Six Ways to Make the Most of Feb. 29

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We’ve all been granted an extra day this year with the arrival of Feb. 29. Make the most of that 24 hours by upping your college preparation game.

Search for scholarships. It’s prime time to find and apply for a few extra scholarships. You won’t receive scholarships you didn’t apply for, and enough smaller awards can make a big college funding difference.

Explore college majors. Even though you’ll take several general education courses your first year or two of college, having a good idea of your major will allow you to take the entry-level courses right away to confirm your choice. Even if you’re sure of your major, now is a good time to be sure you understand the career options you’ll have. Iowa Student Loan’s online ROCI Tool can help.

Check out summer job opportunities. Graduation is approaching quickly, and it’s easy to become distracted by end-of-year activities. Now is the ideal time to gather references, fill out employment applications and start looking for a summer job.

Make a plan for improving your grades. Keeping your grades up or improving them is still important. This is your last chance to bump up your GPA and class rank for merit scholarships. Use these tips to stay on track.

Clean up your online profile. Some college officials review applicants’ social media activity. Will your posts and photos cause any raised eyebrows? At this point in the year, it’s still a good idea to review your online presence and make any changes needed.

Get ready for campus. You can take steps now to ensure you’re ready to live away from home among a new set of peers. Use these college prep tips to make a checklist of what you should do or learn before you leave home.

By: Iowa Student Loan

After the Award: Why Grades Matter for Financial Aid

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You know that awesome feeling you experienced when you realized your grants and scholarships will cover a hefty chunk of your college cost? The relief that now you could focus more on college life instead of solely on your grades?

Not so fast. You should know your grades will likely still matter if you want to keep your aid each year. Here’s why.

1. You may need a minimum GPA to renew certain scholarships and grants.

Many renewable or multiyear scholarships and grants require you to maintain a minimum GPA in college to renew the award. The exact GPA required each semester or term will depend on several factors, such as:

  • The minimum GPA set by the entity that provided the award. Make sure you understand the requirements for each renewable award. Also, check whether there is a probationary period if you fall below the minimum and whether that must occur in your first year or you may use it any time.
  • Whether you need to maintain a certain cumulative GPA or a minimum each term. If you need to keep a minimum cumulative GPA, one semester of poor grades can affect your eligibility for several additional terms.
  • The grading system for your classes. Some colleges award whole grade points only, so an 89% and an 81% course grade are both Bs and are both worth 3.0 points (often called “quality points”) on a 4.0 grading scale. Others award partial points for a letter grade with a + or a -, so an 89% course grade may be a B+ worth 3.33 while an 81% may be a B- worth 2.67 on a 4.0 scale. Still other colleges allow professors to choose which system to use as long as they provide the grading system in the course materials. Know where you need to fall on the scale and whether it’s worth the effort to bring a low B up to a high B in one class versus concentrating on bringing a high B up to a low A in another.

2. You definitely need a minimum GPA to continue to qualify for state and federal aid for additional years.

If you want to receive financial aid, including work-study, grants, scholarships and loans, from the state and federal governments, you need to fill out a FAFSA each year. In addition, you need to show Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP). Each school has its own guidelines and process for SAP, but they may include:

  • A minimum GPA.
  • A required number of credit hours each year, semester or term.
  • A warning or probationary period after falling below the minimum GPA.
  • An appeal process for extenuating circumstances affecting your GPA.

The U.S. Department of Education provides more information on how grades affect federal financial aid. Visit your financial aid office or your college’s website for information on its SAP policies.

3. You may need to repay scholarships or grants.

In some cases, you may be expected to repay at least part of the award if you:

  • Do not attend classes or withdraw from school after a certain date.
  • Drop below full-time.
  • Do not pass enough credit hours in a given time period.

If you are experiencing difficulty in college, even if circumstances are beyond your control, make sure you understand any penalties regarding your financial aid. Your college’s financial aid and academic advising offices can help you determine your options.

By: Iowa Student Loan

February is Financial Aid Awareness Month

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While it’s the shortest month of the year, there’s a lot to do in February when it comes to college planning, especially for high school seniors and current college students. February is Financial Aid Awareness Month and, as such, it’s the perfect time to get all your ducks in a row and get organized on financial aid.

There are a lot of aspects to financial aid; you need to understand your costs, understand your eligibility, and understand your budget. So let’s practice our awareness of all the different types of financial aid and how best to prepare for covering the costs of your college education.

Grants & Scholarships

Grants and scholarships are the types of financial aid you want the most. It’s free money you don’t have to pay back. You may have to maintain a certain GPA or participate in an activity, but the money is yours once you qualify and apply.

February is a great time to really dig in on your scholarship applications. Hopefully you’ve been steadily working on your applications throughout senior year, but if not, there are a lot of scholarships that become available around this time. Start your search by talking with your school counselor about local opportunities, and check with the colleges you’ve applied to. Then get organized and get online. There are so many opportunities for scholarships online, and a great place to start is the Iowa College Access Network’s scholarship database at www.ICANsucceed.org/scholarships. ICAN has already done the work for you and made a list of online sites that are safe and trustworthy, and they have their own database of scholarships you can sort through. Scholarships take a lot of time, but it’s totally worth it when those awards start coming in.

Work-Study & Student Loans

Work-study can be a job on campus that provides cash for daily expenses or cash that can go directly toward your college bill. Student loans are loans you borrow to cover any remaining gaps in your bill.

So how do you get financial aid?

We’ve already talked about applying for scholarships. The biggest piece of financial aid is the FAFSA form or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This form is the key to applying for all federal and state aid, and many colleges and private scholarship organizations require it as part of their application processes as well.

The FAFSA is a free form that can lead to federal and state grants, as well as federal student loans, if you need them. The FAFSA can seem scary the first time you do it, which is why in Iowa there’s tons of free help available. The Iowa College Access Network has locations across the state that offer free appointments to help you complete the FAFSA. Just visit www.ICANsucceed.org/locations to find the nearest Student Success Center to you. There’s also the Iowa College Goal Sunday program, which will be offering more than 60 events across Iowa staffed by volunteers from the financial aid community, experts that will help you file your FAFSA and understand the process for free and without an appointment. Visit www.IowaCGS.org to find an event near you and sign up for email reminders.

The final piece to financial aid awareness is learning how it all fits together. Applying for aid, understanding the awards being offered to you by each college, and your total cost are all important pieces to the puzzle. And like a puzzle you need to have them all in place to see the total picture and get a clear view of your options.

In another blog entry we’ll talk about what to do with that picture, but this month be aware of all the pieces you need to get together, file the FAFSA, work on scholarships and start mapping out the potential costs of college. Awareness of what is available to you, what steps are required of you, and your individual responsibility are all part of what it takes for you to be your most successful you.

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.

Crossing the Line: Improve Academic Standing for Financial Aid

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Good grades and test scores typically mean more scholarship opportunities. Did you also know that a small margin can sometimes push you over the line for eligibility, or even for higher awards? Here’s a look at how small improvements matter.

PSAT/NMSQT

The Preliminary SAT (PSAT) is also the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT). If you take the PSAT as a junior, you’re automatically screened for the National Merit Scholarship Program. The top scorers in each state receive special recognition.

  • About two-thirds receive Letters of Commendation and become eligible for special scholarships sponsored by corporations and businesses.
  • About one-third become Semifinalists, and most of those complete several steps to become Finalists. Finalists are eligible for:
    • Merit Scholarships from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, corporations and colleges.
    • Special scholarships up to and beyond full tuition from certain colleges.

The difference between a Commended student’s score and a Semifinalist’s score could be a single point in a metric called the “Selection Index,” which is based on your PSAT scores.

How to Cross the Line
Preparation is key for the PSAT.

  • Take the PSAT 10 as a sophomore to become familiar with the test format and see where your strengths and weaknesses lie to better prepare yourself for the PSAT as a junior.
  • Use practice tests <link to https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/psat-nmsqt-psat-10/practice> to review the test concepts and learn which answers are considered correct or incorrect and why.
  • Be sure to practice in timed test-taking situations.

ACT and SAT

Most colleges require you to attain a specific minimum score on either the ACT or SAT before admittance. Once you have narrowed down your college choices, review their scholarships pages. Many academic scholarships are based either entirely or partly on those test scores, and one or two more points may push you into a category for a more substantial award.

How to Cross the Line
Many of the same techniques above for the PSAT apply when taking other standardized tests like the SAT and ACT. Keep these additional pointers in mind:

  • While the PSAT and SAT are both offered by College Board and have many similarities, the ACT comes from another provider and the format and content areas may be quite different. Use specific practice tests for the SAT or the ACT, depending on which test you plan to take.
  • Check to see if the colleges you’re applying to require or recommend that you take the optional essay portion.
  • You may retake either the SAT or ACT to try to improve your score.
    • Concentrate on preparing for the areas in which you want to improve, but continue to practice all parts of the test so your other section scores don’t fall.
    • Consider your options for sharing your scores with colleges. You may want to wait to see your new score before you submit it to a college, but an additional fee could be required.
    • If your score improves in some parts of the test, but you have a lower composite score because of lower scores in other sections, see whether your college will superscore, or consider your best score for each section of the test separately.

High School Grades

While you’re checking the test score requirements for scholarships, pay attention to the required high school GPA as well. Will bumping up your overall GPA a fraction of a point move you into another scholarship category and make you eligible for hundreds or thousands of additional dollars?

Increasing your GPA may also make you eligible for increased money from outside scholarship sponsors. When you search for scholarships, try a search with an additional 0.1 or 0.15 added to your actual GPA to see if you get more results. (Don’t lie on scholarship applications; improve your GPA before you apply.)

How to Cross the Line
Increasing your GPA may take some extra effort, but if it nets you additional cash for college, it’s worth the work.

  • Don’t wait. Take steps to improve a specific grade early in the semester or year. Later, you’ll have fewer opportunities to earn points, and a perfect final test can only offset so many earlier mistakes.
  • Take advantage of every extra credit opportunity.
  • Ask your teachers how you can improve your grade. Some may be willing to provide credit for an extra project or paper if you explain why you need the grade boost. (This is most effective if you’re an engaged student who generally completes all work on time, even if you don’t always get an A.)
  • Improve your study habits. See these tips for studying smarter.

By: Iowa Student Loan

What Does “Success in College” Mean?

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Success in college is often associated with earning the cap and gown, but there’s more to it.

It’s also about earning high enough grades to land the job you want. Some employers will not interview students or recent graduates with GPAs below a specific average, usually between 2.50 and 3.00. Earning a GPA below the magical number for your career area could reduce the value of your college degree.

So how can you ensure your GPA is high enough? Some keys to getting good grades are:

  • Taking your classes seriously. Remember that being a good student is your job while in college.
  • Carefully tracking when assignments are due, and budgeting your time accordingly.
  • Going to class and taking good notes.
  • Doing the required reading.
  • Spending the time necessary to adequately study outside of class.
  • Checking your grades to make sure you get the credit you deserve. Ask your professor why you were docked points, and ask if you can redo any subpar work.
  • Taking actions to master the concepts and details of the course content.

To master the course concepts and details, you should aggressively seek out help from multiple resources:

  • Take advantage of your professors’ and teaching assistants’ office hours. Ask them to review your papers before you turn them in or to help solve a problem that is vexing you.
  • Attend scheduled help sessions for the class.
  • Obtain a tutor from your college’s academic support services.
  • Form a study group with other class members, and share the partial knowledge that each of you possesses to gain a more complete understanding by all members of the group.
  • Locate other students, friends or siblings who have taken the class and ask for their help.

It’s no accident when people get good grades in college. They succeed because they are determined to do so and are willing to take every step necessary to make it happen.

By: Steve McCullough
President/CEO
Iowa Student Loan

Winners Announced for 2015 Save Now, Save Later Program

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Parents across the state of Iowa are getting a $1,500 boost to their student’s College Savings Iowa® account this spring, thanks to Iowa Student Loan’s Save Now, Save Later: College Savings Plan Parent Giveaway.

In this second year of the program the number of awards was increased from 20 to 30 to benefit even more Iowa families. Registration opened Aug. 13, 2015, and ran through Nov. 30, 2015. The program was open to Iowa residents who have a student in grade nine, 10, 11 or 12 at an Iowa high school.

“Additional funds for a child’s (College Savings Iowa) account will encourage parents to continue funding their accounts,” said Jeff McGuire, a winner from Hiawatha. “Every bit helps defray the rising costs of college.”

Parents who registered were required to complete the co-signer version of Student Loan Game PlanSM, a free online, financial education tool offered by Iowa Student Loan, with versions for students and for parents. After the registration period, entries were chosen at random from about 1,000 qualified participants.

“I think (the program) is a good way to show the impact of borrowing,” said Greg Fritz, a winner from Pocahontas. “Too many people don’t think about all of the interest that they have to pay. And saving is easy, even if you can only start small.”

All 30 winners will have a $1,500 deposit made into a new or existing College Savings Iowa account for their eligible child. Iowa Student Loan works directly with College Savings Iowa on the giveaway. College Savings Iowa is the state’s direct-sold 529 program, administered by State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald.

Iowa Student Loan plans to launch the Save Now, Save Later: College Savings Plan Parent Giveaway again in the fall.

View the full news release.

Winners of the Save Now, Save Later program are:Blog-WinnerTable


By: Iowa Student Loan

Tips for Landing a Scholarship

As you enter your last few months of high school, the pressure’s on to figure out how to pay for the next stage of your education. Improve your chances of landing scholarship funds with these tips.

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Download a PDF of this infographic.

Beef up your qualifications. Try a new extracurricular activity, volunteer and bump up your GPA to qualify for more scholarship funds and increase your chances of earning those scholarships.

Update your information. As you accomplish more, update your qualifications listedfor your accounts on scholarship search sites, such as scholarships.com, bigfuture and Fastweb,to find more results.

Keep searching for new opportunities. Perform new searches through free scholarship sites on a regular basis. Remember, many non-academic entities offer scholarships and make information available at different times of the year.

Touch base with your support crew. Let teachers, coaches and family friends who have agreed to write letters of recommendation or proofread essays know when you will need help. Allow them enough time to help you while still meeting all their other commitments, and offer to help any way you can.

Stay on top of deadlines. Plan your priorities to ensure you submit applications and supporting materials before their due dates.

Reread all your upcoming scholarship submissions. Check for any typos, make sure you’ve followed all instructions and submit everything required.

File for financial aid. If you haven’t yet, complete and submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is a primary tool to qualify for scholarships awarded by colleges. If you need help completing your FAFSA, contact the Iowa College Access Network or attend a free Iowa College Goal Sunday event near you.

Contact your college. If your FAFSA doesn’t accurately reflect your financial situation or if you have questions about scholarships available at your college, contact the college’s admissions or financial aid office. Also let the admissions office know if the final price tag will make the difference in your college choice; the school may have some flexibility in scholarship awards.

By: Iowa Student Loan