Plan and Portion for College Success

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect and gather with family, but a successful holiday often requires advance planning and thoughtful portions of each element. Success after high school can be accomplished in the same way: having a plan in mind and accomplishing it in portions beginning as early as middle school.

Portion One: Determining Options

The first step is often considering the options available to your student. Will your child pursue a military career, a trade apprenticeship, a two-year degree or certificate, a four-year bachelor’s degree, or a professional degree spanning years of education and training?

Even if you and your student don’t have a clear determination yet, exploring the options — including important considerations like cost and entrance requirements — will lay the foundation for the following portions.

Portion Two: Financial Planning

Using the options found above, you and your student can explore costs for possible education or training programs and start to plan ways to pay. Look at average costs and costs at the high and low ends of the spectrum, as well as the recent history of cost increases to get an idea of how much your student might be expected to pay in total for his or her education.

Will you need to increase the amount you’re currently saving for postsecondary education? What other options, like college savings accounts, will be useful to you from a tax and financial standpoint? You may wish to consult a financial planner or tax adviser who is knowledgeable about paying for college for assistance.

Portion Three: Academic Requirements

Using some of the education options from above as a guide, determine the entrance requirements for each so you can make a plan for academics through high school. Options to take specialized or advanced classes may be available as early as middle school to allow for more of the same at the high school level.

Consider whether dual enrollment, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, Project Lead the Way or other high school programs will allow your student to earn transferrable credits that cost much less than tuition. School and college counselors can often point students to programs that are most suitable for their goals.

Additionally, explore standardized test score and GPA requirements for admission and for specialized honors, merit or other programs. A goal helps your student understand why it’s worthwhile to complete homework and prepare for the ACT or SAT.

Portion 4: Scholarships

As high school graduation approaches, you and your student can start to look for scholarship opportunities that will provide funding for college or other postsecondary options. Knowing the requirements for earning specific scholarships ahead of time allows your student time to do what is needed to qualify.

Scholarships are often awarded by colleges and corporations for academic or athletic achievement, but other opportunities that don’t require specific accomplishments are available. Check into whether scholarships are offered by parents’ and student’s employers, organizations your student is involved in, community organizations and leagues, local businesses and the state and federal governments, as well as other sources.

Portion 5: Aid Application

Beginning the fall of your student’s senior year in high school, you and your child may begin completing financial aid applications to have a better idea of expected cost. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is an online application that you and your student complete to qualify for federal and state aid (including grants, work-study and loans) and for financial aid awarded by colleges. Some colleges also require another application to award aid from their own resources.

Your student need not have made a final college choice when completing financial aid applications, but the colleges listed on the FAFSA that have accepted your student for admission will generate a financial aid award packet that lists your student’s expected costs for attendance, your family’s expected contribution from savings and earnings based on the information provided on the financial aid application, and the aid that college will award your student. These packages are meant to help your family make an informed choice about the program most affordable to your family while still meeting your student’s goals.

By: Iowa Student Loan

How to Handle Multiple Acceptance Letters

Sometimes the most nerve-wracking part of the entire college admissions process is making the final decision. If you received admission or acceptance offers from more than one of your top choices, these tips can help you choose.

MultipleAcceptLetters_infographicDownload a PDF of this infographic.

  1. Be sure you know how soon you need to make a commitment by comparing dates provided in your admissions packet. (Most colleges and universities give you until May 1 to respond.) If you were admitted and met entrance requirements, you may have some time yet to consider your final choice before you miss the first deadline.
  1. Rank your options. Order your choices based on how well each school fits your needs.
  1. Get student perspectives. If you haven’t already, revisit campus and talk to students. Online resources — like social media, blog entries and comments, and reviews — are also great resources. You can learn a lot of helpful information from those who have been there.
  1. Delve into the nitty-gritty. Look up student retention rates to see if a high proportion of freshmen don’t stay in school; graduation rates for four, five and six years; and job placement rates after graduation. Freshmen do or don’t stay for myriad reasons, but an unusual proportion may indicate an issue you would also face.
  1. Look at your major specifically. How many students are in your major? Do they have trouble getting into the classes they need? Check out the list of required classes for your major and compare that to the number of sections available each semester in the school’s course catalog. Don’t forget to search for online reviews or comments specific to your intended major.
  1. Look at your bottom line. Your total cost to get through all your undergraduate years should be a major consideration. A good financial aid package may move your second or third choice up to the top spot. If a lack of financial aid is keeping you from choosing your favorite school, consider contacting the admissions office to let them know money is preventing you from accepting. If you’re a desirable candidate, they may be able to help with a little more financial aid, depending on their budget.
  1. Commit to one school. You should not agree to attend more than one school. Not only are you likely to lose at least one deposit, a school may rescind its offer if it finds out you are accepting additional offers. The only exception to this is if you are wait-listed at your No. 1 choice; in that case, you may decide to accept your second choice while you wait to hear. Just be sure you notify the second school immediately if you get in at your first choice.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Plan to Transfer? Tips for a Smooth Transition

The process of transferring from one college to another can be painstaking and time-consuming. These tips can help you transition more easily.

Transfer for the right reasons. You may be in a two-year program looking to complete a four-year degree, you may be looking for a specific program your current school falls short on, you might want to move closer to or further from home, or perhaps you chose a less-desirable college to begin with when you weren’t accepted to your top-choice schools. These can all be good reasons to change. Other problems, like an inability to form a social group, mental or emotional issues, or financial or academic struggles, may or may not be solved by attending a different school. Have a plan for how the transfer will resolve these issues.

Start the process early. The steps detailed below can take time and effort. To increase your chances of success in your new college, give yourself plenty of time to handle the transfer process.

Keep up with your current coursework. This may be difficult depending on your reasons for transferring, but a high GPA and good recommendations from your current professors will increase your chances of being accepted to a new program.

Fill in the blanks. Once you have a list of target schools, research the following to be sure you have the complete picture before applying.

  • Transfer acceptance rate: Generally, the acceptance rate for transfer students is slightly lower than it is for incoming freshman. You can find transfer statistics for a specific school by doing an online search for the college name and “Common Data Set” to see data reported by the college. Don’t forget that competitive or impacted majors may have separate eligibility requirements or acceptance rates at some colleges.
  • Admission requirements: Make sure you meet the minimum number of credit hours, minimum GPA and other eligibility requirements for transfer students. Start on the college’s website. Also, if a target school is one that accepted you as an incoming freshman, contact the school to determine if your previous acceptance still stands or if you need to re-apply.
  • Application process: Some programs will require transfer students to provide letters of recommendation, transcripts from college and maybe high school, or an essay explaining why they want to transfer. If you’re asked to write an essay, remember to provide specific details on how the new program is a better fit for you rather than writing negatively about your current school.
  • Aid available to transfer students: Many schools offer their largest scholarships to incoming freshmen. Research the grants and scholarships available to transfer students from the target school and the department to have a better idea of affordability.
  • Fit for academic and career goals: Make sure the new program is a fit for your goals by looking at graduation and placement rates, course descriptions and syllabi, and career and academic services offered.
  • Credit transfers: Even when transferring from a community college to a four-year program with an admissions or articulation agreement, you may find that not all your credits apply in the same manner at the target school. Be sure you understand how credits will be applied toward graduation and program requirements so you know if you will graduate on time without repeating coursework or outlasting scholarships with a renewal limit.
  • Transfer atmosphere: Find out how transfer-friendly your target schools are by seeing if they offer academic advisers, orientation programs, visits, housing or other programs specifically for transfer students. These offerings can make a difference in your ability to find a new social community and assistance on a new campus.

Know how your financial aid is affected. Besides merit aid available to transfer students, understand how your current financial aid will be affected by a move. Use the Common Data Set and call the financial aid office to find answers to your questions about aid at a new school.

  • Change in federal funds: Some federally funded but campus-based aid, like Federal Work-Study, is never portable. You will lose these awards and may or may not see them matched by your new school, depending on that school’s cost of attendance, financial aid policies and available funds. Federal loan limits may also be affected by transferring from a two-year program to a four-year college. If you transfer mid-term, some federal financial aid funds may be returned to the government.
  • Loss of state and institutional aid: Your current school will no longer provide financial aid awards for attendance at your new college. If you change states, you will not receive funds from the state of your previous college; if you stay in the same state, you may receive fewer state funds based on timing and funding availability.
  • FAFSA updates: Unless you transfer between academic years, you will need to update your current FAFSA with your new school choices. This will result in a new Student Aid Report and financial aid packages from the new schools. If you don’t receive this information within four weeks of resubmitting your FAFSA, contact each school’s financial aid office.
  • Student loan repayment timeline: Contact your student loan lender about your plans to leave one school and re-enroll in another. If you are re-enrolling immediately at least half time, you will likely be eligible for deferment on your student loan payments; otherwise, you may need to start repaying previously disbursed loans within six months.
  • Other financial considerations. If you currently attend school as in-state student but plan to transfer to an out-of-state college, your tuition costs may increase dramatically. In addition, if the transfer of credits or changing programs results in taking longer to graduate, you will incur additional costs before graduation.

Make connections. Once you know which schools you will apply to as a transfer student, start making connections. Contact academic advisers, professors and internship offices to understand how they will assist you in your new program. Visit campuses if possible. Connect with other students, especially other transfer students, through social media.

Get a good start. Once you have finalized your transfer choice, continue to connect with other transfer students at orientation sessions specifically for transfer students. Get involved in activities and talk to classmates in your upper-level courses to meet more people with interests similar to yours. Find an on-campus job to meet people and earn extra money. Get to the career center right away to be sure you’re ready to take on internships and find a job after graduation.

By: Iowa Student Loan