Making the Introduction to College Campuses

Header Image: Making the Introduction to College Campuses

Selecting colleges with the right fit from among all available options can be overwhelming as high school juniors and seniors start the college application process. Starting earlier, even as early as middle school, with no-commitment introductions to various types of college campuses can help your student understand what he or she finds most suitable.

Here are five ways to explore different types of college campuses:

  1. Surf the web. While very different from an in-person visit, exploring a college’s website can help students narrow down what they like and don’t like about different types of colleges. Does a small private college with specialized programs suit them, or would they prefer the variety and relative anonymity of a larger public university? Does the campus map or photos of buildings seem overwhelming or manageable? Does the campus have a park-like setting or is it spread out in an urban area? What kind of feelings does the architecture evoke?
  1. Take a leisurely walk. If you live or travel near a college or university, stop for a stroll through campus. You don’t need to set up a formal tour to get a feel for how students interact, how buildings are laid out and the modernity of dorm rooms and common spaces. Walk through the student union and a classroom building to get a peek behind the scenes. Stop in the campus bookstore to check out the selection of themed merchandise, and watch for fliers and posters advertising upcoming events.
  1. Join the crowd. Go to a game, cultural event or open house on campus to see a different side of college life. Are students involved in the activities your child enjoys? How active are alumni as fans, supporters and donors? Are these events appealing to the local community?
  1. Visit a friend or relative. If your student knows any current college students, see if a visit would work out. An afternoon at a local campus might be enough for your child to see how he or she might spend time on that campus and have a chance to talk with older students about what they like and don’t like. If you’re comfortable, an overnight stay with a trusted current student can be very enlightening for a younger student.
  1. Stay awhile. Many college campuses host overnight camps for athletic, academic and special interest programs during summer breaks. Going to camp will allow your child to stay in a dorm with other like-minded students, eat in dining centers, use the campus facilities and explore the surrounding community.

By: Iowa Student Loan

College Visits: What Not to Ask

Header image: College Visits: What Not to Ask

Many of the most common questions people ask on college visits can be answered by looking at the school website or its Common Data Set questionnaire*.

* To find the Common Data Set online, search for the term on the school’s website, or enter the school name and “Common Data Set” in your browser search bar.

Research the answers to these questions to help you narrow down college choices.

  • What are the requirements for admission?
  • What other factors, like being a first-generation or legacy student, affect admission?
  • Are students typically accepted through early admission or off a waitlist?
  • Is a gap year allowed between admission and enrolling?
  • How many undergraduate students and graduate students are on campus?
  • What is the student-faculty ratio?
  • How many students are in the average class?
  • How many students graduate in four years, five years and six years?
  • What is the student retention rate?
  • What is the average debt for students?
  • What is the percentage of financial need met by the school?
  • What percentage of students receive financial aid?
  • How much of awarded financial aid is scholarships and grants, and how much is loans?
  • How many students are in fraternities and sororities?
  • What activities and clubs are available?
  • How many students study abroad?
  • Is there an honors college or program, and what are its requirements?
  • Does the school offer living/learning communities, and how do those work?
  • What additional services, including tutoring, academic advising, health, mental health and career, are available to students?
  • What are the crime rates and types for the campus and the surrounding community?
  • What do students and families say about this school on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Reddit?
  • How do professors in my major score on ratemyprofessor.com and other educator rating sites?

See a list of questions to ask during college visits instead.

By: Iowa Student Loan

College Visits: What to Ask

Header image: College Visits: What to Ask

A visit to a college campus is a great way to familiarize yourself with the overall atmosphere on campus and see what daily life there may be like. It’s important to find the right fit financially and personally so that you save time and money in attaining your degree. Choose from among the questions below to ask on your next college visit.

What to Ask an Admissions Representative

  • Is admission need-blind (meaning financial background does not impact admission) or need-aware (meaning that full-pay students are more likely to be admitted or that there’s a limited number of scholarships for financially needy students)?
  • Is there an introductory freshman year experience, such as a service or camp opportunity?
  • Is there a culminating senior year experience?
  • What is the average class size for introductory or general education classes?
  • Are students required to live on campus? Every year?
  • Are dorms available or guaranteed for upperclassmen?
  • What are the food plan requirements when living on campus? How does the food service accommodate food allergies/sensitivities?
  • How do AP, IB and dual enrollment classes, SAT subject test scores and CLEP test scores count for credit?
  • How does class scheduling/academic advising work? How and when do freshmen sign up for classes?
  • How does the school help students take the right classes at the right time to graduate in four years?

What to Ask a Financial Aid Representative

  • How do outside scholarships affect financial aid? Will they replace other awarded aid or be stacked on top of it?
  • What are the work-study opportunities on campus?
  • What campus employment is available for students not awarded work-study?
  • Is alternative financial aid, such as service-based scholarships, available?
  • Do financial aid packages change after freshman year?
  • How many campus and departmental scholarships are available after freshman year?

What to Ask a Representative of Your Major

  • What is the student-faculty ratio in my major?
  • What is the average class size for upper division classes in my major?
  • What opportunities for undergrad research would be available to me?
  • How many undergraduate students conduct research?
  • Is there a separate admission process for my major, and what does that entail?
  • What is the admission rate for students of my declared major?
  • Is my major impacted or highly selective? Or, is there a chance my major will be eliminated before I graduate?
  • How many students get internships? What is the process for finding internships?
  • Do companies come to campus to recruit? Is there an annual career fair for students in my major?
  • What is the role of teaching assistants for my major?
  • What does it take to graduate in four years?

What to Ask Your Tour Guide

  • How many students live on campus versus off-campus? How many commute?
  • Are art or music spaces available to non-majors?
  • What IT services are available, and how much do they cost students?
  • What is the campus sports atmosphere?
  • What do students on campus think of my intended major? Does it have a reputation?
  • What happens when there is an emergency, such as severe weather or an active shooter?

What to Ask Students on Campus

  • How crowded are dorms?
  • What happens on weekends and breaks? Do many students leave campus?
  • What other schools did you look at and why did you decide on this one?
  • What is the social life like?
  • How do you get around campus or to shopping, the airport or the entertainment district?
  • Do most students have bikes or cars?
  • How much does it cost to live off-campus and what are the options?
  • How hard is it to get into required classes?
  • Are you able to meet with your professors when you want to?
  • What are your favorite and least favorite things about this college?
  • Where do students get food other than the dining centers?
  • How do students view fraternities and sororities?
  • What are the most popular activities on campus?

What to Ask Yourself

  • Does the student body seem friendly and welcoming?
  • Are the library and other student academic centers up to date and are students using these resources?
  • What is available to eat in the dining center and how many options are there on a daily basis?
  • Where do students gather and how do they interact with each other?
  • Does the bus system run on time and go where needed? Does it seem overcrowded or underused?
  • What do I think of the main buildings, labs and facilities for my major and other main interests?
  • What does the student newspaper, posted fliers and notices tell me about the campus?

See questions that are easily answered through research instead.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Start the College Conversation

Header image: Start the College Conversation

Middle school is a great time for students to start thinking about and discussing their plans after high school. It may feel like your child just headed off to the first day of school, but time passes quickly and now is the time to plan for high school and beyond.

Here are eight ways to start a conversation with your student.

1. Connect current interests. Observe the things your child enjoys and discuss how these activities translate into college majors and careers. Even if you are sure your child won’t end up as a chef, talking about cooking for a living helps your student think about the connection between interests and careers. Just remember that as your child matures, his or her interests will change as well.

2. Explore career possibilities. Your student might have some idea of what you do for a living and is likely familiar with several common jobs like teacher, police officer, doctor and lawyer. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Talk about what people you work with do, as well as the careers of extended family members, friends and acquaintances. Help your student see the nuances between different careers and how people got to the point where they are today.

3. Define “college.” What do you and your student think of when you hear the word “college”? Explore the different types of postsecondary options and the types of careers associated with them to help your child understand their future choices. Visiting different campuses can help.

4. Stress the importance of academic habits. Middle school grades and test scores usually don’t count for college admission considerations, but now is the time to set good habits and define expectations. High school course rigor and grades, along with standardized test scores, play a major role in college admissions. Set the stage now by talking about what’s happening at school and how to improve.

5. Make a financial plan. Discuss the current and projected future cost of college and what that means for your family. If you expect your student to work in high school or college to help offset costs, talk about that now. In addition, let your student know what kind of college savings or funding he or she can expect from the family. This will help clarify the college choice down the road.

6. Talk about academic options. If your student performs well in middle school, there may be an opportunity to advance in coursework. Taking high school classes in middle school frees up time for more advanced classes, and even classes that count for college credit, in high school. In addition, standardized test scores may help your student qualify for substantial merit-based scholarships for college.

7. Clarify expectations. Some families assume their children will attend college; others assume their children won’t. Where does your family fall on this scale and how does that fit with your student’s own ideas? Encourage your child to think in terms of financial and personal goals and how college affects those.

8. Share your own experience. Discuss your favorite and least favorite aspects of your own education and what you would do differently. Share how the choices you made or the situations you were in affected what came after.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Planning for Student Loan Repayment

Header image: Planning for Student Loan Repayment

It can be tough to know where to start with student loan repayment. After you graduate from college, you typically have six months before repayment starts on your student loans. This is your grace period, the time for you to figure out your job and living situation before you are expected to start making payments.

Gather Your Loan Information
The important thing during this time is to get your budget in line and figure out how much your monthly payments are going to be. The National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) is the US Department of Education’s central database for student aid and has the list of all your federal loans, how much you owe, your interest rate, who your loan servicer is, and their contact information. Visit https://www.nslds.ed.gov/nslds/nslds_SA/ to get started (you’ll need your FSA ID to gain access).

Private loans will not appear on the NSLDS website, so you’ll have to contact each lender individually for the loan information if you have any private loans.

Consider Consolidation
Once you have all your loan information gathered, the next decision is whether or not to consolidate. Consolidating your loans will take all your individual loans and payments and combine them into one balance and one payment.

Keep in mind that federal loans and private loans can only be consolidated together through some private loan options, and you will be forfeiting federal loan benefits to do so.

  • Private loans: Consolidation of private loans can be a good idea if you can get a lower interest rate than your current loans have individually. When you look into consolidation, inquire about the current loan rate. You can contact your loan servicer or visit their online account portal to determine your consolidation options and your repayment options.
  • Federal Loans: For federal loans, visit https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/consolidation to see the benefits of consolidation. While you can’t lower your federal loan rate, you may find other reasons this is beneficial for you.

Entering Repayment
Once you start repayment, there of several types of options for federal loans:

  • Standard Repayment
  • Graduated Repayment
  • Extended Repayment
  • Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment
  • Pay As Your Earn Repayment
  • Income-Based Repayment
  • Income-Contingent Repayment
  • Income-Sensitive Repayment

For all the details on these Federal Repayment Options, visit https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/understand/plans. For private loan repayment options, contact your loan provider.

Pick the plan that allows you to pay the debt down in the fastest amount of time with the least amount of interest. Some of the repayment options offer extended repayment terms up to 25 years and very low monthly payments. However, this just means you are incurring more interest and carrying the debt with you through most of your adult life. Other major financial decisions (such as purchasing a home) in your future can be impacted by your choice of student loan repayment plan.

You also want to focus on planning for retirement. After graduating from college retirement seems a lifetime away, however now is the best time to capitalize on that lifetime of savings. The more you can contribute to a 401(k) or Roth IRA now, the more time it has to grow.

The sooner you are out from under your student loan debt, the sooner you can start capitalizing on your financial freedom and bring your focus on your future goals.

Contributed by: Iowa College Access Network

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