Crossing the Line: Improve Academic Standing for Financial Aid

CrossingtheLine_ImpAcademStnding

Good grades and test scores typically mean more scholarship opportunities. Did you also know that a small margin can sometimes push you over the line for eligibility, or even for higher awards? Here’s a look at how small improvements matter.

PSAT/NMSQT

The Preliminary SAT (PSAT) is also the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT). If you take the PSAT as a junior, you’re automatically screened for the National Merit Scholarship Program. The top scorers in each state receive special recognition.

  • About two-thirds receive Letters of Commendation and become eligible for special scholarships sponsored by corporations and businesses.
  • About one-third become Semifinalists, and most of those complete several steps to become Finalists. Finalists are eligible for:
    • Merit Scholarships from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, corporations and colleges.
    • Special scholarships up to and beyond full tuition from certain colleges.

The difference between a Commended student’s score and a Semifinalist’s score could be a single point in a metric called the “Selection Index,” which is based on your PSAT scores.

How to Cross the Line
Preparation is key for the PSAT.

  • Take the PSAT 10 as a sophomore to become familiar with the test format and see where your strengths and weaknesses lie to better prepare yourself for the PSAT as a junior.
  • Use practice tests <link to https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/psat-nmsqt-psat-10/practice> to review the test concepts and learn which answers are considered correct or incorrect and why.
  • Be sure to practice in timed test-taking situations.

ACT and SAT

Most colleges require you to attain a specific minimum score on either the ACT or SAT before admittance. Once you have narrowed down your college choices, review their scholarships pages. Many academic scholarships are based either entirely or partly on those test scores, and one or two more points may push you into a category for a more substantial award.

How to Cross the Line
Many of the same techniques above for the PSAT apply when taking other standardized tests like the SAT and ACT. Keep these additional pointers in mind:

  • While the PSAT and SAT are both offered by College Board and have many similarities, the ACT comes from another provider and the format and content areas may be quite different. Use specific practice tests for the SAT or the ACT, depending on which test you plan to take.
  • Check to see if the colleges you’re applying to require or recommend that you take the optional essay portion.
  • You may retake either the SAT or ACT to try to improve your score.
    • Concentrate on preparing for the areas in which you want to improve, but continue to practice all parts of the test so your other section scores don’t fall.
    • Consider your options for sharing your scores with colleges. You may want to wait to see your new score before you submit it to a college, but an additional fee could be required.
    • If your score improves in some parts of the test, but you have a lower composite score because of lower scores in other sections, see whether your college will superscore, or consider your best score for each section of the test separately.

High School Grades

While you’re checking the test score requirements for scholarships, pay attention to the required high school GPA as well. Will bumping up your overall GPA a fraction of a point move you into another scholarship category and make you eligible for hundreds or thousands of additional dollars?

Increasing your GPA may also make you eligible for increased money from outside scholarship sponsors. When you search for scholarships, try a search with an additional 0.1 or 0.15 added to your actual GPA to see if you get more results. (Don’t lie on scholarship applications; improve your GPA before you apply.)

How to Cross the Line
Increasing your GPA may take some extra effort, but if it nets you additional cash for college, it’s worth the work.

  • Don’t wait. Take steps to improve a specific grade early in the semester or year. Later, you’ll have fewer opportunities to earn points, and a perfect final test can only offset so many earlier mistakes.
  • Take advantage of every extra credit opportunity.
  • Ask your teachers how you can improve your grade. Some may be willing to provide credit for an extra project or paper if you explain why you need the grade boost. (This is most effective if you’re an engaged student who generally completes all work on time, even if you don’t always get an A.)
  • Improve your study habits. See these tips for studying smarter.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Choosing the Right College for Your Major

ChoosingRightCollegeforMajor

During your senior year of high school, you’ll have many important decisions to make, including which colleges to apply to. If you know your planned college major, you can narrow your search. Use one or more of the methods below to build your list.

Availability
If you have an unusual major, you may want to narrow your search by availability. Remember that different colleges may have different names for similar fields of study or offer them through different departments. To determine if a college has your desired major, review the required courses among the possibilities.

Financial fit
Colleges may offer merit- and need-based awards if you have demonstrated ability in your chosen major or otherwise are a student with sought-after qualities. If you don’t qualify for enough or any aid, consider whether you can manage the financial commitment to each college offering your major.

Rankings
Many organizations compile public lists of the best schools according to several categories. Research lists like the U.S. News and World Report rankings and Princeton Review to determine which schools are considered the best in your field of study.

Accreditation, certification or designation
Schools may be accredited, certified or designated by a national or international organization to prepare students according to certain standards or up to certain levels. Two examples are ABET accreditation for engineering majors and Flagship designation for languages. If employers generally seek graduates from accredited, certified or designated programs, make sure you apply to those programs.

Size of program
The size of a common program may differ greatly among colleges, even those that have roughly equivalent undergraduate populations. Besides the actual number of students declaring your intended major, consider the fraction of a student body enrolled in that program and what that might imply about the quality or selectiveness of the program.

Placement
The placement rate of students graduating from your intended program at different schools can indicate your relative chances of landing your dream job after graduation.

Career preparation
Some schools have strong relationships with area industries and employers in specific fields, resulting in more opportunities for internships and co-ops while you’re in school. Many of these also have strong career centers and programs on campus to help you be successful in jobs during and after college.

Grad school relationship
If you’re planning to attend a specific graduate school, you may want to determine if your choice of an undergrad program affects your chances of admission.

Other considerations
Regardless of your major, you should also consider several other aspects when choosing a college.

  • Do you prefer a public university or a private college?
  • Does geographical location or proximity to large population centers matter to you?
  • Does the school offer the extracurricular activities you seek?
  • How likely are you to graduate on time, and can you afford extra semesters at that school?
  • Does the school offer a wide variety of programs or does it specialize? What happens if you change your mind about your major?
  • How selective is the program for students like you? You can review each school’s admissions statistics by researching its Common Data Set online. (Simply search for “Common Data Set” and the college name in your internet browser.) The Common Data Set allows consumers to compare consistent admissions data from multiple institutions. Compare your admissions profile to the information shown in sections C9–C11 of the Common Data Set for your school for one indication of acceptance.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Major Changes (Infographic)

MajorChanges-InfographicDownload this infographic as a PDF.

You may read or hear startling statistics about the number of times the average college student changes majors in college. Statistics show, however, that a large proportion of college students don’t change their major once they have declared it.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 69% of college students who began college during the 2003–2004 academic year did not change their major by 2009. Of the remaining students, 24% changed their major once and seven percent changed their major two or more times.

An ongoing update to that study indicates the trend is similar for college students who began college during the 2011–2012 academic year. Seventy percent had not changed their major as of June 2014, and 20% had changed their major once. The percentage of students changing their major two or more times jumped to 10%.

On average, college students have 1.4 majors (including the original major) over the course of their college careers, according to NCES.

NCES also reports that after graduation, 86% express satisfaction with their college major.

According to www.whatcanidowiththismajor.com, nearly half (48%) of students end up working in a field related to their major.

Tools that allow you to learn more about jobs related to specific college majors may help you join the ranks of students who do not change their college majors. Check out ROCI Reality Check and Student Loan Game Plan to discover more.

By: Iowa Student Loan

30 Iowa Seniors Receive College Scholarship

SrScholarship-Winners-BlogImage

Iowa High School Seniors Each Earn $2,000
for Demonstrating Financial Know-How

High school seniors from across the state earned $2,000 for college while learning important financial literacy skills through the 2015–2016 Iowa Financial Know-How Challenge: Senior Scholarship sponsored by Iowa Student Loan.

More than 4,300 Iowa high school seniors registered for the scholarship between November 2015 and March 2016. Of those, more than 2,200 completed two online financial literacy tutorials and a related assessment to qualify for one of 30 scholarships. The 30 winners were those who scored highest on the assessment and, because of a tie for top scores, received the highest scores on an independently judged essay.

“High student loan debt levels are a legitimate concern,” said Christine Hensley, chair of the Iowa Student Loan board of directors. “The scholarship is a great way to expose high school students to the concepts of minimizing debt and making responsible borrowing decisions right at the time they are making college decisions. We hear from parents every year that the process of experiencing our online tools as part of the scholarship qualification opens up enlightening conversations with their students.”

The tools, along with tips that registered students received by email through the scholarship period, are designed to help students avoid the pitfalls of heavy student loan debt, a continuing concern for college graduates in Iowa and nationwide, Hensley said. Student Loan Game Plansm and the ROCI Reality Check were developed by Iowa Student Loan to help students understand the consequences of college borrowing and discover how to maximize their return on college investment, or ROCI.

“The [scholarship] was extremely insightful to just how many expenses there really are in college,” said Ian Kubbe, an Ottumwa High School senior and one of the 2015-2016 recipients of the scholarship. “I strongly recommend this scholarship opportunity to any high school senior, not only for the financial benefit it provides, but also the helpful information about loans, college expenses and how to budget your money correctly.”

“This year we expanded the scholarship program to award more students with more college funds and to recognize the role high schools play in educating their students about important college financing concepts,” said Steve McCullough, president and CEO of Iowa Student Loan. “This initiative is a tangible aspect of our mission to help Iowa students and families successfully pay for postsecondary education.”

Each recipient’s high school also received a $500 award to improve or implement financial literacy and scholarship programs.

Program Future

Although details are not yet finalized, Iowa Student Loan anticipates offering the scholarship next academic year. More about the Iowa Financial Know-How Challenge: Senior Scholarship is available at www.IowaStudentLoan.org.

Scholarship Recipients

The following students each earned a $2,000 scholarship. Iowa Student Loan will send scholarship funds directly to recipients’ colleges.

Student Name Student School Student Name Student School
Veronica Augustine West High School (Davenport) Brandi Miller Waverly-Shell Rock High School
Aaron Bertini Glenwood High School Kaylee Puttmann MOC-Floyd Valley High School
Jared Davis Hempstead High School Lindsey Reicks Solon High School
Crystal Eppling Le Mars High School Alexandra Reifert Wilton High School
Jason Fisher Nashua-Plainfield High School Bradley Ritter Baxter High School
Rebecca Fuhrmeister Pleasant Valley High School Rebecca Roberson Akron Westfield High School
Leah Gibbs Easton Valley High School Lauren Ronnfeldt Regina High School
Nicole Giesemann Bellevue High School Amber Snyder Wilton High School
Hailey Gross West Central Valley High School Alexandria Sturtz North Polk High School
Jenny Ha Linn-Mar High School Jordan Thomas Southeast Polk High School
Alexander Hall East Mills High School Sarah Todd Columbus Community High School
Ian Kubbe Ottumwa High School Jack Turner Dowling Catholic High School
McKenna Lloyd Xavier High School Cierstynn Welcher Van Buren High School
Lindsay Mahaney Bishop Heelan Catholic High School Carter Wolf Southeast Polk High School
Nathan Maughan Albia High School Sarah Zelle Linn-Mar High School

By: Iowa Student Loan

February is Financial Aid Awareness Month

ICAN-FinAidMonth

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.

Crossing the Line: Improve Academic Standing for Financial Aid

CrossingtheLine_ImpAcademStnding

Good grades and test scores typically mean more scholarship opportunities. Did you also know that a small margin can sometimes push you over the line for eligibility, or even for higher awards? Here’s a look at how small improvements matter.

PSAT/NMSQT

The Preliminary SAT (PSAT) is also the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT). If you take the PSAT as a junior, you’re automatically screened for the National Merit Scholarship Program. The top scorers in each state receive special recognition.

  • About two-thirds receive Letters of Commendation and become eligible for special scholarships sponsored by corporations and businesses.
  • About one-third become Semifinalists, and most of those complete several steps to become Finalists. Finalists are eligible for:
    • Merit Scholarships from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, corporations and colleges.
    • Special scholarships up to and beyond full tuition from certain colleges.

The difference between a Commended student’s score and a Semifinalist’s score could be a single point in a metric called the “Selection Index,” which is based on your PSAT scores.

How to Cross the Line
Preparation is key for the PSAT.

  • Take the PSAT 10 as a sophomore to become familiar with the test format and see where your strengths and weaknesses lie to better prepare yourself for the PSAT as a junior.
  • Use practice tests <link to https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/psat-nmsqt-psat-10/practice> to review the test concepts and learn which answers are considered correct or incorrect and why.
  • Be sure to practice in timed test-taking situations.

ACT and SAT

Most colleges require you to attain a specific minimum score on either the ACT or SAT before admittance. Once you have narrowed down your college choices, review their scholarships pages. Many academic scholarships are based either entirely or partly on those test scores, and one or two more points may push you into a category for a more substantial award.

How to Cross the Line
Many of the same techniques above for the PSAT apply when taking other standardized tests like the SAT and ACT. Keep these additional pointers in mind:

  • While the PSAT and SAT are both offered by College Board and have many similarities, the ACT comes from another provider and the format and content areas may be quite different. Use specific practice tests for the SAT or the ACT, depending on which test you plan to take.
  • Check to see if the colleges you’re applying to require or recommend that you take the optional essay portion.
  • You may retake either the SAT or ACT to try to improve your score.
    • Concentrate on preparing for the areas in which you want to improve, but continue to practice all parts of the test so your other section scores don’t fall.
    • Consider your options for sharing your scores with colleges. You may want to wait to see your new score before you submit it to a college, but an additional fee could be required.
    • If your score improves in some parts of the test, but you have a lower composite score because of lower scores in other sections, see whether your college will superscore, or consider your best score for each section of the test separately.

High School Grades

While you’re checking the test score requirements for scholarships, pay attention to the required high school GPA as well. Will bumping up your overall GPA a fraction of a point move you into another scholarship category and make you eligible for hundreds or thousands of additional dollars?

Increasing your GPA may also make you eligible for increased money from outside scholarship sponsors. When you search for scholarships, try a search with an additional 0.1 or 0.15 added to your actual GPA to see if you get more results. (Don’t lie on scholarship applications; improve your GPA before you apply.)

How to Cross the Line
Increasing your GPA may take some extra effort, but if it nets you additional cash for college, it’s worth the work.

  • Don’t wait. Take steps to improve a specific grade early in the semester or year. Later, you’ll have fewer opportunities to earn points, and a perfect final test can only offset so many earlier mistakes.
  • Take advantage of every extra credit opportunity.
  • Ask your teachers how you can improve your grade. Some may be willing to provide credit for an extra project or paper if you explain why you need the grade boost. (This is most effective if you’re an engaged student who generally completes all work on time, even if you don’t always get an A.)
  • Improve your study habits. See these tips for studying smarter.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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