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

Understanding Starting Salaries

Do you know how much college graduates can expect to make in their first job? Iowa Student Loan offers this information, along with other related career information, for college graduates with common majors in its ROCI Tool.

Explore Careers with the ROCI Tool

This unique tool shows students how to estimate a realistic return on college investment, or ROCI. After choosing a college major, users see:

  • Top jobs held by college graduates with a degree in that major.
  • Links to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook description for each job.
  • Whether those jobs are considered to be on the career track for, or closely related to, that major.
  • The probability of a graduate with that major obtaining each job.
  • The average starting salary, which is equivalent to the maximum recommended total borrowing level.
  • Anticipated new jobs needed by 2024.
  • Proportion of graduates with that major holding that job.

Use the ROCI Tool to compare jobs, starting salaries and possible career choices.

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

Is Community College the Right Place to Start?

Comm-College-the-Right-Place-to-Start

Many students choose to start their college careers at a two-year community college. Is it right for you or your student? Compare options below.

Two-Year Community College Four-Year College or University
Annual in-state tuition and fees*

Costs are typically lower at two-year colleges.

$3,000–$5,000

• National average: $3,347
• Iowa average: $4,541

$7,000–$32,000

• National average (public four-year): $9,139
• Iowa average (public four-year): $7,857
• National average (private four-year): $31,231
• Iowa average (private four-year): $29,650

Annual room and board*

Many students at two-year colleges choose to live at home and commute.

$0–$8,000

• National average: $7,705
• Midwest average: $6,486

$9,000–$12,000

• National average (public four-year): $9,804
• Midwest average (public four-year): $8,968
• National average (private four-year): $11,188
• Midwest average (private four-year): $9,691

Type of degree

If you plan to transfer from a two-year college to a four-year institution, you should first check how and if specific credits will transfer.

• Associate degrees and certifications for trade-related careers
• Transferrable general education requirements
• Bachelor
• Post-graduate degrees
Hands-on experience • Close association with area industries
• Often offer local apprenticeships and internships
• Can be limited for undergraduate students
• Opportunities for local, national and international internship, cooperative education and study-abroad programs
Campus experience • Traditional to commuter campus
• More limited campus activities
• Traditional
• Extensive campus activities and clubs
Confidence in major or career choice • Little opportunity to explore variety of majors
• Opportunity to achieve a two-year degree, work and then re-evaluate
• More opportunity to explore before declaring a major
• Changing majors and five- or six-year graduation rates are common
Classroom instruction • Career professionals
• Nontenured instructors
• Tenured professors
• Nontenured professors
• Other instructors
• Graduate students
Admission requirements • High school graduate
• Placement test may be required
• ACT or SAT may be required for specific degrees
• High school graduate
• ACT or SAT usually required
• Minimum high school grade point average
• Essay, interview or other requirement may be needed
Schedule flexibility

Do you need to work around a work or family schedule?

• Daytime and evening classes
• Some weekend classes
• Online classes
• Mostly daytime classes
• Some evening and online classes

*2014–2015 Trends in College Pricing, College Board

 By: Iowa Student Loan

Scholarship Tips for Parents

Many families find they need additional funds to pay for college. Especially if your family does not qualify for a lot of need-based financial aid, merit-based scholarships can help fill the gap.

While your student will be the one qualifying for scholarships, filling out applications and writing essays, parents can assist in several ways. Here are some steps you can take.

Encourage your child to participate in appealing extracurricular activities. 

Many scholarship committees are looking for well-rounded applicants who have accomplishments, leadership and involvement outside the classroom. Extracurriculars can include school, religious and community groups, volunteer efforts, sports, fine arts, employment and a variety of other activities. The specific activities—or the number or variety of them—should reflect your student’s interests and situation.

Frame the conversation by setting a budget. 

Many teenagers don’t have an accurate idea of how much college costs or how much their families are able or willing to spend on their education. Have an honest conversation about true current and estimated future costs for the types of colleges your student is considering and how much you can contribute. Then, you can discuss ways your student can contribute financially, including through scholarships.

Search early and often. 

Use free online search sites beginning as early as your student’s sophomore year to get an idea of the types of scholarships your student may qualify for. You can gather ideas about test scores, grades, activities or other specific requirements that your student may be approaching or considering. Your student should continue the search as he or she approaches senior year and throughout college because new opportunities arise at different stages.

Work together to brainstorm scholarship sources. 

Besides online scholarship searches, your family should consider additional sources of scholarships. Employers (yours, your student’s and those of other family members, as well as local employers), churches and nonprofit organizations, community and civic groups, local companies and high schools all may offer awards in varying amounts and for a variety of qualifications. Encourage your student to apply to both smaller and less selective scholarships as well as any more competitive awards he or she may qualify for. Don’t forget to investigate scholarships offered by the colleges and academic departments your child is considering; these are often the largest awards.

Set aside a specific time to devote to scholarships.

As their senior year becomes more hectic with college applications, classwork and other activities, students may struggle to find the time to devote to a quality application. Help your child by designating a specific time to search for scholarships and manage applications and essays. The schedule may change in frequency as your student nears deadlines.

Help with ideas, editing and proofreading. 

Help your student come up with ideas for essay responses that fit the prompt while conveying what’s most important to your child. You may recall events or activities from earlier in high school that your student has now forgotten or considers unimportant. You can also provide a fresh eye to catch errors and other problems with essays and applications. Just remember that scholarship committees are used to reading student work and will recognize an overly involved parental hand.

Consider financial aid consequences. 

If your student will be eligible for need-based aid, like grants or work-study, investigate how each college treats merit awards. Some colleges will offset need-based aid with any outside scholarships; others allow a student to “stack” awards to maximize aid. If this information is not readily available in the financial aid, costs or admissions pages of the college website, contact the admissions office directly for details.

Recognize the accomplishment. 

If your child earns one or more large scholarships or many smaller ones, your family may be able to significantly reduce the amount spent on college. You may want to reward your student by matching a portion of the earnings. The match money could be designated for books or other expenses not covered by the awards or you may leave its disposal up to your student. Regardless of the final outcome, remember that your student has put at least some and possibly a great deal of time and effort into the scholarship process. Recognize that with sincere words, a tangible reward or other gesture.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Replacing Non-Renewable Scholarships

As the academic year comes to a close, many college students face a harsh financial reality: Scholarships and grants that made the current year affordable will soon come to an end. Some awards are only intended to be applied to the first year of college; others carry renewal requirements, such as a minimum GPA or a specific major, that go unmet.

If fewer scholarship and grant funds will be available to you or your student next year, start planning now to make up the shortfall. Here are three ways students may replace non-renewable scholarships.

1. Find new scholarships.

Although many scholarships are available to freshmen, you may be able to find scholarships for upperclassmen with a little effort.

  • If you have settled on a major, start with your academic department or college. Search the department website, visit the departmental office and talk to your academic adviser.
  • Stop in the campus financial aid office and see what scholarships are offered to students who have your academic and extracurricular interests.
  • Check with professional and pre-professional organizations about programs to help students in your intended career field.
  • Search online databases for upperclassmen scholarships. Certain scholarships like those offered by the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity and the Morris K. Udall Foundation are only for upperclassmen, while others allow applicants of any undergraduate level.
  • Look for local and small scholarships. A lot of students tend to compete for national and large scholarships. You may have better luck standing out among applicants for smaller and local awards.

2. Increase earnings.

If you are unable to earn new scholarships, you may want to consider adding work hours.

  • During the school year, you may be able to find positions on or near campus that allow you to prepare for your intended career while earning money. Look for jobs as a teaching assistant, tutor or research assistant.
  • Resident Assistants in the dorms may qualify for reduced room and board costs, while other campus positions may allow you to study during slow times. Businesses near campus often hire college students during the academic year as well. Even part-time positions can pay well over time.
  • Over breaks, you can work more hours to increase income. Summer research on campus or for private, nonprofit and government organizations can help you create career connections.
  • If you need an internship to meet graduation requirements, look for paid positions that will offset your tuition, housing and transportation costs. Some colleges and organizations also offer stipends to help students who have an unpaid internship or co-op.

3. Lower costs.

Especially in combination with increased earnings, lower costs can help you make up for the loss of non-renewed scholarships.

  • Consider living off campus. Carefully weigh the cost for paying rent (most leases run a full year instead of the 10-month academic term), furnishings, utilities, groceries and transportation against room and board rates to determine if moving will save you money.
  • Even small changes can help you save a large amount of money if you are consistent and diligent.
  • Plan ahead when purchasing furnishings, supplies and books to save. Make sure you take advantage of the least expensive option that will allow you to succeed.
  • Stick to a budget to cut costs year-round. Know where you can save the most money with a little effort.

By: Iowa Student Loan

8 Ways to Start the College Conversation

Middle school is a great time for students to start thinking about and discussing their plans after high school. It may feel like your child just headed off to the first day of school, but time passes quickly and now is the time to plan for high school and beyond.Header image: Start the College Conversation

Here are eight ways to start a conversation with your student.

1. Connect current interests.

Observe the things your child enjoys and discuss how these activities translate into college majors and careers. Even if you are sure your child won’t end up as a chef, talking about cooking for a living helps your student think about the connection between interests and careers. Just remember that as your child matures, his or her interests will change as well.

2. Explore career possibilities.

Your student might have some idea of what you do for a living and is likely familiar with several common jobs like teacher, police officer, doctor and lawyer. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Talk about what people you work with do, as well as the careers of extended family members, friends and acquaintances. Help your student see the nuances between different careers and how people got to the point where they are today.

3. Define “college.”

What do you and your student think of when you hear the word “college”? Explore the different types of postsecondary options and the types of careers associated with them to help your child understand their future choices. Visiting different campuses can help.

4. Stress the importance of academic habits.

Middle school grades and test scores usually don’t count for college admission considerations, but now is the time to set good habits and define expectations. High school course rigor and grades, along with standardized test scores, play a major role in college admissions. Set the stage now by talking about what’s happening at school and how to improve.

5. Make a financial plan.

Discuss the current and projected future cost of college and what that means for your family. If you expect your student to work in high school or college to help offset costs, talk about that now. In addition, let your student know what kind of college savings or funding he or she can expect from the family. This will help clarify the college choice down the road.

6. Talk about academic options.

If your student performs well in middle school, there may be an opportunity to advance in coursework. Taking high school classes in middle school frees up time for more advanced classes, and even classes that count for college credit, in high school. In addition, standardized test scores may help your student qualify for substantial merit-based scholarships for college.

7. Clarify expectations.

Some families assume their children will attend college; others assume their children won’t. Where does your family fall on this scale and how does that fit with your student’s own ideas? Encourage your child to think in terms of financial and personal goals and how college affects those.

8. Share your own experience.

Discuss your favorite and least favorite aspects of your own education and what you would do differently. Share how the choices you made or the situations you were in affected what came after.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Comparing Postsecondary Options (Infographic)

The postsecondary options after high school can be confusing. Here is a comparison of the most common routes for recent high school graduates.

Keep in mind that these routes are not permanent or exclusive, and choosing one route doesn’t rule out other options if a student would like to pursue an additional or different path later.

Infographic: Comparing Postsecondary Options

Download this infographic as a PDF.

  Workforce Military Short-Term Education Apprenticeship Public Four-Year College Private Four-Year College
Description Full-time employment directly after high school · Before or instead of pursuing a college education

· Military academies

· Short professional programs

· Certificate programs

· 9-month, one-year, two-year college programs

Up to six-year programs Rely on government funding as well as tuition and fees from students Rely on tuition, fees and private sources for funding
Average Cost $100–$1,000 $0 $5,000–$20,000 $0 $47,000–$90,000 $77,000–$140,000
Potential Earnings Starting: $18,023

Mid-career: $31,239

Starting: $19,199

Mid-career: $41,958

Starting: $24,030

Mid-career: $44,056

Starting: $20,025

Mid-career: $47,098

Starting: $20,025

Mid-career: $47,098

Starting: $20,025

Mid-career: $47,098

Required May need related job experience or certain skills · ASVAB test

· Fitness and health standards

· Background check

·  Requirements vary by program

· Placement tests

· Requirements vary by program

· May be minimum age

· May require community college acceptance

· Minimum SAT/ACT score and GPA

· Core high school classes

· Application (sometimes with essay, interviews and letters of recommendation)

· Minimum SAT/ACT score and GPA

· Core high school classes

· Application (sometimes with essay, interviews and letters of recommendation)

Typical Jobs • Accounting clerk

• Animal caretakers

• Childcare

• Clerical, administrative, office clerk

• Customer service representatives

• Driver

• Food services

• Maintenance and janitorial

• Retail worker

 

• Administration

• Aviation

• Combat officer

• Construction

• Engineering

• Health care

• Intelligence

• Mechanical and maintenance

• Public affairs and media relations

 

• Auto mechanic

• Barber

• Chef

• Computer tech

• Cosmetologist

• Court reporter

• Dental assistant

• Fitness trainer

• Nursing or home health aide

• Pharmacy tech

 

• Carpenter

• Electrician

• HVAC installation and repair

• Machinist

• Mason

• Pipefitter

• Plumber

• Sheet metal worker

• Tool and die worker

• Airline pilot

• Architect

• Computer programmer

• Educator

• Engineer

• Financial specialist

• Graphic designer

• Reporter or correspondent

• Writer or editor

 

• Airline pilot

• Architect

• Computer programmer

• Educator

• Engineer

• Financial specialist

• Graphic designer

• Reporter or correspondent

• Writer or editor

 

Sources:

  • Average Cost of Workforce includes the cost of work clothes, transportation to interviews and printing resumes.
  • Average Cost of Public and Private Four-Year College are based on the 2011–2012 net lowest and highest cost of attendance (after discounts on the published costs) per year multiplied by four years.
  • All other Average Cost information is based on figures available online for Iowa programs.
  • Potential Earnings for Workforce are the 15th and 50th percentile salaries from U.S. Census Bureau 2015 PUMS data (1 year sample) – educational attainment up to high school diploma.
  • Potential Earnings for Military are private (E1) and first lieutenant (O2) from https://www.goarmy.com/benefits/money/basic-pay-active-duty-soldiers.html.
  • Potential Earnings for Short-Term Education are the 15th and 50th percentile salaries from U.S. Census Bureau 2015 PUMS data (1 year sample) – educational attainment of associate degree.
  • Potential Earnings for Apprenticeship are the 15th and 50th percentile salaries from U.S. Census Bureau 2015 PUMS data (1 year sample) – educational attainment of some college.
  • Potential Earnings for Public and Private Four-Year College are the 15th and 50th percentile salaries from U.S. Census Bureau 2015 PUMS data (1 year sample) – educational attainment of bachelor’s degree.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Exploring Careers with Your Student

This step-by-step guide can help you and your student explore available careers and decide on possible choices that suit his or her interests.

Discuss Possible Careers

Your student may understand what you and other adults in life do for a living, and they are likely aware of many other popular career choices like doctor, lawyer, educator and accountant. But they may not understand the wide variety of jobs currently available or possible in the near future. Here are some ways you can help your student discover more possibilities:

  • Point out less well-known professions as you observe them in daily life.
  • Mention the jobs held by relatives and associates. Be specific about job duties instead of using general descriptors like “She works with computers,” or “He works in an office.”
  • Ask acquaintances more about their careers within your child’s hearing.
  • Encourage your student to research job titles and related duties. Classified ads and job websites can indicate the most popular jobs today.

Determine Interests

Help your student connect his or her own growing interests with possible careers. One way to do this is through career interest assessments. Some to try:

Understand Related Careers

Once your student better understands his or her current interests and the type of job that they may be interested in, it’s time to look at other related careers. These can be careers within the same field or they may simply share similar characteristics or duties. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook may be a good place to start. For each career, it provides:

  • Starting and median pay
  • Required education, training and work experience
  • Current number of jobs
  • Job outlook
  • Job duties or activities
  • Work environment
  • State and area data
  • Similar occupations

Experience Actual Jobs

To help your student understand whether a particular career would be appealing eight hours a day and five days a week, encourage him or her to work with current employees in that field. Adult professionals are often willing to share information with students who express interest in their jobs. Encourage your student to explore careers through:

  • Job shadowing
  • Volunteering
  • Internships
  • Informational interviews
  • Club activities
  • Online research

Connect Skills to Duties

As your student narrows down possible careers, he or she should think about the skills that can be developed now to prepare for those careers. Some skills are industry specific and can be obtained through academic classes or club activities, while others are transferable to many different fields. Some skills highly prized by employers are:

  • Teamwork
  • Time management
  • Leadership
  • Self-motivation
  • Decision-making
  • Communication
  • Interpersonal

Make a Plan

Help your student come up with a flexible and ongoing plan to achieve career goals. The plan can be revisited as your child’s interests develop and other circumstances change. Some concepts to include in the plan are:

  • Job outlooks
  • Geographical influences
  • Entry level and mid-career salaries for related careers
  • Cost of the education required to obtain a specific career
  • Academic and technical preparation

By: Iowa Student Loan

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