5 Things Parents Should Know About Award Letters

Your student filed the FAFSA and just received the first financial aid award letter from a college. Your student may be happy as this is yet another step in the process taking them ever closer to move-in day. But before accepting admission, it’s important you take a look and ensure the offered financial aid is right for your family’s situation. Here are a few things to consider when reviewing your student’s award letter.

1. Award letters can come in a variety of formats.

If your student receives an award letter from multiple colleges, they may not look the same. This can make comparing costs and awarded aid a bit tricky and confusing but there are ways to get an accurate comparison.

It’s important to compare like costs and like awarded aid. Consider additional listed costs or aid separately. If you get confused, using a spreadsheet or table that breaks down amounts might help. The U.S. Department of Education offers a shopping sheet that can provide a template.

2. Colleges often include the maximum available federal student and parent loans on the award letter.

If you have other means to pay, such as newly anticipated income, savings, gifts or a 529 college savings plan, you can decline the offered loans entirely or update the awarded loan amounts to a lesser value. You don’t have to accept the full amount of awarded loans.

3. Loans listed on the award letter could include federal PLUS loans for parents.

These loans allow parents to supplement the student’s awarded aid to better cover the cost of attendance. These loans enter repayment immediately and are entirely the responsibility of the parent — not the student. Be sure to review your student’s award letter carefully and discuss loan options and responsibilities.

4. You may notice awarded aid doesn’t fully cover all costs.

You have some options when it comes to covering the remaining costs. First, contact the school’s financial aid office and inform them of your situation. They may be able to offer monthly payment plans or suggest other options such as private student loans.

5. When reviewing your student’s award letter, keep in mind that other costs will come up during the course of your student’s college career.

Award letters often do not take into consideration additional or extra costs. Other costs that may not be included in the award letter are spending money if your student chooses to attend concerts, sporting events or other activities. Organizations your student chooses to join may also come with membership fees not detailed in the award letter. So be sure you or your student have some extra money set aside for these situations.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Minimize Your Student Loan Debt: Declining Awarded Student Loans

Colleges sometimes include the maximum available federal student and parent loans on financial aid award letters to bring the amount of awarded financial aid closer to the total cost of attendance. It’s not always clear that students don’t need to accept the full amount of all loans.

Reducing expenses or increasing earnings to offset awarded loans will mean less debt after graduation. Not only would the amount of the student loans need to be repaid, but so will interest that accrues daily on those loans. And, it won’t matter if college doesn’t result in graduation, a job or the anticipated earnings. Once the loan has been accepted, the student (or parents in the case of a federal PLUS Loan for parents) is responsible for repaying it.

If the awarded loan amount seems like more than the student will really need, it’s important to decide exactly how much to borrow.

Need some, but not all, of the awarded federal student loan amount?

Students can always accept only the loan amount they need. To take a partial loan amount:

  • Fill in the desired loan amount on the document to be returned to the financial aid office if a paper copy needs to be signed and returned.
  • Choose the electronic option for accepting or declining each applicable loan, or for taking out a partial loan amount, when accepting financial aid online.
  • Contact the financial aid office if it’s not clear how to accept a partial award.

Can all loans be declined?

Many students have the goal to attend college loan-free. Even if some loans will eventually be needed, declining all loans for one semester will save capitalized interest later on. To decline the offered loans:

  • Cross out the loan amount or select the “decline” option on the document to be returned to the financial aid office.
  • Choose the electronic option for declining each applicable loan if financial aid is accepted online.
  • Contact the financial aid office if it’s not clear how to decline loans.

Considering PLUS Loans?

Although PLUS Loans may appear to be part of the awarded financial aid, they are not automatically paid to the student or institution. Parents need to request these loans. Your family may wish to compare the terms and benefits of a PLUS Loan with those, like our College Family Loan, offered by private lenders. These loans may have different fees or interest rates. Be sure to discuss repayment expectations as a family if parents will be responsible for repaying the PLUS or other loan debt.

By: Iowa Student Loan

10 Budget Tips for Spring Break (Infographic)

Download Infographic as a PDF.

Spring break can mean fun, sun and no worries, unless you blow your budget. Use these tips to help you stay on track during break and save your money for your education.

1. Plan ahead.

Start scouting for sales and less-expensive options early. Check out flights, hotels, destinations and activities so you don’t pay more for last-minute decisions. Read reviews of the activities or venues you want to include to see if they’re worth the cost. Also, pack everything you’re likely to need to avoid tourist prices on sunscreen, sunglasses, raingear, chargers and attire.

2. Take a cheaper flight.

Airfare is expensive, especially during high traffic times like spring break. But you can save some money by flying discount airlines, at off-peak times and days, non-direct and through alternate airports. In addition, check to see whether you can save by sitting separately from your companions and avoiding baggage fees.

3. Drive or ride instead of flying.

Buses and trains may get you where you want to go at a big savings. Or, get together with friends to share a road trip to your destination. These may take longer than flying but can be as much fun as the destination.

4. Take the road less traveled.

The beaches of the eastern seaboard are often less crowded than those of Florida, Mexico or Texas during spring break and can offer savings. Maybe this is the ideal time for you to explore the mountains or the desert and avoid the party scene.

5. Stay for less.

Apps and sites like Airbnb, VRBO and hostels.com can point you to less expensive lodging wherever you decide to go. Consider camping if you’re driving—government-owned sites are often least expensive, and you can even rent camping gear. To spend even less, stay with someone you know. Check out options for your final destination and lodging along the way.

6. Save on activities.

Look for discounts before you go through memberships like Costco and AAA, as well as apps like RoadTrippers, Groupon and Living Social. Also, an Internet search may turn up promotional codes you can use when you book. Once you arrive, some places may offer a discount if you show your student ID, and look for coupon books in the lobbies of hotels.

7. Save on food.

Depending on how you’re traveling, it may make sense to stock up on food for meals and snacks as well as beverages before you leave. If you’re flying, look for discount chains once you arrive. Preparing your own food will save on high restaurant and venue costs. See more tips for budget dining on spring break. <link to other post>

8. Avoid impulse buying.

It’s tempting to pick up a memento of your trip or to indulge yourself. Think about whether that coconut mug or t-shirt will get any use when you get back, or if the signature drink is worth the cost. Set a budget for each day and stick to it. You could even only bring the amount of cash you want to spend with you, leaving your credit card and extra cash in the hotel safe.

9. Use your legs.

Instead of renting a car, taking cabs or using Uber, consider renting a bike or simply walking where you need to go at your destination.

10. Stay out of trouble.

Avoid large fines and penalties by knowing and abiding by the laws at your destination, including those for driving, consuming alcoholic beverages and noise.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Working During Spring Break

How much money can you save by working over spring break instead of going on a trip? The specific answer depends on several circumstances, but the average savings could be in the thousands of dollars. Here’s a breakdown.

Assume you make $9 an hour and work eight hours a day for six days of a nine-day break. Your earnings after taxes would be $375.

Add to that your savings for not traveling to a typical spring break destination, which could be over $1,000. See how you can apply these earnings to college expenses.

Earnings  
Hourly Wage $9
Hours Worked Over Break (9 Days) 48
Net Earnings After Taxes $375
Savings  
Average Flight + Hotel Cost (5-Night Stay) See source $1,077
Total (Net Earnings + Travel Savings) $1,452

By: Iowa Student Loan

12 New Year’s Resolutions for College Students

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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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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!)

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. 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

Five Tips for Cutting Costs in the New Year

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If one of your goals is to reduce expenses next year so you have more to save or spend on essentials, these five tips to cut costs can help, regardless of what you usually spend money on or where you shop.

1. Look for sales or discounts.

Consumer items tend to be priciest when they first come out in stores. You can often find the same item on sale if you are willing to wait a while. Also look for discounts on similar but older versions, bulk purchases and out-of-season merchandise. Websites and apps are available to let you know when specific items go on sale.

2. Shop secondhand.

Secondhand stores and online sites allow you to purchase good-condition books, clothes, video games and really, almost anything, used. Besides saving you money, buying secondhand also does the environment a good turn by reducing trash and manufacturing.

3. Make it at home.

Coffee, tea, breakfast sandwiches, lunches and most food items can be made at home for less than you’d spend at your local drive-thru. Recipes and instructions also can be found online for beauty and hygiene products, cleaning supplies, home décor and gifts that you can make less expensively yourself.

4. Swap with friends.

If you and your friends share interests, you may be able to save money by trading clothes, video games and systems, books and supplies that you’ve grown tired of but are still in good shape. A temporary swap can allow you to break out of your rut without spending more money. You may want to consider discussing what to do in case of damage.

5. Go without or use less.

If you’re paying for a monthly subscription, impulse buys or expensive but not necessary purchases, decide how you can get by with less or go without completely. You may be able to downgrade your phone plan, drop cable TV for a cheaper subscription or service, hit the library for books and magazines, or kick a habit that is costing you money and convenience.

By: Iowa Student Loan

10 Ways to Get Fit for Free (Infographic)

Download the infographic as a PDF.

With the new year often comes a resolution to lose weight, get in shape or otherwise improve health. Gym memberships, personal trainers and coaches are often outside the budget for students, however. The good news is that you have many options to get fit for free.

1. Walk instead of ride.

Depending on your location, you may be able to walk to school, work and shops instead of driving the car or getting on a bus or train. Besides increased health benefits, you’ll save money on car maintenance, parking and fuel.

2. Use household items or public structures.

Find a convenient set of stairs, track or trails to get in a good cardio workout. For strength training, start with a bottle of water and graduate to a bottle filled with sand; then move on to larger jugs as you get stronger. If you’d like to increase agility and flexibility, design your workout around park benches, playgrounds or even your living room furniture.

3. Search for free equipment.

Start at home; you may have family members who have invested in machines, weights, mats, balls and other equipment and then abandoned them. You can also search or advertise on online sites like Craigslist or Freecycle for equipment that other people no longer want.

4. Download a fitness plan or app.

If you need a structured schedule to stay on track or if you aren’t sure what you should do when, look online or in an app store. Free tools are available for all fitness levels and goals.

5. Mix it up.

If you tend to get bored with a workout, search out free podcasts, TV shows and online videos or head to the library for videos and books. You can switch to another program easily as soon as you get tired of your current one, or vary your routines daily to avoid burnout.

6. Use student facilities and programs.

If you’re a college student or a high school student taking college classes from a nearby campus, check out the athletic and recreation facilities. You may have free or nearly free access to classes, personal training, gyms, fields and courts. If you’re in high school, check with the coaches and administrators on open gym times, weight room availability and track policies.

7. Join a sports team.

If you find it difficult to stay motivated on your own, consider joining a team. If you aren’t up to tryouts for a school team, look at intramural, community and amateur leagues. A desire to perform well in a game can help you stay motivated between games or seasons.

8. Become a friend of dogs.

With today’s lifestyles, many pet owners would gladly allow a responsible student to walk, jog or play with their dogs on a regular basis. In fact, a lot of owners will pay students to do just that, so you can earn money while getting in some exercise.

9. Volunteer.

Look for a volunteer opportunity that will allow you to get a good workout in on the job site. Communities often have home building and repair organizations, clean up committees and landscape crews that rely heavily on volunteers. If your community doesn’t have any, consider starting one or just help out your neighbors. Shoveling snow from several driveways or push-mowing a few lawns a week will keep you in shape.

10. Improve your diet.

Free recipes and meal plans are widely available online to help you create a shopping list of healthful foods. If you’re unsure what type of dietary change is best for you, ask your family doctor at your next checkup or check for advice at the campus health clinic. You can also see if you can set up a free, no-obligation appointment with a nutritionist at your local grocery store. Weight loss centers also often offer a free initial consultation; just be sure you won’t have an obligation to pay for any future services when you make the appointment.

By: Iowa Student Loan

12 New Year’s Resolutions for High School Seniors

jan17-newyearresolutions

The final year of high school may feel like a time to settle in and enjoy the familiar. With a big life change coming up, however, the start of a new calendar year might facilitate a few changes to get ready for even larger ones later.

Here are 12 resolutions for college-bound high school seniors.

1. Get excited about college.

It’s natural to feel sad about leaving high school behind, but resolve to think instead about the new opportunities waiting for you in a few months. Regardless of how far from home your college is, you will have a chance to make new friends and to discover new things about yourself and the world. Let go of any resentment about what didn’t go right in high school and prepare to be open minded about new horizons.

2. Finish strong academically.

Remember that your college will need your final transcript, so don’t let your grades drop once you’ve been accepted. If you’re taking dual enrollment, Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) classes, remember that you may need to achieve certain grades or test scores to be able to receive credit for required classes at your college.

3. Learn how to adult.

Very soon, you will be responsible for getting yourself out of bed and to class or work on time. You’ll also need to know how to take care of laundry, handle financial matters, advocate for yourself and much more. Make a list of things you’ll need to know how to do on your own and start checking items off.

4. Know what needs to be done for college.

If you’ve made your final college decision, make sure you understand what is needed next. You may need to make enrollment and housing deposits, reserve a spot at orientation, select housing and roommates and visit the doctor for vaccinations or checkups. You may also need to contact other institutions you applied to and let them know you aren’t planning to attend. If you haven’t yet committed to a college, check the deadlines for the top contenders to ensure you don’t miss any.

5. Save or make money.

Besides the large expenses of tuition, fees, housing, books and other costs of college attendance, you’ll need money for daily expenses, transportation and more. Resolve to spend less between now and the day you leave for college and make a goal to land a job to earn additional cash if possible.

6. Make memories.

Even though you’ll spend a lot of time thinking about and preparing for college, also try to be present in the moment. Enjoy your hometown friends and family while you’re with them.

7. Say thank you.

Many people have probably helped you get where you are right now. Teachers, mentors, coaches, recommenders, your parents and others may deserve and will undoubtedly appreciate your thanks. Be specific about how they’ve helped or inspired you and let your relationship guide you on whether a handwritten note or an in-person gesture is best.

8. Apply for scholarships.

It’s never too late to apply for scholarships to help you manage your college expenses. Start with a search on your college’s website or a call to the admissions or financial aid office. You may be eligible for competitive or automatic awards from the college, your academic department or other providers. Also search on scholarship websites and check with your school counselor for outside scholarships. And, finally, remember to explore offerings from your own and your family’s employers, financial institutions, community and religious organizations, and other outside sources.

9. Leave a positive impression.

If you will soon need to end your involvement in an organization or activity, plan a way to leave a lasting legacy. You may be able to spearhead a special campaign, pass a project or advice on to another member, or put forth your best effort.

10. Create your own future.

Many seniors who have been deferred or denied by their top choice college feel as though they are settling for second best. Remember, regardless of admission decisions, your success is more about you than any one college path. Resolve to always be your best and seek out opportunity no matter where you’re headed next fall.

11. Weigh financing options.

If you haven’t yet, you’ll soon receive your college’s financial aid packet detailing the financial aid you are eligible to receive as a student at that institution. Carefully consider how you can limit borrowing. If your financial aid doesn’t cover cost of attendance and you need to think about private loans, compare your options for the best fit for your situation.

12. Set goals for the next phase.

Most college freshmen plan to graduate college and find a job after obtaining a degree. Think about specific and incremental goals that will help you reach that main objective. Consider whether you want to or should maintain a certain GPA; find and participate in internships, co-ops or other career-related work; complete research; join student organizations or graduate debt-free.

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

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

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