Users can select schools to compare based on characteristics (single or combinations) they are interested in exploring.

For example:

  • Schools that offer a particular degree
  • Program length (2-year or 4-year)
  • Location
  • Size (enrollment)
  • Sector (public, private nonprofit, private for-profit)
  • Religious affiliation
  • Special populations served
  • Or by name, if you have specific colleges in mind

The data covers both 4-year and 2-year schools and by selecting multiple characteristics users can customize the results to their exact needs. Results can be sorted by various characteristics and details about each school are easily viewed.

Be sure to incorporate the information available in the new College Scorecard into your college choice process – having this useful data will help you make the best decision for your future.

By: Iowa Student Loan

5 Tips to Help Your Student Choose a College


When it comes to looking at different colleges and making the decision of where to attend classes, students can feel overwhelmed and unsure. The process can be just as uncertain for parents. Here are some ideas you can use to help your student on this journey.

1. Discuss everyone’s finances.

It may be a difficult subject, but it is so important for you and your student to start on the same page when it comes to money. Be honest with what you expect your student to contribute and how much, if any, you plan to provide. Published costs should not rule out initial consideration of a school as scholarships and other student financial aid can make a big difference between advertised prices and what the final costs will be.

2. Define expectations and any limitations.

Along with discussing finances, you may want to consider talking about your expectations for your student in college and any limitations in choosing schools. Think about what you hope your student gets out of his or her experience and then ask what he or she wants out college. If you think your student will go to a Midwestern school, but colleges on the coasts are at the top of your student’s list, discuss what your concerns are (e.g., transportation costs) and why he or she is considering those schools (e.g., colleges’ reputations). Knowing what your student is thinking about can help you guide and manage expectations, both yours and his or hers, before the application process.

3. Guide, but let your student choose.

There is a fine line between helping your student choose what he or she wants and making that decision for him or her. Be sure you give your student space to make his or her choices. Offering guidance in the beginning and with more complicated aspects, like completing financial aid forms, of the college search while he or she focuses on steps such as narrowing down choices and completing essays can help your student grow into a confident adult.

4. Ask your student the right questions.

Another way to help your student decide is to ask the right questions during his or her college search. Introspective questions can encourage your student to think beyond the standard pros and cons of each school and learn more about what he or she wants in life. Check out this advice from a college vice president.

5. Turn college visits into more than a trip to campus.

Your student’s college life will consist of a lot more than what happens on campus, so if you are able, think about expanding college visits. You can do something as easy as checking out popular spots in the city or town where the campus is located or go sightseeing along the way. Not only will your son or daughter get a feel for the school but also the place where he or she might live. In addition, doing things not related to the campus visit can take some stress off you and your student.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Smart Scheduling for College


The freedom to spend your time however you want, without parents telling you what to do, probably sounds great. But if you don’t budget your time wisely, you may struggle academically.

In college, the amount of time you spend studying affects your grades. The more time you spend out of class studying, the better your grades. Unfortunately, many students think they will have plenty of time to study later, so they can do whatever they want right now. Then, as other assignments also become due and other commitments arise, the time they thought would be there evaporates.

To ensure you study the right things, in the right amount, at the right time, follow these steps.

1. Plot Your Weekly Schedule

Use a weekly calendar that shows the hours of each day. Then:

  1. Identify your set time commitments that occur every week and write them in the calendar.
    • Classes.
    • Work schedule.
    • Other known commitments like club meetings.
    • Meals.
    • Workouts.
    • Seven and a half to 8 hours of sleep each night.
  2. Look for blocks of time during the day to create “study blocks.” As a general rule, your time in class and your time studying each day should add up to at least 8 hours, or more if you are carrying a heavy course load.
    • Gaps between your classes. It makes more sense to stay near your next classroom than it does to walk back and forth to your dorm.
    • Days when your classes end earlier.
    • Available evenings and weekends.
  3. Block out time that you plan to hang out so that you are realistic about the time you can afford to spend not studying.

2. Plan Your Study Schedule

Next, figure out the right things to study at the right time. Use longhand and paper to do this. Studies have shown that the act of writing an action item down helps you to take ownership of it as you effectively commit to getting it done.

  1. Start by laying out all of your class syllabi side by side.
  2. On separate sheet of paper, write the due dates for all the assignments listed and all quiz and test dates, for all your classes, in date sequential order.
  3. Highlight the assignments that are big and extra time-consuming.
  4. Use a different color to highlight upcoming tests and make note of assignments that overlap.
  5. Resolve conflicts in due dates and test dates by planning to study ahead of time over the preceding weeks.

3. Transfer Your Information.

Use an electronic calendar or app that will be easy to reference and adjust throughout the semester.

  1. Input your weekly schedule and study blocks as recurring items running throughout the entire semester.
  2. Next, input the assignments and tests from the highlighted list that you created.
  3. Finally, for each study block, input details on what you should study or work on, based on due dates and the conflicts you resolved in the previous step.

4. Stick to Your Schedule

Make a pact with yourself to stay disciplined. Sure, some things will come up that will require you to change your schedule. But don’t fall into the trap of convincing yourself there will be time later to do the hard work.

By: Steve McCullough
Iowa Student Loan

Six Steps to Choosing a College


The time to choose a college is approaching, but the wide variety of options can make it hard to know which ones you should seriously consider. These six steps can help.

1. Understand your choices.
If you know what you want to do after college or if you have a major picked out, that can help you decide whether you should look at a four-year or two-year institution, or some combination. See whether a two-year school is the right place for you to start.

You should also have a good understanding of what you can afford to spend on your college education, but don’t immediately rule out a college because of cost.

2. Make a long list.

Your long list should include a variety of schools to consider and learn more about. For ideas, talk to family and friends, ask your school counselor, read college guides and search the Internet.

3. Explore.

Now that you have a list, choose some of the most appealing colleges and universities to look at more closely. Visit as many as you can within your timeline and budget — you might be surprised by your preferences once you see a few campuses. Some questions to consider as you explore:

  • Size: How many students attend the school? How many are in your particular program? What is an average class size for general education classes?
  • Funding: Are you interested in the religious, service or specialized experience offered by private institutions? Are you more comfortable at a public, state-funded university? See more about public and private institutions.
  • Location: How close is it to home and how will you travel back and forth? Is it located in a city, a suburb or a small community? Is an out-of-state college right for you?
  • Student body diversity: How do the school’s location, programs, requirements, cost and environment affect the types of students who attend? Would you prefer to attend a college with many students who have a background similar to yours or from a variety of backgrounds? Are you looking for a school that draws a high percentage of international students?
  • Atmosphere: Does the campus feel traditional or not? Do most students stay in the area over the weekend or go home? Does the school offer a variety of activities and clubs you’re interested in? Read more about exploring campus life.
  • Reputation: What are the overall graduation and placement rates? Are faculty up to date with current advances? Does the school have a good reputation among employers in your field? Does it offer career preparation to assist you? Discover what other aspects of a college or university you should consider.

ROCI Reality Check can help you see how your major and career selection can affect your future.

4. Decide the features you like best.

After you explore several campuses, determine what size and type of college you’d most like to attend. Look for other schools that offer the same types of features and visit them.

5. Make a short list.

Narrow down your new list of colleges that offer the features you prefer. Try to choose three or four that have everything you really want. If all these have high admission standards, choose at least one safety school that you know will accept you and offers most of the features you want.

6. Re-evaluate for the best fit.

After you’ve applied to and been accepted into the schools on your short list, consider which will best help you meet your goals. If you have the chance, visit your top two or three schools again to ensure you make the right choice and determine your first preference.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Comparing Public and Private Colleges

When you first start thinking about colleges or universities you may want to attend, it’s important to really consider all your options. Don’t dismiss a private college immediately because of the cost of tuition, and don’t rule out public universities because of the number of students. Consider the pros and cons of each and let those points help guide your decision.Comparing-Public-and-Private-Colleges

Download a PDF of this infographic.

  • Size: In general, enrollment at private colleges is much smaller than at public universities. At a private university, total enrollment may be a few thousand students, while at a large state university, there may be 10,000, 20,000 or even more than 30,000 students. The physical size of the campus usually follows the same logic.
  • Programs: Public colleges and universities typically offer a wide range of undergraduate programs. They may be known for research or specialty programs, but those specific programs may be geared more toward graduate students. At a private college and university, fewer degree programs may be offered, especially at liberal arts colleges or schools of engineering or hard sciences.
  • Tuition: Public colleges and universities receive some level of financial support from the government, so tuition costs are typically much lower than at private colleges, which must rely on students, alumni and other individuals to pay salaries and maintain the college. To counter that, private colleges often have endowments that can help lower tuition costs for students through scholarships and grants.
  • Class size: Private colleges often report smaller class sizes or student-to-professor ratios while public universities typically have larger class sizes or more lecture-style classes. At both types of colleges, larger classes are more typical with general education classes and reduced class sizes are more common with classes required for majors and minors.
  • Graduation rate: Students at private colleges and universities are more likely to graduate in four years, on average, than public universities. This may be caused by students at public universities having more difficulty getting into required classes and/or changing majors more frequently.

Remember that this information is general, and some private and public colleges are extremely different than the majority of schools in their category. When you make your choice, think about your goals for college and the future, costs, class size, culture and environment as well as the pros and cons of different colleges.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Save Now or Pay More Later


Whether you’re planning for your own or your child’s education, saving instead of borrowing for college has one simple but very important advantage: It will cost you less money.

Saving $1,000, $5,000 or $20,000 before starting college is different than borrowing that same amount as it’s needed because of the interest you will have to pay on loans during repayment. Even though interest earned on any money you save may be limited in today’s financial environment, repaying interest on a loan will not be as minimal.

For example, Jane’s parents began saving for their daughter’s education when she was a toddler and have $20,000 in savings when she begins college. John’s parents, on the other hand, wanted him to pay for school himself, so he borrowed $20,000 during four years of college. Over time, John will pay back the $20,000 he borrowed plus an additional $12,167.81 in interest.*


Additional Benefits

Using savings to pay for college instead of borrowing has other benefits that can pay off in the future.

  • Learning to focus on saving now can be the start a good habit for a lifetime of financial success. If saving is expected of you at a young age, it will become a habit that will likely continue into adulthood when a solid savings account can prevent economic distress in emergencies.
  • Saving money typically means maintaining a saving account, at minimum, and potentially includes options such as CDs (certificates of deposit). You need to work with either a bank or credit union to have your money work for you while you save it. Building a positive relationship with your financial institution can benefit you when it comes time to take out a loan for a new car or home.
  • Limiting or eliminating borrowing for school can prevent stress after graduation. It can mean the difference between working one job and living on a comfortable budget instead of working a second part-time job simply to pay monthly student loan bills. See other problems with overborrowing.

By: Iowa Student Loan


The $12,167.81 amount of interest assumes:

– John is in school for four years.
– John borrows a total of $20,000 ($5,000 for each of four years) in federal unsubsidized loans.
– The loans have a fixed interest rate of 4.29% and a 10-year repayment period.
– 360 days per year
– 30 days per month
– In-school interest accrual begins at loan origination, capitalizing once at the beginning of repayment (after 51 months for Year 1 loans, after 39 months for Year 2 loans, after 27 months for Year 3 loans and after 15 months for Year 4 loans)
– There are no origination fees.