What Your Financial Aid Award Letter Doesn’t Tell You

The daily life of a college student is filled with associated costs. Many of these are detailed in the financial aid award letters and packets colleges send out, but other expenses can add up.

Don’t forget to plan for expenses like these listed below when estimating your cost of attendance. Having a clear idea of all your expenses upfront will allow you to better plan how you will pay for college.

Class or major-specific materials and fees

Your award letter probably provides an average cost for books and materials, but depending on specific classes, you may need to budget more. For example, you may need to purchase specialty art or lab supplies, specific software or even tickets to local performances or speakers for certain classes.

Social and pre-professional dues and fees

Fraternities, sororities, pre-professional societies, clubs and student organizations often have membership fees, as well as costs associated with special events, trips, conferences and clothing.

Entertainment costs

Sporting events, concerts, movies and other entertainment can add up. In addition, you may need to pay for cable or another TV subscription service, dining outside of a meal plan, snacks, beverages and more.

Printing and photocopy fees

While the world of academics is progressively moving toward electronic communication, you may need to print materials, signs, resumes and portfolios for presentations, interviews and other occasions. You may have a printing allowance included in the cost of attendance, but watch especially for limits on color, 3-D and other specialty printing.

Clothing

Besides an initial outlay for clothes appropriate for the weather and fashions at a specific school, students often buy new clothes for theme days or holidays, special events, interviews and jobs. Don’t forget to budget spirit wear for game days.

Extra travel

Many college award letters list an average amount for transportation. This may not cover your specific costs for travel to and from a faraway home or travel expenses for study abroad, internships or co-ops, conferences, service trips or even trips over breaks. If you take a car to college, you may have parking, insurance and maintenance costs on and off campus, or you may end up paying for cabs, Uber, trains or buses if you don’t have a car available.

Bank and financial fees

If your financial institution doesn’t have a branch on or near campus, you may be responsible for extra fees for using the ATM. Colleges may also charge fees if you choose to use a payment plan or to pay your tuition bill by certain methods.

Health and fitness expenses

If a college doesn’t include membership to a campus fitness center in its fees, you may need to budget for that expense. In addition, physical therapy or personal training services may be available only at an extra charge.

Health insurance

On a related note, consider whether there are extra fees for using your family health insurance in the college area. Many colleges offer their own insurance plans and automatically enroll students. Check with the college to determine if you are being charged for health insurance and how you can avoid paying for double coverage.

Parent travel

If you don’t attend college close to home, your parents may find themselves paying to travel to and stay in the college community several times a year, either for visits, special events or college functions like orientation and family day. This may affect the amount your parents are able to provide for other college-related expenses.

Renter or dorm insurance

You and your family may want to consider an additional policy or increase current insurance coverage in case of loss or theft of personal items at college. Insurance may cover contents of a dorm room or off-campus housing, bikes and computers, as well as other items.

Storage or shipping for breaks

If you attend college far from home, items that can’t be reasonably carted home will need to be either shipped or stored when the dorm closes for the year or while you are between off-campus leases.

Student loan interest

All student loans begin accruing daily interest from the moment they are disbursed to the school or the student. The federal government will pay interest on subsidized federal loans while you are in school at least half-time, but all other student loans have that interest added to the total repayment amount, which can significantly increase the amount you must repay. Choosing to pay interest during the school years can offset the accrual; otherwise, you will need to include that added interest in financial plans for the future.

You may have additional expenses not listed here based on your personal situation. Remember, you will need to repay any student loans with interest on your starting salary after leaving school, so consider how you can pay for these expenses as they arise without borrowing too much.

Iowa Student Loan has several tools to help you plan for college and life afterward. View our smart borrowing tools here.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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

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

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