What Parents Need to Know About College Applications


The refrain is common among parents of high school seniors: “I didn’t need to do any of this when I applied to college!” Although much of the college application process is similar to the way it was 25 or more years ago, the information age has changed how much students and families know in general. And this often leads to confusion about the process and how much parents should take on.

As you prepare to help your child through the college application process, keep these tips in mind:

Know your financial parameters. With information readily available online and in print, it should be fairly easy to determine which colleges your family can readily afford and which your student can attend only if all the financial aid pieces fall into place. Search for a college name and “net price calculator” to calculate an estimated cost of attendance for your child. Then, search for the Common Data Set for that college to determine how likely your student is to be admitted and to receive additional need- and merit-based aid.

If your child will not be able to afford a college with finances on hand, consider whether it makes sense to allow him or her to apply. Remember, your student will be able to only take out so much in federal student loans. If your student needs to borrow more than that amount, he or she will likely depend on you to become a cosigner or to take on additional debt.

Help develop a list. Deciding which colleges to apply to can be overwhelming for a student. Your student will need to weigh location, distance, size, academic offerings, cost, selectivity and other factors. You can help with research and campus visits.

In addition, encourage your student to place the schools he or she is considering into categories: those that your student should be automatically admitted to based on his or her qualifications and that your family can afford; those that your student should be able to get into and is within your budget, with or without financial or merit aid; and those that your student has a lesser chance of being admitted to but would like to attend if given the opportunity. This list will help you and your student focus your efforts.

Set the timetable. Your student may be balancing school, extracurricular activities, a job and other commitments. You can help by setting a calendar of deadlines that fits within your child’s schedule. Will it make sense for your student to get a jump on college essays and applications early on or wait until later in the fall? Which applications need to be completed first?

Remember to include plenty of time for your student to complete essays, short answer responses and other requirements. It can be difficult for students to learn how to talk about their accomplishments without sounding forced or too humble.

Also allow your student time to regroup and recheck before hitting the submit button on an application. After completing an application, allow it to sit for a day or two and then help your child look at it with fresh eyes for errors or omissions. Consider whether optional fields should be filled in or explanations expanded.

Choose your seat on the bus. Your student should be in the driver’s seat of the college application bus, but you can choose to sit in the second row or at the back of the bus, depending on how much initiative your child has and how much support you need to provide. Your role is to be an adviser and sounding board, so make yourself available without pushing.

Although your student should be the one to initiate contact with admissions offices, recommenders and the school counseling office, be prepared to offer advice or action as needed.

Be prepared for fees. The fees associated with the application process can add up quickly. You may find that your family will need to pay fees to send test scores, obtain official transcripts, submit college applications and more. Watch for fee waivers from colleges on your student’s list (often received by email after the student expresses interest in the college at a visit, through email or online forms) and take advantage of free score sends on the ACT and SAT. You may also qualify for fee waivers based on your financial circumstances. Some schools offer no-fee applications but you may still need to pay to send scores or transcripts.

Remain calm and carry on with daily life. Applying to colleges is stressful for students and parents. Come up with a way to deal with the pressure that works for your family. Some parents schedule a weekly update to check on progress and limit nagging. Others create shared online or paper documents to keep track without college talk dominating every conversation. You may wish to set aside college-discussion-free days or weekends to give everyone a break. Another strategy is to complete the application now for one college your student likes and where admission is likely. One early acceptance in hand can ease pressure and allow your family to take on other applications with a refreshed attitude.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Choosing and Applying for a College


If it’s your senior year in high school, everyone is likely asking you a lot of questions:

What you’re going to do after high school?
Where are you going to college?
What will you study?
What career do you want?

It can be overwhelming, but if you don’t know the answers, that’s OK. There is still plenty of time and right now all you really need to focus on is where you might like to go.

Narrowing Down the Choice
October is college application month, which means you should be narrowing down your choices of colleges and getting in your applications. Narrowing down a college does not mean choosing a college. You shouldn’t choose a college this early in the year. You should still be exploring your options. The best way to explore your options is to apply for admission to the colleges you like best and see what happens.

And while you have several months ahead of you to be making your final choices, it’s important to apply now because the admission process opens the doors for you to start receiving a lot of information to help inform your choice.

Importance of Applying
Until you apply for admission, you are missing out on several key elements:

  • You won’t know what merit-based or academic scholarships you could receive from the college.
  • A college won’t consider you for other forms of financial aid such as grants or work-study or any need-based scholarships.
  • You aren’t yet eligible to begin any of the other steps that will help you make the best choice in colleges.

This is why it is recommend that you apply to at least three to five colleges or universities and that you get your admission applications in by Nov. 1.

You can still apply after Nov. 1, but by applying by then, you can start using more of your time to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), which kicks off the financial aid process. Getting your application in also means you can start filling our housing and scholarship applications, both of which require you to apply for admission first.

So take this fall and really think about the colleges you’ve visited and explored online. Which ones stand out? Which ones offer programs of study that interest you? If you’re still at a loss, consider setting up a profile on College Raptor (www.collegeraptor.com) and exploring your options through a free online portal. College Raptor is a free resource that helps you align your college interests with your academic, social and financial needs.

You can also visit any ICAN Student Success Center or call ICAN at (877) 272-4692 to setup a time to talk about your options. ICAN’s team of advisors would love to sit down and talk about your decision-making process and how your interests and list of colleges fit together.

So get to work on those admission applications and by November, you’ll be ready to talk financial aid.

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.

Parents, Plan Ahead for Scholarships

Although most college scholarship applications are limited to incoming or current college students, you can help your younger student take several steps now to prepare for scholarship applications later.

Encourage a variety of experiences.

Scholarship committees often look for a range of activities, including extracurriculars, volunteerism and leadership, when selecting award recipients. An applicant with a variety of experiences will also qualify for more scholarships from more organizations. Help your student look for opportunities to become involved and take on leadership roles.

Discuss the financial realities.

Depending on your student’s age, you may not need to get into specifics, but talk about the cost of college and how your family will pay for it to convey the importance of scholarship funds. Help your child understand the financial commitment of higher education and the dangers of taking on too much student loan debt. Also be clear about your role in assisting with college costs.

Weigh the benefits of harder classes.

A high GPA and class rank is beneficial, but many committees also consider the difficulty of high school classes. Achieving a B in a more advanced class may be better than an A in the easier alternative. Help your student plan out classes through the end of high school to ensure they are able to enroll in the classes they need to qualify for scholarships.

Set up a specific email account.

Before your student first sits down to take the PSAT, ACT or SAT or visits a college fair, help him or her set up a free email account specifically for the scholarship and college application process. Select a straightforward address, such as an initial and name combination, that can be provided to colleges and scholarship providers. As your student starts to receive communications, you and your child can set up an increasingly frequent schedule for checking mail at that address and dealing with a growing list of to-dos.

Conduct an initial scholarship search.

Try out a few free scholarship search sites, like Iowa College Access Network’s scholarship database, and see how your student’s current and future qualifications line up with scholarship criteria. If there are some particularly appealing opportunities, investigate what you and your student can do between now and senior year to improve the chances of earning those.

By: Iowa Student Loan

7 Types of Deadlines to Become Friends With


The deadlines associated with the college application process often sneak up on high school seniors and their parents. Take a little time to set up a spreadsheet or put deadlines (with appropriate reminders in the preceding weeks) in your planner to avoid spending your winter break either frantically trying to get everything done or regretting missed opportunities.

Here are several types of deadlines you should be aware of. Find out more about them at the colleges you plan to apply to and become friendly with them.

1. Standardized Testing and Reporting Dates
Most colleges and universities require SAT or ACT scores for admission and to determine eligibility for merit-based scholarships. Ensure you allow enough time for the scores to be reported to colleges by their deadlines.

If you list specific colleges to receive scores when you register for the test, expect scores to be reported in about two weeks for the ACT or in three to four weeks for the SAT. Score reports may, however, be delayed for various reasons and you cannot expedite the scoring.

2. Application Deadlines
Once you know where you will apply to college, understand the different types of application deadlines at each school and which ones fit your situation.

Early admissions: You may have the option to apply early for a quicker admissions decision. With certain schools, this type of application may give you an edge for admissions or scholarships over later applicants. But, be sure you understand what you are applying for. With early decision (ED) applications, you agree that you will accept an admissions offer. You may apply ED to only one school. You may complete more than one early action (EA) application and either accept an admission right away or delay until the spring. However, some elite colleges offer single choice early action (SCEA) applications. With SCEA, you are not allowed to apply to other colleges until you receive an acceptance or rejection from the SCEA school.

Regular admissions: With regular admissions, schools offer a single application deadline, usually between November and January, for all applicants. Each college sends out all its acceptance or rejection notifications at the same time.

Rolling admissions: Schools that offer rolling admissions will accept applications any time after the application opens, generally between September and November, and before the application closes in late spring or summer. Admission is granted on a first-come, first-served basis, and applicants are notified of their status as their documents are processed. If you plan to apply via rolling admission, be sure you submit your application in time to meet scholarship or other deadlines.

3. Institutional Scholarships, Honors and Programs
If you plan to apply for merit-based or financial-need scholarships, investigate requirements and deadlines for applications. You may need to submit your application for admission, letters of recommendation and other documents by a certain date (many times before you are aware of your admission status) to be considered. In addition, interviews, campus visits or other requirements may take some planning before the deadline.

Many institutions offer special honors or other programs for qualified candidates. If you hope to join an honors program beginning your freshman year, be aware of deadlines and requirements for any special applications or supplemental materials.

If you are planning to declare a popular or selective major, investigate whether you must complete a separate application process for admission to the college or to the specific major by a certain date.

4. Financial Aid
The Free Application for Financial Aid, or FAFSA, opened Oct. 1 this year. Colleges and universities set their own priority filing deadlines by which you must complete and submit the FAFSA to receive best consideration for the available funds for need-based grants, scholarships, work-study and federal and institutional student loans. You may list all the colleges you are considering on the FAFSA, so apply as early as possible to improve your chances of receiving aid.

Certain colleges and universities also require that you fill out and submit the CSS/Financial Aid Profile to receive nonfederal need-based aid from the institution. Again, check for deadlines set by the schools you’re applying to, but plan to submit the Profile as early as possible.

5. Outside Scholarships
Scholarships awarded by community organizations, businesses and other entities become available throughout the academic year and have varying deadlines. As you search for scholarships, make note of submission deadlines and manage them accordingly.

6. Acceptance
After you submit each college application, check for notifications frequently. Schools may notify you by mail, email or online portal regarding your admission status, missing documents or scores and other important requirements.

When you have been accepted, the school may also tell you whether and when you must respond to secure your spot on campus. Keep these deadlines in mind while you weigh your options and make your final decision.

7. Deposits and Other Commitments
Also watch for information on required deposits for housing or tuition. In some cases, a school may require a small deposit to reserve a spot to select housing before you have been officially accepted, so these deadlines can appear unexpectedly.

As you finalize your college choices, you will also see deadlines for orientation or other sessions for incoming freshmen. Your school or major may also require some online training or reading before you move to campus, so continue to check for deadlines throughout your senior year and the following summer.

By: Iowa Student Loan

10 Things You Need to Complete the FAFSA


Now that the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is open, set aside a little time to complete it. Before you start, make sure you have these items available if they are applicable to you.

Item Dependent Students Parents
List of schools you wish to send FAFSA results to


FSA ID username and password



Biographical information like Social Security number, drivers license number, birthdate, marriage and divorce dates



Alien registration number for non-citizens



2015 income tax returns, W-2s and other records of money earned in 2015



2015 bank statements and investment records



2015 untaxed income records



2015 businesses and farms records



Child support received or paid



By: Iowa Student Loan

Saving for College: Every Cent Helps


Have you heard the saying “A penny saved is a penny earned?” That statement may be old, but it fits perfectly when talking about saving for college.

Every little bit that you can put aside and save for college will help, and even the smallest amount saved can help keep you from taking out a larger student loan or enable you to cover smaller expenses.

When you look at the total cost of college, or the Cost of Attendance, it can feel like saving will never make a dent. However, Cost of Attendance is actually made up of five smaller categories:

  • Tuition
  • Room and board
  • Books
  • Transportation
  • Personal expenses

Tuition and room and board are your two biggest expenses. Working on scholarship applications and maintaining your grades is the best way to help cover these costs.

If you have to take out student loans you want to make sure you’re only borrowing for the most vital costs of a college education – namely your tuition and possibly room and board. When it comes to books, transportation, and personal expenses, you don’t want to borrow money for those things. This is where your savings come in.

As a student, your savings can go towards covering the cost of books, which on average is around $1,000 a year. You can also think about personal savings for gas, cell phone, clothing and other personal expenses you’ll have throughout the year.

When you break things down and look at things in smaller portions, the idea of saving for college becomes more realistic and you can get more motivated to do so.

How to Start Saving
Understanding why you should save and actually saving are two different things. If you aren’t used to setting aside funds for later, it can be a tricky transition. Try and put 10% to 20% of all your earnings into your savings account. Just set them aside as soon as you get your pay check and put them into a separate account. Make it a rule that you don’t touch your savings for daily expenses.

Budgeting can help with this concept. Learn about budgeting and set yourself up with a list of set expenses each month. Make your 10% to 20% savings a set expense and “pay yourself first.” What you have left over after this budgeted list can be your spending money. You can evaluate how much of that you want to spend and how much more you might want to put towards savings.

Cost of Attendance Breakdown
Here’s some sample math to put the benefits of savings into perspective.

The average cost of attendance at a state school is $20,507:

  • Tuition: $8,368
  • Room and board: $9,031
  • Books: $948
  • Transportation: $469
  • Personal expenses: $1,691

Books, transportation and personal expenses come out to $3,108. If you were to borrow money to cover those expenses each year for four years, you’d borrow an extra $12,432 and you’d be paying interest. However, if you commit to covering those costs with your savings you are that much further ahead when you graduate.

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.

How Changes to the FAFSA Affect You


Each year, students who plan to attend college the following year file the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, to qualify for financial aid from colleges and universities and from the state and federal governments.

Want More Information Like This?

Receive regular updates about college planning and financing, as well as other information for students and parents, directly to your inbox. Sign up for informative emails.

Students planning to attend college in 2017–2018 will see two important changes to the FAFSA.

1. The FAFSA is available earlier.
Previously, the FAFSA became available in January preceding the academic year. The 2017–2018 FAFSA opened Oct. 1, 2016.

Incoming freshmen can now fill out the FAFSA while they’re applying to colleges. Because financial aid timelines are set by individual colleges, applicants and their families should be aware of each school’s financial aid deadlines, which should be available on the school website or from the financial aid and admissions offices.

Students who are already enrolled in college and refiling the FAFSA for a new school year should also be aware of any changing financial aid timelines.

In general, the earlier date allows students and families more time to explore financial aid options before the FAFSA needs to be filed to meet state and school priority filing deadlines. Students are encouraged to complete the FAFSA by the priority deadline to have the best chances at the available federal, state and institutional grants, scholarships and awards.

2. You will use “prior prior” year tax information.
Previously, families provided tax and financial information for the tax year preceding the academic year. The 2017–2018 FAFSA will use 2015 tax and financial information.

This change allows families to use actual tax information. Previously, because the FAFSA was open before most families filed and received the preceding year’s tax returns, that information was estimated and had to be corrected or confirmed at a later date.

If a family has experienced a significant change in financial circumstances since the 2015 tax year, such as a loss of income, those circumstances may be considered by the school. Contact your school’s financial aid office for more information on how to proceed.

See more information (PDF) from the U.S. Department of Education.

By: Iowa Student Loan

In-State Vs. Out-of-State Colleges (Infographic)

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

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