Don’t Let Winter Break Stress You Out

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Contributed by: Iowa College Access Network

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Winter break is a blessing for many reasons. The end of the fall semester is a celebration and having winter break is a chance to relax, rest, and refocus. The best advice for winter break is to try not to fill it up with so many to-dos that you get all stressed and anxious again before school starts back up.

During break, take time to catch up with friends, spend some time with your family, and just unwind from the stress of the semester. While winter break is a great time to keep up on community commitments such as volunteering, it’s important to take some time for you as well.

“Me time” is often over-looked during this busy season. After all, it is the season of giving and thinking of others. However, not taking time for yourself can lead to stress and anxiety, which is not part of the recipe for a successful start to the new semester.

So yes, give back with some community service. Spend some time working on scholarship applications. Reconnect with friends and family. But remember to take some time and do something for yourself.

Here are some suggested winter break activities:

  • Sleep in – not every day but give yourself some time to just sleep.
  • Eat – take advantage and eat as much of that home-cooked holiday fare as you can. Good, wholesome, home-cooked food is the best, just go easy on the desserts!
  • Read a book – winter is a great time to curl up under a blanket and read a book for fun. Pick something that interests you and that is fun – not part of a study group.
  • Go out to a movie or see a play – get out and enjoy the community. See a movie or head to a local community theatre for a holiday production.
  • Play a board game – board games are a great way to connect with friends and family. Dig out old family favorites and grab something new.
  • Disconnect from tech – give yourself some time away from computers, tablets and even your phone. Reconnect with the real world and leave the screen for another day.

Enjoy winter break – you deserve it.

Easy Ways to Save Money Over Winter Break

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As you finish up finals and prepare for a nice long winter break, think about how you can save money over the holidays. These easy tips can help you avoid extra charges next year.

To Do Before You Go

1. Plan a cheaper way home (and back). If you live several hours from college, consider these ways to save money on transportation.

Carpool. Seek out students from your hometown or a nearby area and share a ride. To find someone heading in the same direction, look at sites like Ride-Share.com. For a fair split of the costs, check out apps and online carpool cost calculators.

Ride the bus, train or plane. Check out Megabus for regional bus travel or Greyhound for long-distance bus trips. Amtrak offers student discounts on train travel, and StudentUniverse advertises low plane fares for students.

2. Go green to save green. Save money on your off-campus utility expenses by reducing the amount you’re billed for while you’re away from college.

Dial back. If you have your thermostat set for toasty temps but your rented apartment or house will be empty over the long break, turn it down to save on utility bills. Just make sure you keep it warm enough—about 50 or 55 degrees—to prevent frozen pipes or other damage.

Unplug. Docking stations, computers, TVs and other items use standby power when they’re idle. Unplugging what you can will save some money on your electric bill and help prevent problems from a power surge.

3. Winterize your ride. Do what you can to avoid the costs—and other complications—that stem from being stranded or in an accident.

Give your car the once-over. Check your battery, wiper and other fluids, wiper blades, heating and defrosting systems and brakes. Also check your oil and, if needed, get an oil change. Plan to always have at least a few gallons in the gas tank while temperatures are near or below freezing. Finally, make sure your tires are not too worn to be safe and consider snow tires if you will be driving in winter conditions.

Prepare for trouble. Make sure you have what you need if you do have a car emergency. Check your spare tire, jack, jumper cables and tow rope. Add winter supplies like sand or kitty litter for traction if you get stuck, antifreeze for gas lines and windshields, a small shovel and a snow brush with an ice scraper. Bottled water, nonperishable snacks, blankets, chemical hand warmers and a battery pack for your phone are also good ideas. While driving long distances, stop often for gas in case you need to run the engine to stay warm. (Always make sure the tailpipe is not blocked and no fuel is leaking before running a stranded car’s engine.)

To Do Over Break

1. Get a checkup (or a few). Schedule appointments for dental, eye and general health checks, as well as any follow ups you need with specialists. Maintaining your health can help you avoid more costly episodes later, and many insurance providers offer a discount for annual exams. While you’re there, ask your doctors about any alternatives or generics that can save you money on prescriptions and supplies.

2. Use your student ID. You might be in the habit of asking for student discounts around campus, but your hometown retailers, restaurants and other venues may also offer savings if you show your student ID. Many online providers also offer special pricing for students.

3. Gift from the heart. If you’re planning to exchange gifts with old friends or family over the holidays, think about homemade (and heartfelt) gifts that cost less. Simple sewing projects, photo gifts, baked goods or crafty arrangements will be appreciated by all. Alternatively, suggest a group outing where you can split admission fees and costs instead of exchanging presents.

By: Iowa Student Loan

The Responsible Student’s Holiday Gift List

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Many students are still tempted by the most recent video games or the latest fashions, but it may be time to consider holiday gifts with more lasting benefit. Here are some holiday gift suggestions for responsible students to help avoid additional college debt.

Share these 10 gift ideas with friends and relatives who would like to help.

1. College Savings Contribution
Cash deposited into a 529 or college savings plan is a direct contribution to college costs. Help interested contributors by providing the information they need to make a deposit: the name of the plan and account holder, account number if needed, the website, contribution forms and instructions on how to take advantage of any tax benefits for the contributor.

2. Books and Materials
Check out required texts or materials for next semester’s classes for gift ideas. A gift card to the university bookstore or to an online supplier can also help avoid some of the cost to purchase or rent books and other supplies.

3. Gift Cards to Area Businesses
Once tuition, fees and housing expenses are paid, daily living expenses can become a drain on a college budget. Gift cards to area restaurants, grocery stores, retail chains and other businesses can help offset some of the costs for the little things that add up.

4. Online Subscriptions
Consider a prepaid subscription to an online newspaper or journal needed for classes or to keep up with changes in a specific field. Online movie and entertainment services also offer subscription options.

5. Backpacks and Other Gear
College students can get by on little, but something is needed to tote around books, laptop and pencils. Also think about charger or battery packs, cords, headphones and other gear that can get pricey if they need to be purchased in a hurry or all at once.

6. Food, Snacks and Storage Ware
A supply of healthy snacks with a long shelf life can reduce the amount spent at the dorm convenience shop or vending machine for students in residence halls. Off-campus students also appreciate a pantry well-stocked with favorite fixings and needed storage containers.

7. Small Appliances
Daily stops for coffee, tea, breakfast sandwiches and similar items can become an expensive habit. Shiny new appliances designed for single servings and college students will save money and the provide perfect amount of favorite ingredients.

8. Interview and Professional Wear
Timeless essentials suitable for variable weather are nice to have on hand for an interview, conference or other event requiring business wear. Remember a professional-looking bag, portfolio and other items.

9. Cleaning and Laundry Supplies
A ready supply of money for coin-operated laundry machines, detergent, a small vacuum and other cleaning supplies will save cash over time. Think about reusable supplies, like cloth mop pads and washable wipes, as well as the consumable liquids and powders needed to get through a year.

10. Money and Professional Advice
Whether this is provided from personal experience or in the form of books from industry experts, students often need to learn how to manage money and start on the right professional foot to avoid additional debt from uninformed decision-making, extra terms in college or long periods of unemployment.

By: Iowa Student Loan

5 Ways to Engage Your College Student During the Holidays

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The long winter break offers parents and college students an opportunity to reconnect and share thoughts on college life. It can also be a stressful time for both parents and their adult children, who are becoming more independent with each week at college.

Making supportive and timely efforts to learn about life at college can truly help you and your son or daughter communicate openly.

Here are some ideas for tackling five big topics.

Fall Grades

  • Keep in mind that college classes are more challenging than high school classes and your student’s grades may reflect that fact.
  • Once grades arrive, be sensitive to your student’s reaction and congratulate successes.
  • Unless there is a major issue with your student’s grades, wait for an invitation to discuss ways to improve study habits, time management and his or her use of campus resources.

Spring Classes

  • Check in with your student on upcoming classes without appearing to question his or her ability to manage college on his or her own. You can do this by asking which class or classes he or she is looking forward to next semester instead of asking if the classes will meet graduation requirements or wanting to see a class schedule.
  • If your student already has spring syllabuses, offer assistance in looking for books online before classes start.
  • Find out if he or she needs some quiet time to get a head start on any reading and help facilitate that by keeping younger siblings occupied or treating your student to a favorite meal away from the dinner table so he or she can keep studying.

Finances

  • If you haven’t already, you and your student can work on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for next year’s financial aid. Go online to FAFSA.gov, log in and begin entering any information from 2016 you already have. You can estimate tax information. Starting on this now helps prevent you and your student from having to deal with it long distance while classes are in session.
  • Working on FAFSA paperwork might provide a good opening to discuss your student’s budget. If overspending is an issue, ask if he or she has a plan to cut back on spending or if getting a part-time job might be necessary. Keep your student’s unique nature in mind and work with his or her preferences. If being in charge of his or her entire semester’s budget didn’t work, ask if your student would prefer to receive set amounts monthly to help with overspending. If there have been restrictions on how much money he or she can access at once, find out if your student is ready to be in control of more financial decisions through the next semester. Remember that students may make mistakes, and that it is part of learning.

Future Plans

  • Another important matter to talk about with your student while working on the FAFSA is his or her plans for the next academic year. For example, does your student want to live on campus or off next year?
  • Find out what interests your student has to open opportunities for discussing how you can help him or meet college goals. Is studying abroad an option? Does your student want to work part-time to earn extra spending money or gain experience or does volunteering pique his or her interest?

What can I do?
Ask if there is anything your student wants to talk to you about. Your student may not have an answer immediately, but knowing he or she can talk to you anytime may lead to future discussions.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Use Your Winter Break to Research and Apply for Summer Internships

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During the long break from classes to celebrate the holidays and ring in the New Year, you’ll probably find you have some serious free time. Don’t let this opportunity go to waste. Set aside some time during the break to research internship opportunities and complete or prepare applications.

Research First
The first week or two of break may be filled with catching up on sleep, getting in some good relaxation time in front of the TV and hanging out with friends and family. Once Jan. 1 arrives, though, you may want to start getting back into a routine that will also help when you return to classes.

Think about how much time you would have spent studying during a normal weekday. Start spending that amount of time searching online for internship opportunities, reviewing requirements and learning about companies offering internships. Start by thinking of companies that you would like to work at and searching for internships by key word descriptions to find business you may not have considered at first.

Research the companies you plan to apply with and keep a set of notes for each one. Having a list of things you like or admire about a company, along with a basic understand of what they do and how you might be able to help them, as reference points when you’re working on applications can help you stand out from others.

Schedule Time to Work on Applications
As you find internships that interest you, be sure to keep track of the company, what the application requirements are and what the application deadline is.

List deadlines in your calendar or planner and aim to send in applications early. Try to work backward by planning when you need to have reference letters in hand and your resume and cover letter completed and then block time off to complete those tasks.

Learn More
If businesses you’re interested in interning at are located in your home town or nearby, you may be able to schedule informational interviews or volunteer at one during winter break. Treat the experience purely as a learning opportunity and leave a positive and lasting impression with managers, employees and human resources. If those at the company are impressed with your attitude and abilities, you’ll likely move to the top of the list when it comes time to offer internships for the summer.

By: Iowa Student Loan

5 Advantages to Networking During Break

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Use your time over the holiday break to boost your networking connections. Here’s why:

  1. You’ll see a wide variety of people. During the holidays, you’ll likely see relatives, family friends, neighbors, former classmates and previous employers, all of whom have their own circles of connections and acquaintances. Tell as many as you can about your career aspirations — you never know when the opportunity may arise for someone to put in a good word for you.
  1. Organizations have holiday parties too. Check out the websites and calendars for professional organizations in your career field. Many are happy to welcome interested students to their events, which creates a chance for you to meet and impress a large number of potential connections.
  1. You have an extended period of free time. If you’re not working, you may have time to job-shadow for a week or more, or even volunteer to complete a small project for one of the companies you’d eventually like to work for. This offers a potential employer the opportunity to see your skills while you provide a valuable service, and it allows you to make connections with the employer and staff (who may also recommend you to their own connections later).
  1. You have time to travel. With a stretch of two to four weeks away from school, you will have time to travel to a distant city or employer that appeals to you. Contact companies in your desired area and ask about opportunities for informational interviews, career exploration discussions and job-shadowing in your field.
  1. The pressure’s not on. Since you have time before graduation, making connections now provides plenty of opportunity to develop relationships without appearing to try to land a full-time job. Perhaps the professional you met at the neighborhood holiday party will become a mentor throughout your college years and early career, or maybe a potential employer you visit now will become an internship opportunity for next summer.

Networking Tips
Before you head out to your first potential networking event, make sure you:

  • Have prepared a brief summary of your goals. Nail a casual yet professional 30-second networking speech about what you want to do and why.
  • Have contact cards and resumes on hand. Be ready if people ask if they can have a colleague or acquaintance contact you.
  • Set up your profile on LinkedIn and other social networks. Even if someone doesn’t seem interested right away, he or she may have occasion later to try to find out more about you.
  • Clean up your social media accounts. Your contacts and their connections may check you out before agreeing to an informational interview or calling you. Make sure they don’t have reason to call someone else instead.

And, always remember to say thank you, whether it’s for a person’s time, an introduction to someone else or a potential opportunity.

By: Iowa Student Loan