5 Financial To-Dos for College Seniors


As you prepare to take your final college classes and collect your hard-earned degree, don’t forget that soon you will be supporting yourself financially and, if you have student loans, beginning to repay that debt. Here are some financial to-dos before you leave campus.

1. Pay Outstanding Items

Check with the financial services office or log in to your online account. Have you paid all tuition, fees and charges associated with your college account? Don’t forget campus parking tickets, organizational fees or other charges not reflected on your college bill.

If you owe rent, utilities or other off-campus charges, make sure you’ve taken care of those obligations before you leave campus.

2. Provide Updated Contact Information

If you have student loans, notify your student loan lender or servicer of your new mailing address in accordance with the credit agreements or promissory notes you signed. Keep in mind that customer service for some of your loans may be provided by a different entity than your original lender.

In addition, you may need to provide your updated contact information to the college, U.S. Postal Service, utility providers, landlords or property management companies, driver license or department of motor vehicles, insurers, employers and others.

3. Get Your Student Loans in Order

Take a look at all the paperwork you kept for your student loans, or log in to any online accounts you set up. Also, open—and thoroughly read—any correspondence from student loan lenders or servicers. Be sure you understand when your first payments are due, your payment options and how much you will be required to pay each month.

If you haven’t lined up a job before your first payment is due, contact your lenders and servicers about your options for delaying payment. Understand you are responsible for daily interest accruing on unsubsidized loans during deferment and on all loans during forbearance. Paying at least the accrued interest on a monthly basis will help prevent capitalization, where interest is added to your principal balance and begins to accrue interest as well.

If you have any questions about repaying your student loans, call your lender or servicer. Generally, these organizations are willing to assist you in navigating the complex student loan repayment process.

4. Budget Your Income and Expenses

Make a monthly budget based on your current circumstances.

If you already have a job secured, compare your starting salary to your expected living expenses and student loan payments. Don’t forget that part of your paycheck will go toward taxes and other required deductions as well as optional benefits such as retirement and medical insurance.

If you haven’t been hired in your field yet, detail your monthly expenses and come up with a plan to pay for them. You may need to explore lower level or part-time jobs until you land your desired career.

5. Get Cash for Goods

Before you leave campus, sell what you won’t need again. This includes current textbooks, furniture, electronics and other items. Your campus area may offer several social media sites to advertise your belongings to next year’s students.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Is Grad School the Next Step for You?


As you progress through your undergraduate education, you may realize that the career you want requires an advanced or specialized degree, or perhaps your potential starting salary will be higher if you earn a graduate degree first.

But continuing in your education beyond a bachelor’s degree will require more time and more money. Is graduate school the right choice for you?

Here are some questions to ask:

Are you financially ready?
A good guideline for student loan debt is that you should not borrow in total more than you expect to make in your first year after graduation. With a graduate degree, you may be able to earn more in that first job, but remember to include any debt you took on for your undergraduate degree when you calculate how much debt you may be able to repay later.

You may be able to find a graduate assistantship or other position that will cover all or part of your graduate tuition, but you will also have housing and living expenses. Be prepared to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for each year of graduate school and have a plan for meeting your financial needs.

Will you succeed academically?
Your grades in the undergraduate classes required for your major can be a good indication of your ability to do well in a graduate program. The more As you have, the better. A general guideline is that if you have more than a few Bs and Cs, you may want to think about your passion for the field and your own ability to do well.

Are you taking rigorous courses now?
Your undergraduate program likely offers classes at different levels, from introductory courses designed for students of all majors to junior seminars and senior thesis classes. Taking rigorous courses specifically created to meet the needs of students within your major will allow you to sample professional-level coursework and provide an opportunity to stand out among undergraduates.

Do you have the right connections?
Your entrance into graduate school will require several letters of recommendation. Try to connect with faculty who have a national reputation, work in your desired field or have another draw. When you ask for recommendations, it’s helpful to provide a portfolio or synopsis of the work you did for that instructor, especially if it’s been a year or two since you took the class or worked in the lab with him or her.

Have you looked into graduate programs?
If you think you might want to continue your education beyond a bachelor’s degree, start looking into your options as early as your sophomore year and at least 12 months before you graduate. This is especially important if you think you may get a graduate degree from a different university than where you attended undergraduate classes. You need to know about the required entrance exams, other entrance requirements, and the graduate school’s reputation, as well as your personal liking for the environment and faculty.

Are you prepared for the entrance exams?
You will likely need to spend several months preparing for the required entrance exam in your field. Research the exam and take practice tests to get a good idea what you need to work on. If you find it hard to prepare for a standardized test on your own, work with your academic adviser or the campus advising center to locate a study group or a tutor who can help you.

Will you be able to provide the required entrance materials?
Graduate schools may require you to provide a well-written personal statement about your goals for your graduate education and your readiness to achieve them. You’ll also need several letters of recommendation and may need to provide a portfolio of your previous work. Finally, you’ll need to send in transcripts, test scores, and writing samples or essays for evaluation.

By: Iowa Student Loan

After the Award: Why Grades Matter for Financial Aid


You know that awesome feeling you experienced when you realized your grants and scholarships will cover a hefty chunk of your college cost? The relief that now you could focus more on college life instead of solely on your grades?

Not so fast. You should know your grades will likely still matter if you want to keep your aid each year. Here’s why.

1. You may need a minimum GPA to renew certain scholarships and grants.

Many renewable or multiyear scholarships and grants require you to maintain a minimum GPA in college to renew the award. The exact GPA required each semester or term will depend on several factors, such as:

  • The minimum GPA set by the entity that provided the award. Make sure you understand the requirements for each renewable award. Also, check whether there is a probationary period if you fall below the minimum and whether that must occur in your first year or you may use it any time.
  • Whether you need to maintain a certain cumulative GPA or a minimum each term. If you need to keep a minimum cumulative GPA, one semester of poor grades can affect your eligibility for several additional terms.
  • The grading system for your classes. Some colleges award whole grade points only, so an 89% and an 81% course grade are both Bs and are both worth 3.0 points (often called “quality points”) on a 4.0 grading scale. Others award partial points for a letter grade with a + or a -, so an 89% course grade may be a B+ worth 3.33 while an 81% may be a B- worth 2.67 on a 4.0 scale. Still other colleges allow professors to choose which system to use as long as they provide the grading system in the course materials. Know where you need to fall on the scale and whether it’s worth the effort to bring a low B up to a high B in one class versus concentrating on bringing a high B up to a low A in another.

2. You definitely need a minimum GPA to continue to qualify for state and federal aid for additional years.

If you want to receive financial aid, including work-study, grants, scholarships and loans, from the state and federal governments, you need to fill out a FAFSA each year. In addition, you need to show Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP). Each school has its own guidelines and process for SAP, but they may include:

  • A minimum GPA.
  • A required number of credit hours each year, semester or term.
  • A warning or probationary period after falling below the minimum GPA.
  • An appeal process for extenuating circumstances affecting your GPA.

The U.S. Department of Education provides more information on how grades affect federal financial aid. Visit your financial aid office or your college’s website for information on its SAP policies.

3. You may need to repay scholarships or grants.

In some cases, you may be expected to repay at least part of the award if you:

  • Do not attend classes or withdraw from school after a certain date.
  • Drop below full-time.
  • Do not pass enough credit hours in a given time period.

If you are experiencing difficulty in college, even if circumstances are beyond your control, make sure you understand any penalties regarding your financial aid. Your college’s financial aid and academic advising offices can help you determine your options.

By: Iowa Student Loan

February is Financial Aid Awareness Month


While it’s the shortest month of the year, there’s a lot to do in February when it comes to college planning, especially for high school seniors and current college students. February is Financial Aid Awareness Month and, as such, it’s the perfect time to get all your ducks in a row and get organized on financial aid.

There are a lot of aspects to financial aid; you need to understand your costs, understand your eligibility, and understand your budget. So let’s practice our awareness of all the different types of financial aid and how best to prepare for covering the costs of your college education.

Grants & Scholarships

Grants and scholarships are the types of financial aid you want the most. It’s free money you don’t have to pay back. You may have to maintain a certain GPA or participate in an activity, but the money is yours once you qualify and apply.

February is a great time to really dig in on your scholarship applications. Hopefully you’ve been steadily working on your applications throughout senior year, but if not, there are a lot of scholarships that become available around this time. Start your search by talking with your school counselor about local opportunities, and check with the colleges you’ve applied to. Then get organized and get online. There are so many opportunities for scholarships online, and a great place to start is the Iowa College Access Network’s scholarship database at www.ICANsucceed.org/scholarships. ICAN has already done the work for you and made a list of online sites that are safe and trustworthy, and they have their own database of scholarships you can sort through. Scholarships take a lot of time, but it’s totally worth it when those awards start coming in.

Work-Study & Student Loans

Work-study can be a job on campus that provides cash for daily expenses or cash that can go directly toward your college bill. Student loans are loans you borrow to cover any remaining gaps in your bill.

So how do you get financial aid?

We’ve already talked about applying for scholarships. The biggest piece of financial aid is the FAFSA form or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This form is the key to applying for all federal and state aid, and many colleges and private scholarship organizations require it as part of their application processes as well.

The FAFSA is a free form that can lead to federal and state grants, as well as federal student loans, if you need them. The FAFSA can seem scary the first time you do it, which is why in Iowa there’s tons of free help available. The Iowa College Access Network has locations across the state that offer free appointments to help you complete the FAFSA. Just visit www.ICANsucceed.org/locations to find the nearest Student Success Center to you. There’s also the Iowa College Goal Sunday program, which will be offering more than 60 events across Iowa staffed by volunteers from the financial aid community, experts that will help you file your FAFSA and understand the process for free and without an appointment. Visit www.IowaCGS.org to find an event near you and sign up for email reminders.

The final piece to financial aid awareness is learning how it all fits together. Applying for aid, understanding the awards being offered to you by each college, and your total cost are all important pieces to the puzzle. And like a puzzle you need to have them all in place to see the total picture and get a clear view of your options.

In another blog entry we’ll talk about what to do with that picture, but this month be aware of all the pieces you need to get together, file the FAFSA, work on scholarships and start mapping out the potential costs of college. Awareness of what is available to you, what steps are required of you, and your individual responsibility are all part of what it takes for you to be your most successful you.

By: Iowa College Access Network

This is Contributed Content. Any opinions, advice, statements, services, offers, or other information contained in Contributed Content are solely those of the respective author(s) or contributor(s) and do not necessarily state or reflect the opinion of Iowa Student Loan and/or this blog. See the “About” page for additional important information about Contributed Content.

What Does “Success in College” Mean?


Success in college is often associated with earning the cap and gown, but there’s more to it.

It’s also about earning high enough grades to land the job you want. Some employers will not interview students or recent graduates with GPAs below a specific average, usually between 2.50 and 3.00. Earning a GPA below the magical number for your career area could reduce the value of your college degree.

So how can you ensure your GPA is high enough? Some keys to getting good grades are:

  • Taking your classes seriously. Remember that being a good student is your job while in college.
  • Carefully tracking when assignments are due, and budgeting your time accordingly.
  • Going to class and taking good notes.
  • Doing the required reading.
  • Spending the time necessary to adequately study outside of class.
  • Checking your grades to make sure you get the credit you deserve. Ask your professor why you were docked points, and ask if you can redo any subpar work.
  • Taking actions to master the concepts and details of the course content.

To master the course concepts and details, you should aggressively seek out help from multiple resources:

  • Take advantage of your professors’ and teaching assistants’ office hours. Ask them to review your papers before you turn them in or to help solve a problem that is vexing you.
  • Attend scheduled help sessions for the class.
  • Obtain a tutor from your college’s academic support services.
  • Form a study group with other class members, and share the partial knowledge that each of you possesses to gain a more complete understanding by all members of the group.
  • Locate other students, friends or siblings who have taken the class and ask for their help.

It’s no accident when people get good grades in college. They succeed because they are determined to do so and are willing to take every step necessary to make it happen.

By: Steve McCullough
Iowa Student Loan

Choosing a Fulfilling Career Goal


Choosing a career goal is an important step toward being successful in college. You should do this as early as possible.

When thinking about a career, don’t let a desire for money or prestige be the sole deciding factor in career choice. You need to make sure you pick a career that will allow you pay back loans and live the lifestyle you want. But you should also choose something that will provide you with a fulfilling long-term career. Our ROCI Reality Check tool can help you explore careers and expected income levels.

Finding a fulfilling career is important because you will be at work or thinking about work for about 60% of your waking hours. Taking a job you hate can make you unhappy, regardless of how much money you make. If your dream job doesn’t yield high compensation, then adjust your lifestyle to live within your means.

You will be much happier if you are working at a job:

  • That you truly enjoy.
  • At which you excel.
  • Where you can contribute to the organization’s success
  • That you feel called or meant to do.

How do you identify the “dream job” that meets your criteria? The following tips can help.

1. Don’t be hindered by the fear of making a mistake. A lot of people say, “I don’t know what I want to do with the rest of my life!” The funny thing is, some of them are in their 50s!

Choosing a career is not a one-shot deal. The average American changes careers seven times during his or her lifetime. If you wind up not liking your job, you can transition to a different one.

But you have to get started by choosing your first career and trying it out. If nothing else, you will be building a resume that will help you obtain other jobs in the future, as well as earning a living to support yourself while you find something better.

2. Figure out what you are good at. Take an inventory of your skills and accomplishments:

  • What are the classes/subjects in which you excel?
  • What awards or competitions have you won?
  • What do you feel the most confident doing?
  • What do your friends, parents, relatives and teachers think you are good at?

3. Figure out what you enjoy. My first boss once told me that the secret to a successful career was finding something you enjoyed doing so much that you wanted to do it on your day off. I believe this to be true, because the people that I know who are most successful in their careers are truly passionate about what they do. Find your passion by:

  • Identifying times you became so engrossed in what you were doing you lost track of time. You looked up and could not believe several hours had elapsed.
  • Thinking of an activity that you could not wait to tell others about and could not stop talking about.
  • Thinking of an activity that you voluntarily spent an incredible amount of time doing.
  • Considering the things you are good at. Many times this ability comes from the willingness to devote time and energy toward success. This willingness to devote time and energy is usually enhanced by an enjoyment of the work.
  • Asking your friends, parents, relatives and teachers what they think you enjoy doing.

4. Match the things you are good at and are passionate about to potential careers. Several websites and software programs are specifically designed to access your interest and aptitudes and give you lists of careers that match them. Some are free to the public online, and others are purchased by your high school, local community college or state workforce development centers and are free for your use.

  • Choices by Bridges.com
  • Discover by ACT
  • CICS by the University of Oregon
  • Kuder.com
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. Use this site to research your career prospects, including the work environment, demand for individuals in your potential field, salary ranges and college majors that typically lead to the job.

5. Try a potential career on for size. The best way to do try a position is to job shadow. This is a fancy name for finding someone who does the job and hanging out with them as they do it. You can see first-hand what it is really like and hear all about it from someone with experience.

To find someone willing to let you job shadow:

  • Ask your parents if they have a friend or relative in this field, and if they would help you arrange to job shadow them.
  • Ask your high school counselor for help.
  • Contact the professional association for individuals in your prospective field, and ask them to help arrange job shadowing.
  • Contact your local Rotary Club, which includes individuals from all professions that gather to perform service projects. Many of these clubs have job shadowing programs in place or would be willing to introduce you to a member in your prospective field.

6. Research colleges that offer majors and programs that lead to this career. The software discussed above can help, as can www.petersens.com. Pay particular attention to internship programs and job placement rates in your chosen field of study. Remember, choosing a college needs to be about finding the college that is best for your future career.

By: Steve McCullough
Iowa Student Loan

12 New Year’s Resolutions for College Students


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

Prepare to File for Financial Aid


Whether you are planning to enter college for the first time next fall or are returning for another term, securing financial aid means filing your Free Application for Financial Aid (FAFSA). The federal and state governments and your school use this form to determine your eligibility for scholarships, grants, work-study and federal and institutional loans.

The FAFSA requires your and your parents’ or guardians’ financial information. Families often dread the process as much as tax preparation, but with a little work beforehand, you can breeze through the online form in less than an hour.

Filing Dates
Generally, you should file your FAFSA as early as possible. The FAFSA for the 2016–2017 academic year is now available as of Jan. 1. New regulations will allow the FAFSA to become available beginning in October for subsequent academic years.

Find current federal and state deadlines at the Federal Student Aid website.

Each college also has its own application deadlines, and many schools have a priority deadline for students who want the best chance at available aid. Get the deadlines from the website or financial aid office for each school you will apply to and file before the earliest priority deadline. See Iowa college priority deadlines.

Even if you haven’t yet made a final school decision, you need to file only one FAFSA each year, although you may need to log in to update or correct information.

Information to Have on Hand
You, and your parents or guardians if you are a dependent student, will each need to have an individual FSA ID, identification and financial information available.

  • FSA ID username and password (set yours up at ed.gov/fsaid)
  • Social Security number, driver’s license number and date of birth
  • Alien registration number for non-citizens
  • Most recent tax information
  • W-2 forms, pay stubs or other records of income earned the previous tax year
  • Balance of checking, savings and investment accounts
  • Untaxed income records
  • Business and farm records
  • Marriage, separation or divorce dates, if applicable
  • Child support received or paid, if applicable

More Information
See more tips for filing the FAFSA. For free assistance completing the FAFSA, contact the Iowa College Access Network or attend a local College Goal Sunday event.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Use Your Winter Break to Research and Apply for Summer Internships


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


Five Advantages to Networking During Break


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

1 6 7 8 9 10