Five Advantages to Working During Breaks

If you need to build up savings for college and living expenses, think about a job during holiday and spring breaks.

Here are five advantages to working during school breaks.

Maintain your regular study schedule.
Because you don’t have classes to take up a large part of your day, you can often dedicate a large chunk of time to your job. If your break also falls between school terms, you can devote even more hours to earning money since you won’t have studying or homework to do.

Build up earnings.
You may be able to work 40 or more hours a week to maximize your earnings in a short period of time. Even better, while you’re working many hours, you have less time and opportunity to spend your earnings, so you’re able to save more to reach your financial goals.

Take advantage of openings.
Many employers need extra, short-time help to deal with the increased workload during the holidays. Besides standing behind a cash register, you may be able to find positions to help with stocking, holiday displays, returns and exchanges, or filling in for others who are on vacation. Seasonal employment is also more widely available.

Gain work experience.
You may find it easier to land a paid internship or co-op position for a short break than you would for an entire semester or school term. Even jobs that aren’t directly tied to your intended career can provide valuable transferrable skills.

Create a relationship.
As a reliable seasonal employee, you may be able to return to the same position, or more advanced positions with the same employer, break after break. You may even be able to land a permanent position or develop a network of mentors who will help you after college graduation.

See additional ideas for making money during breaks.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Choosing a College: Consider Costs

Cost of attendance is often the biggest factor in choosing a college, but the affordability of any particular college or university can be difficult to determine. Here are some steps you can take.

1. Know how much your family can pay for college.

The actual amount you can afford to spend may depend on a variety of factors. Be clear and honest about how much parents are able to contribute and the amount the student will be able to earn or save for college.

2. Understand actual cost of attendance numbers.

Colleges provide current cost information for tuition, fees, housing, meals and other expenses on their websites. Look at these numbers carefully to understand how they are determined. Do tuition and fees change based on number of credit hours? Are students living in residence halls required to pay for a more expensive meal plan? Are the average transportation or living expenses high or low for your situation?

3. Gather information about scholarship programs offered by the college.

The school website is also a source of information about eligibility for the different scholarships offered by the school. Check to see if any apply to your situation and whether they are guaranteed for any eligible student or are competitive awards.

4. Research scholarships, grants and other aid recently awarded to similar students by the schools you’re interested in.

Many colleges and universities offer data about the number of students who received aid and how much total aid was awarded through a document called the Common Data Set. To find it, type the name of the institution and “Common Data Set” in your internet search engine.

5. Estimate your family’s costs.

A net cost calculator can help estimate the amount you may be expected to pay at a particular institution. Search online for the name of the school and “net cost calculator” to find that institution’s tool. Some calculators allow you to input your family’s financial and other information to estimate available scholarships and aid; others are less robust and will provide a more general estimate of net cost. Certain factors, like a family business, may affect the accuracy of net cost calculators.

6. Determine a realistic timeline.

The amount of time it takes the average student to graduate may vary depending on the school, specific program and other factors. The graduation rates provided on the school’s Common Data Set may help you determine a realistic timeline.

7. Compare a reasonable estimate of the actual cost for a total college career to the amount you can afford to pay.

This information will help you decide if a college is affordable to your family. Remember, this is only an estimate, and you may be able to work with the financial aid office, increase earnings, reduce expenses or find additional funding to make a college choice more affordable.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Find a Budgeting System that Works

When someone says budgeting some people find themselves cringing a little at the thought.

For many, the idea of a budget means less freedom and less fun. But the truth is that having a budget provides a lot more freedom in the long run.

To make things easier, you can use the word “plan” instead of “budget.” Everyone has made a plan at one time or another, whether it’s a small list of things to do, a get-together with friends, or a trip.

Making a budget is simply another form of making a plan. It’s figuring out how much you have coming in (income) and what expenses you have to cover (bills/spending). Your budget is a plan to have enough income to cover all your expenses while ensuring there’s enough left over to do what you really want to do.

Understanding how much money you have enables you to plan ahead for bigger things and provides you more freedom because you’ve already determined what you can afford and how you want to spend your money.

Budgeting can seem overwhelming but there are a lot of great tools and resources to help you get started.

Mint.com is free and does all the work for you. This online tool links to all of your accounts over a secure site and tracks income, spending and overall debt. There’s lot of features, including setting spending limits, email alerts, goal setting, and a mobile app.

Other ways of tracking your spending include resources such as Dave Ramsey’s EveryDollar, Feedthepig.org, your bank or credit union’s online system, or a simple spreadsheet. Some people even use the envelope system where cash is added to envelopes each month and bills and expenses are paid directly from there.

No matter what system you find is right for you, it’s important to track your spending and know where your money goes. The more financially responsible you are, the more freedom you will find when it comes time to do the things you really want to do.

Note: some systems, including Aspire Servicing Center’s,  do not support automated integration with sites like Mint.com and may require you to manually input your info.

Contributed 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.

Building Time Management Skills

Students of all ages need good time management skills to balance school, homework, activities, family responsibilities and just having fun. Here are some tips for building effective time management practices to last through college and beyond.

1. Figure out what has to be done.

  • Make a list of everything that’s required, such as sleep, school, homework, organized sports and activities, work, and family and household commitments.
  • Add in fun activities.

2. Determine the time commitment for each activity.

  • Plan for at least eight hours of sleep and a couple of hours for meals and personal care each day.
  • Use classroom materials or talk to teachers to determine adequate time to reserve for studying, projects and other schoolwork.
  • Incorporate additional time for meeting improvement goals.
  • Consider preparation for sporadic events like standardized tests, recitals and conferences.

3. Block out commitments using a planner or calendar.

  • Break big projects down into multiple stages instead of just listing a deadline.
  • Color-coding can be a visual cue for the most important items.
  • Ensure new assignments and commitments are recorded daily or as soon as they’re known.

4. Make a daily to-do list.

  • Put the most challenging or important items at the top to be done first.
  • Think about rewards for completing tasks on the to-do list.
  • Take along portable items, such as a book, notes and flashcards, to stay on track during idle moments.

5. Be strategic.

  • If procrastination is a problem, find out why. Is extra help with homework needed? Is it an activity that has become less appealing over time?
  • Discover the student’s best working conditions for completing specific tasks. Is it better to do math after school or after dinner? Is running better first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening?
  • Stay organized. A clean environment with all the needed materials at hand helps move things along with fewer distractions.

6. Develop a routine.

  • Set aside dedicated study time every day, even if the time of day must change periodically for seasonal or special activities.
  • Be consistent to reach short- and long-term goals.

7. Set priorities and resolve conflicts.

  • Remember that it’s important to set aside time to recharge and relax. Some students need time to read, be with friends, exercise, play games or enjoy other recreational pursuits.
  • Understand the consequences for not getting something done to help prioritize the most important items.
  • Approaching a coach or teacher with alternatives sometimes helps resolve conflicts, but understand that as pressures and commitments build, something may need to be dropped.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Comparing Salary to Debt

How do you know if you can afford a particular college or how much is too much to take out in student loans? One key indicator recommended by experts is a monthly student loan debt-to-income ratio of 8%–12%. An easier way to think of this is that total student loan debt, for all years of college, should be no more than the expected first-year salary.

Iowa Student Loan’s Student Loan Game Plan is an interactive online tutorial that walks students through this concept, as well as several other important points about borrowing for college, including:

  • Stories about the issues faced by real-life borrowers when they took on too much student loan debt.
  • Common choices students make that can affect their overall student loan debt level, including how long it takes to graduate, working during college, living arrangements and monthly spending.
  • A realistic starting salary and yearly borrowing level for specific college majors.
  • The ability to see how making voluntary interest payments during college affects total estimated loan repayment and monthly payment amounts.
  • A sample monthly budget for after college that includes income based on the user’s choice of major, student loan payments and national average expenses.
  • Tips for reducing expenses and the need to borrow to pay for college costs.
  • An action plan to commit to actions students can take before and during college to reduce overall debt levels.

Make your Student Loan Game Plan now.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Reading for Success

Even with modern technology and the changing pace of the world, reading — and understanding the text — still plays an integral role in success in college and career. But, more than half of the 2016 high school graduates who took the ACT standardized test didn’t meet ACT’s college readiness standards for reading.

These tips can help ensure students are ready to read for success.

Have books and reading material handy. This is easier than ever with e-books, online blogs and magazines, and apps for handheld devices. Whether you prefer electronic or print materials, keep them close to you at home and away to pick up whenever you have a free moment.

Make reading a family activity. Seeing others read for pleasure and information encourages students to do the same. In addition, family members who read can discuss what they’ve been reading and connect ideas and themes to what’s happening in their own lives, an important skill.

Spend time around books. Although it may be handy to shop for new reading material or reserve a book through the local library online, many lifelong readers spend time browsing through physical books at libraries and bookstores. This activity can raise awareness of unknown authors, different genres and new releases.

Get the most from your reading. Interact with reading material by posing questions as you read, making connections to your own life and the world, and rereading any passages that leave you confused. Other tips for reading textbooks or other research material include:

  • Check for comprehension by testing yourself and discussing with others.
  • Learn to properly take notes or highlight text to call out the important points.
  • Look up words you don’t know to increase vocabulary and understanding.
  • Try the SQ3R method of survey, question, read, recite and review.
  • Tutors are available to help improve reading comprehension for testing and schoolwork.

Read a variety. No matter your reading goals, one of the best ways to become a better reader is to read a lot of different types of material. Choose some easy reading and some challenging reading for fun, knowledge and discussion. Several different lists of books to read before college are available online, and fiction and nonfiction bestseller lists can also be a good guide. But don’t be afraid to pick up anything that piques interest.

Know how to find what you want. Library and research skills are important to discern reputable sources for research or studying, locating enjoyable materials and expanding horizons. A librarian or media specialist can help students, and classes that require independent reading, writing and research is a good way to continue to build on these skills.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Getting Involved: Nine Reasons Why

Opportunities to become involved in extracurricular, athletic and work activities abound. Here are nine reasons you should take advantage of at least a few of those opportunities.

1. Discovering new possibilities. Involvement in an activity could spur a lifelong passion, introduce career options and help define identity. For example, many students first find a love for debate or technology through school activities

2. Easing transitions. Moving from elementary to middle school, or from middle to high school, can be a big change in routine, relationships and environment. Continuing or discovering activities can help make the change go more smoothly.

3. Relieving boredom. Being involved in an activity often means hours of practice, preparation and, sometimes, travel, which leaves less time for boredom or less-desirable activities.

4. Relieving academic pressure. As the school work load increases, it may seem counterintuitive to spend more time on other activities, but the outlet is often a needed break from homework and studying.

5. Increasing academic performance. Research indicates that being involved in activities outside the classroom may play a role in improving grades and standardized test scores.

6. Building important skills. No matter what the future brings, skills like teamwork, cooperation, creative problem-solving, decision-making and leadership will always be important. Many extracurricular activities allow the development of these skills that are transferrable to school, family and future life.

7. Making connections. Whether it’s a coach, a teammate, a parent or a judge, involvement in many extracurriculars brings students into contact with others who may become valuable connections later.

8. Improving college applications. If college is the next step after high school, a record of involvement over several years can demonstrate a continued interest in a particular cause, activity or event. Colleges and universities appreciate seeing applicants who demonstrate that they are successful outside the classroom and will become active members of their academic communities.

9. Finding something for everyone. A variety of activities are available for students of all backgrounds and circumstances, including:

  • School, club or community sports teams
  • Special interest clubs like card or chess clubs
  • Academic-related activities such as competitive math or science teams
  • Fine arts groups, like newspaper or social media, drama, dance or music
  • Student government
  • Volunteering for nonprofit and service organizations
  • Career-related internships and jobs
  • Other jobs such as retail, babysitting and tutoring

By: Iowa Student Loan

Understanding Family Contributions

An integral part of the college financial aid process is an expected family contribution, or EFC. This number is the basis for the amount of financial aid made available to a student. The following Q & A addresses many of the common concerns about EFC.

Q: What is an EFC?

A: The expected family contribution, or EFC, is calculated according to a formula set by law. Each college or university a student applies to uses this formula and the information you provide to determine financial aid, including federal, state and institutional grants, scholarships, work-study and loans.

The EFC is not necessarily any of the following:

  • The overall cost of attendance for any specific college.
  • The amount your family will pay to any specific college.
  • The amount your family feels comfortable or is able to contribute to college.
  • The same for multiple institutions.
  • The same as another student’s EFC, even if it seems the other student is in a similar financial situation.

Q: How is the EFC determined?

A: The expected family contribution, or EFC, takes into account your family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets, benefits (such as unemployment or Social Security benefits), family size and number of students in college at the same time.

Q: When will the EFC be determined?

A: Each year, the U.S. Department of Education opens the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for new and returning students who will attend college the following academic year. After submitting a completed FAFSA and required financial information, families receive a student aid report showing EFC.

Some private colleges require that incoming students complete a separate financial aid process that generates an EFC.

Both of these may be completed as early as the fall before the next academic year and usually are available into the beginning of the applicable school year.

Q: How can I estimate the EFC?

A: Federal Student Aid offers the FAFSA4caster to help families estimate eligibility for federal student aid. Families using the FAFSA4caster use a specific college’s official cost of attendance, family information and expected state, institutional and private aid (such as scholarships) to create an EFC. You can compare EFCs for different colleges or with different aid scenarios.

Colleges also provide a net price calculator to help families estimate the amount of aid they might receive. To find a calculator for any specific college, browse the financial aid section of the school website or visit the U.S. Department of Education’s net price calculator site.

Q: When should I estimate the EFC?

A: Families may begin estimating EFC as early as the student’s middle school years to get an accurate idea of current costs, available aid and expected family contribution. Each college’s available funding and costs of attendance may change on a yearly basis, and revisiting EFCs over several years can help families create a more accurate expectation of net cost.

High school juniors and seniors may use the calculators described above to help determine whether they can afford particular colleges before applying.

Q: Where do I find the official EFC for a specific college?

A: Colleges provide a financial aid packet to accepted students in the spring before the beginning of the next school year. The financial aid packet lists the amount the college expects the family to contribute toward the cost of attendance, as well as the financial aid available to the student.

Q: Why is the EFC different than the amount my family can really afford?

A: The tax information supplied on the FAFSA, which is used to calculate EFC, is from the “prior prior” tax year. A student entering college in 2019 would provide the family’s 2017 tax information, in addition to other, current financial information. If a family’s financial situation has changed significantly since the applicable tax year, the EFC may not reflect that.

In addition, the EFC may consider assets such as family-owned businesses, real estate, investments or retirement funds that the family is not able or unwilling to free up for college expenses.

Q: Can I appeal the EFC?

A: If your family’s financial situation has changed since the applicable tax year or since completing the financial aid process, you may wish to contact the financial aid office at any college(s) under consideration to determine next steps.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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