Scholarship Tips for Parents

Many families find they need additional funds to pay for college. Especially if your family does not qualify for a lot of need-based financial aid, merit-based scholarships can help fill the gap.

While your student will be the one qualifying for scholarships, filling out applications and writing essays, parents can assist in several ways. Here are some steps you can take.

Encourage your child to participate in appealing extracurricular activities. Many scholarship committees are looking for well-rounded applicants who have accomplishments, leadership and involvement outside the classroom. Extracurriculars can include school, religious and community groups, volunteer efforts, sports, fine arts, employment and a variety of other activities. The specific activities—or the number or variety of them—should reflect your student’s interests and situation.

Frame the conversation by setting a budget. Many teenagers don’t have an accurate idea of how much college costs or how much their families are able or willing to spend on their education. Have an honest conversation about true current and estimated future costs for the types of colleges your student is considering and how much you can contribute. Then, you can discuss ways your student can contribute financially, including through scholarships.

Search early and often. Use free online search sites beginning as early as your student’s sophomore year to get an idea of the types of scholarships your student may qualify for. You can gather ideas about test scores, grades, activities or other specific requirements that your student may be approaching or considering. Your student should continue the search as he or she approaches senior year and throughout college because new opportunities arise at different stages.

Work together to brainstorm scholarship sources. Besides online scholarship searches, your family should consider additional sources of scholarships. Employers (yours, your student’s and those of other family members, as well as local employers), churches and nonprofit organizations, community and civic groups, local companies and high schools all may offer awards in varying amounts and for a variety of qualifications. Encourage your student to apply to both smaller and less selective scholarships as well as any more competitive awards he or she may qualify for. Don’t forget to investigate scholarships offered by the colleges and academic departments your child is considering; these are often the largest awards.

Set aside a specific time to devote to scholarships. As their senior year becomes more hectic with college applications, classwork and other activities, students may struggle to find the time to devote to a quality application. Help your child by designating a specific time to search for scholarships and manage applications and essays. The schedule may change in frequency as your student nears deadlines.

Help with ideas, editing and proofreading. Help your student come up with ideas for essay responses that fit the prompt while conveying what’s most important to your child. You may recall events or activities from earlier in high school that your student has now forgotten or considers unimportant. You can also provide a fresh eye to catch errors and other problems with essays and applications. Just remember that scholarship committees are used to reading student work and will recognize an overly involved parental hand.

Consider financial aid consequences. If your student will be eligible for need-based aid, like grants or work-study, investigate how each college treats merit awards. Some colleges will offset need-based aid with any outside scholarships; others allow a student to “stack” awards to maximize aid. If this information is not readily available in the financial aid, costs or admissions pages of the college website, contact the admissions office directly for details.

Recognize the accomplishment. If your child earns one or more large scholarships or many smaller ones, your family may be able to significantly reduce the amount spent on college. You may want to reward your student by matching a portion of the earnings. The match money could be designated for books or other expenses not covered by the awards or you may leave its disposal up to your student. Regardless of the final outcome, remember that your student has put at least some and possibly a great deal of time and effort into the scholarship process. Recognize that with sincere words, a tangible reward or other gesture.

By: Iowa Student Loan

How to Manage Scholarship Applications

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You may feel like you already have enough to do managing senior year classes and activities, college and scholarship applications and other commitments.

Even though it may seem like you don’t need to add to your load, a couple of simple tricks can help you feel less anxious about scholarship results. And, you’ll be ready with an informed answer when Mom or Dad asks about your progress.

Here’s how to stay on top of scholarship applications:

Get Organized from the Beginning
Set up a spreadsheet with all your scholarship application information. Your scholarship search is unique, but you can set up a basic spreadsheet using the suggested categories below and customize them as needed.

For each scholarship you apply for, include the following information as applicable:

  • Name of scholarship
  • Scholarship sponsor
  • Sponsor contact information, including preferred methods of contact or no-contact requests
  • Award amount
  • Whether the scholarship is a one-time or renewable award
  • Name of the website, person or other source that made you aware of the scholarship
  • Website login information
  • Required elements for the application
  • Deadline
  • Submission date
  • Expected date of award notification
  • Method of award notification
  • Any additional requirements to accept scholarship
  • Notes or special information

Check for Updates
Once you submit a scholarship application, make sure you check often for updates and notifications. Depending on the scholarship, you may need to check your email (don’t forget to look in your spam folder), listen to voicemail or log in to the scholarship website.

• Respond quickly. You may receive a notice that your application is missing some required information. If you’re missing information or the scholarship sponsor has questions, respond as quickly as you can.

• Check often. Set aside a specific time every day to check your scholarship applications. It may be helpful to move all scholarship-related email to special folder in your inbox. Some email applications allow you to set up rules to do this automatically.

• Pay special attention to announcement dates. Watch for notifications that you have earned a scholarship or are a finalist. Enter any to-dos to submit additional required information or to accept the award on your spreadsheet, and then follow through.

If you haven’t heard within a few days after a publicized announcement date, you may want to follow up with the scholarship sponsor. First check your spreadsheet to ensure that the sponsor didn’t specify no contact or specified only certain forms of contact, though.

Organizing your scholarship application information and staying up to date with notifications will help you remain calm while you wait for results.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Five Tips for Cutting Costs in 2017

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If one of your goals is to reduce expenses this year so you have more to save or spend on essentials, these five tips to cut costs can help, regardless of what you usually spend money on or where you shop.

  1. Look for sales or discounts. Consumer items tend to be priciest when they first come out in stores. You can often find the same item on sale if you are willing to wait a while. Also look for discounts on similar but older versions, bulk purchases and out-of-season merchandise. Websites and apps are available to let you know when specific items go on sale.
  1. Shop secondhand. Secondhand stores and online sites allow you to purchase good-condition books, clothes, video games and really, almost anything, used. Besides saving you money, buying secondhand also does the environment a good turn by reducing trash and manufacturing.
  1. Make it at home. Coffee, tea, breakfast sandwiches, lunches and most food items can be made at home for less than you’d spend at your local drive-thru. Recipes and instructions also can be found online for beauty and hygiene products, cleaning supplies, home décor and gifts that you can make less expensively yourself.
  1. Swap with friends. If you and your friends share interests, you may be able to save money by trading clothes, video games and systems, books and supplies that you’ve grown tired of but are still in good shape. A temporary swap can allow you to break out of your rut without spending more money. You may want to consider discussing what to do in case of damage.
  1. Go without or use less. If you’re paying for a monthly subscription, impulse buys or expensive but not necessary purchases, decide how you can get by with less or go without completely. You may be able to downgrade your phone plan, drop cable TV for a cheaper subscription or service, hit the library for books and magazines, or kick a habit that is costing you money and convenience.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Understanding Cost of Attendance

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If you have started the process of preparing for your child’s college career, you may have run into several things that have you confused – and maybe a few that have you nervous.

Cost of attendance may be the most confusing term you will hear even though it sounds mostly harmless.

What Cost of Attendance Means
The cost of attendance is rarely the amount paid to attend college. The cost of attendance is the “sticker price” and does not consider scholarships, grants, personal contributions (from a college savings plan or graduation checks, for example) and other financial assistance available to your student. Also, most cost of attendance figures include additional costs that may not be encountered – this is important as your student will most likely be presented with a statement called an award letter that assumes he or she will need those additional funds.

Understanding the Award Letter
Award letters are usually created by the college and sent in February or March. Award letters outline how much one year of college will cost by detailing the tuition and fees and room and board costs. The letter also shows all awards (scholarships, grants, work/study funds) as well as the EFC, or expected family contribution. You may be a bit shocked by the size of the EFC. Before throwing up your hands in despair, please consider the two ideas presented below to help calm yourself.

Transportation Costs
Take a look at one aspect of cost of attendance – “transportation costs.” Although your student will most likely travel back and forth from college for visits and holidays, the amount of these costs can be subtracted from the cost of attendance in most cases.

Two things to consider:

  1. When the time comes to travel, most students will be able to drive home. According to the Higher Educational Research Institute at UCLA’s 2014 freshman survey, approximately 57% of students attend a college within 100 miles of their home. Encouraging your student to carpool can reduce expenses by paying for only a fraction of the gas costs.
  2. Even if you do anticipate your student having travel expenses beyond gas costs, do everything you can to resist the urge to include the costs in any student loans you or your student take out – federal or private. Even a ticket to fly home twice a year can be something that can be saved for or purchased using money earned through wages by working during the school year (bonus: studies show that students who work 10-20 hours a week while in college have better grades and a higher graduation rate as a group). Most likely, the expected family contribution can be reduced by more than $1,000 by removing transportation costs from the bottom line for now.

Book Costs
Another quick way to reduce up-front costs and the amount you or your student may need to borrow is to look at the line item on the award letter for books. You may be surprised at the relatively reasonable prices of books in some cases. Trends toward loose-leaf books (printed on 3-hole punched paper – high quality, not Xerox copies) and book rental has helped reduce costs. Books are another item that can usually be subtracted from the bottom line cost of attendance – pay for books can be paid for with cash from savings, earnings or high school graduation cash. Encourage your student to only purchase books that he or she plans to keep – otherwise rental is a smart path to save money.

By: Iowa Student Loan

They’re Accepted. Now What?

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After students make their final college choice, parents’ emotions often fluctuate widely and frequently. There may be sadness that their child will soon leave, pride over the child’s growth and independence, worry over his or her ability to act responsibly, anxiety about completing the required enrollment steps and excitement over the freedom the parents themselves will experience.

However you feel about your student’s imminent college enrollment, you can be his or her biggest support system.

Make sure your student knows what to do when and how.
Your student will need to return his or her acceptance of admission and possibly acceptance of financial aid, sign up for orientation, submit deposits for tuition and housing, and submit transcripts and other documents. More and more, students are able to create an online account on the school’s website and do this electronically.

You can help by keeping dates from the admissions or acceptance packet where they can be easily seen and referenced by you both, whether that is on the refrigerator, a family calendar or bulletin board, an electronic calendar or over the bathroom mirror.

Be ready to validate the decision.
Your student may suddenly question whether he or she made the right choice. Be prepared to provide reminders about why he or she chose the school as well as your faith in his or her ability to thrive at this school. Ask your student to keep an open mind; sometimes the very thing he or she is most worried about — roommates, difficult classes, distance from home — turn out to be either no big deal or the best thing about college. Sometimes it may also help to remind your child that if the school just doesn’t work out after a semester or a year, transferring is very common and easy to do.

Have “the” talk (about finances).
Now that the final decision has been made and you know the first year’s cost and financial aid your student has been awarded, map out finances for the rest of your student’s college career. Expect tuition and fees to increase each year. Consider which scholarships and grants will be renewed and which will only be renewed based on certain conditions, such as a minimum GPA. Think about whether your own income and ability to contribute will increase over that time. Help your student understand the total financial commitment and the options for reducing and repaying debt.

Get your own access.
Once your student has an online account set up, there may be an option to for him or her to designate you to view bills and payments, receive notifications and perform other limited functions. Maintaining your own account allows you to handle common transactions while leaving the responsibility of checking college mail, accessing class notes and information, and monitoring grades with your student.

Build your own support group.
Many schools offer parent and alumni organizations, which often have their own websites, social media groups, newsletters, events and programs. Look for these groups and sign up. This is your chance to get other parents’ perspective and connect with others who are facing the same experience.

Encourage independence.
Your child will soon be doing laundry, making big and small financial decisions, responsible for class attendance and studying, making doctor’s appointments and filling prescriptions, and a host of other tasks independently. Make a list of common activities and help your student check each off between now and the day he or she leaves for college.

Help, but don’t do.
Just as you could only help your child learn to ride a bike, not do it for him or her, now is a time to provide assistance without actually performing tasks for your student. Be the guiding hand as your student finds balance and begins to gain momentum on his or her own.

By: Iowa Student Loan

12 New Year’s Resolutions for College Students

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The new year is a good time to evaluate what’s been working — and what hasn’t — for you at college and figure out ways to improve in the future.

Here are 12 popular resolutions for college students. Which ones should you adopt for yourself?

  1. Improve your sleep habits. Do you get too little sleep or have trouble getting out of bed for your first class? Resolve to get an adequate amount of sleep each night and make the changes necessary to ensure it happens.
  1. Get fit. You probably remember where the exercise facilities on your campus are. If you don’t like the gym atmosphere, or the hours or location aren’t convenient for you, find other ways to get your exercise — go for a daily walk or run, join an intramural sports team or create your own weekly competitions with friends.
  1. Eat better. Are you making healthful choices in the dining center? Do you eat too much fast food or easy-to-cook convenience foods? Stock up on healthy snacks while you’re at home over the holidays and make a resolution to replace more meals each week with a more nutritious alternative.
  1. Add (or drop) an extracurricular activity. Are you too busy going to club and society events that you don’t have time for studying or other activities? Or, are you bored and looking for a reason to get out of your room? Evaluate your activity level and consider whether you should join a new club or quit an existing one.
  1. Try something new this semester. College is an ideal time to study abroad, make new friends or take off for an impromptu (but still safe) road trip. You may never again have the same freedom and opportunity to try such a variety of things. Take advantage of it.
  1. Speak up in class. Even if you’re mostly in large lecture classes, go ahead and ask your question or voice your opinion. It may be embarrassing at first, but you’ll find it helps you be more involved and you may discover others who share your ideas. (And, it usually makes a good impression on the instructor!)
  1. Set a savings goal. Can you save money by renting or buying used textbooks? How about reducing your daily spending? Set a goal for yourself and see if you can reach it by the end of the semester. Find ideas for saving money during college with Student Loan Game Plan.
  1. Get classwork organized. Use a calendar system to plan out study times, course work, projects and papers for the new semester’s classes to ensure you meet deadlines.
  1. Be a leader. Find a leadership opportunity to build skills for your future career. Many organizations will take nominations and hold elections for next year’s officers sometime in the spring. If you prefer more casual leadership, take control of a study group or play an integral role on a house or campus committee.
  1. Improve grades. Unless you managed a 4.0 last semester, you have room to improve your grades. Evaluate the reasons you missed points on tests, papers and projects and make a plan to do better.
  1. Invest in a good outfit. Are you ready for on-campus interviews and career fairs? How about networking events? Make sure you have at least one professional suit or outfit. If cash is tight, check out consignment stores. Some campuses even offer professional outfits for free or a small fee to students through their career services department.
  1. Try one career preparation strategy. Visit your campus career services and get help with a resume, apply for an internship or job, participate in a mock interview or another activity. You’ll make connections with the career services staff and you’ll improve your chances at landing a future position.

By: Iowa Student Loan

13 Reasons to Apply for the Senior Scholarship on Friday the 13th

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Friday the 13th is often considered unlucky, but you can make it a good day by applying for the Iowa Financial Know-How Challenge: Senior Scholarship. Here are 13 reasons to apply:

  1. It’s simple, requiring only about an hour to register and complete all three required steps.
  2. You don’t need certain grades, extracurriculars or financial need to qualify.
  3. It’s free. All you need is a valid email address and internet access.
  4. Thirty scholarships will be awarded across Iowa, increasing your chances of receiving an award.
  5. You could earn $2,000 for next fall’s college expenses.
  6. If you receive a scholarship, your high school will also receive $500 to increase financial literacy and scholarship programs.
  7. You will discover how your decisions affect your total college cost and your need to borrow student loans.
  8. You will connect your anticipated first-year salary to the maximum recommended student loan debt for your major.
  9. You’ll make a plan to reduce your college debt.
  10. You’ll see how to improve your chances of landing your desired job after college.
  11. You’ll learn what graduates with your chosen college major really earn after college.
  12. Iowa Student Loan will send you emails with more information about planning for and paying for college.
  13. You can impress your family and friends by sharing what you learned.

Apply Online Today!

12 New Year’s Resolutions for High School Seniors

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The final year of high school may feel like a time to settle in and enjoy the familiar. With a big life change coming up, however, the start of a new calendar year might facilitate a few changes to get ready for even larger ones later.

Here are 12 resolutions for college-bound high school seniors.

  1. Get excited about college. It’s natural to feel sad about leaving high school behind, but resolve to think instead about the new opportunities waiting for you in a few months. Regardless of how far from home your college is, you will have a chance to make new friends and to discover new things about yourself and the world. Let go of any resentment about what didn’t go right in high school and prepare to be open minded about new horizons.
  1. Finish strong academically. Remember that your college will need your final transcript, so don’t let your grades drop once you’ve been accepted. If you’re taking dual enrollment, Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) classes, remember that you may need to achieve certain grades or test scores to be able to receive credit for required classes at your college.
  1. Learn how to adult. Very soon, you will be responsible for getting yourself out of bed and to class or work on time. You’ll also need to know how to take care of laundry, handle financial matters, advocate for yourself and much more. Make a list of things you’ll need to know how to do on your own and start checking items off.
  1. Know what needs to be done for college. If you’ve made your final college decision, make sure you understand what is needed next. You may need to make enrollment and housing deposits, reserve a spot at orientation, select housing and roommates and visit the doctor for vaccinations or checkups. You may also need to contact other institutions you applied to and let them know you aren’t planning to attend. If you haven’t yet committed to a college, check the deadlines for the top contenders to ensure you don’t miss any.
  1. Save or make money. Besides the large expenses of tuition, fees, housing, books and other costs of college attendance, you’ll need money for daily expenses, transportation and more. Resolve to spend less between now and the day you leave for college and make a goal to land a job to earn additional cash if possible.
  1. Make memories. Even though you’ll spend a lot of time thinking about and preparing for college, also try to be present in the moment. Enjoy your hometown friends and family while you’re with them.
  1. Say thank you. Many people have probably helped you get where you are right now. Teachers, mentors, coaches, recommenders, your parents and others may deserve and will undoubtedly appreciate your thanks. Be specific about how they’ve helped or inspired you and let your relationship guide you on whether a handwritten note or an in-person gesture is best.
  1. Apply for scholarships. It’s never too late to apply for scholarships to help you manage your college expenses. Start with a search on your college’s website or a call to the admissions or financial aid office. You may be eligible for competitive or automatic awards from the college, your academic department or other providers. Also search on scholarship websites and check with your school counselor for outside scholarships. And, finally, remember to explore offerings from your own and your family’s employers, financial institutions, community and religious organizations, and other outside sources.
  1. Leave a positive impression. If you will soon need to end your involvement in an organization or activity, plan a way to leave a lasting legacy. You may be able to spearhead a special campaign, pass a project or advice on to another member, or put forth your best effort.
  1. Create your own future. Many seniors who have been deferred or denied by their top choice college feel as though they are settling for second best. Remember, regardless of admission decisions, your success is more about you than any one college path. Resolve to always be your best and seek out opportunity no matter where you’re headed next fall.
  1. Weigh financing options. If you haven’t yet, you’ll soon receive your college’s financial aid packet detailing the financial aid you are eligible to receive as a student at that institution. Carefully consider how you can limit borrowing. If your financial aid doesn’t cover cost of attendance and you need to think about private loans, compare your options for the best fit for your situation.
  1. Set goals for the next phase. Most college freshmen plan to graduate college and find a job after obtaining a degree. Think about specific and incremental goals that will help you reach that main objective. Consider whether you want to or should maintain a certain GPA; find and participate in internships, co-ops or other career-related work; complete research; join student organizations or graduate debt-free.

By: Iowa Student Loan