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

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

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!