Choosing a College

Choosing the college you want to attend is a big decision and there are many factors that you should consider while making the decision.

Future Career

What do you want to do when you finish college? What’s the ultimate goal? You should answer this question and then find colleges that will help you reach the answer. Your career path is something that you will spend 30-40+ years developing and the best training and foundation for that career comes in the form of the right college or training program. So you want to make sure the one you pick has everything you need to be successful in your future career.

Campus Programs/Majors

Having everything you need to be successful in your future career boils down to the right program or major to get you into your field. A mistake that many students make is selecting a college for campus amenities or connections with family or friends, and then finding out that the college doesn’t have the program or major they really want. This can cause a lot of stress and anxiety – picking a different major or transferring to a different school. Transfers can cost more as well because you may add on an extra year or two to complete your degree. Make sure that the colleges you consider have the program or major that is right for you, and that that program is in line with your career goals to ensure your pathway take a career assessment and align your career and your major goals.

Campus Visit

Try and visit every campus you are considering. While websites and guidebooks give you an idea of what campus will be like, only an in-person visit will give you the full picture. Schedule a visit with the admissions office and personalize your visit by:
·         Attending a lecture in your chosen major
·         Meeting with faculty or students in your chosen department
·         Do an overnight visit and experience campus life
·         Sit down with a financial aid advisor and discuss cost and scholarship opportunities
·         Try the food in the cafeteria and check out the career center, student life, and the dorm
·         Ask lot so questions (download Campus Visit Guide at

Financial Aid

Make sure you are picking a college that is within your means and allows you to graduate with an affordable degree. Your basic college budget formula is this:

Starting Salary = Overall Borrowing Limit

This means that if you will make an average starting salary of $25,000 your total student loans for the full time you are in school should not exceed $25,000. This keeps your student loan payments at a reasonable level for repayment once you graduate. Make sure you are picking a school that is affordable for the life and career you plan to have after graduation.

Choosing a college can seem overwhelming but breaking down the decision into these categories and asking questions will help you make the best decision based on your future goals and set you up for future success.

Brittania - ICAN Hiawatha Center

Go to a College Fair

College fairs are a great opportunity for high school students to explore their college options and get more information about potential colleges or universities. As a parent, I remember my first fair being very helpful. It gave my son a good starting point to talk to prospective college reps that were on his list of schools he wanted to “check out”. Plus, it opened his eyes to other possible school choices. Representatives from various colleges are available to answer questions about their schools, and to hand out brochures and materials. High school juniors and seniors should consider visiting at least one college fair to gather information. Visit for a full list of college fairs in the state of Iowa this year.

Before attending your first college fair you can pre-register online at This enables you to acquire a barcode colleges can scan from your smart phone or a paper copy.  Colleges will then have all your student information, necessary for them to reconnect or send additional information about their schools at a later date. So instead of handwriting all your information at each booth you will use this barcode. The advantage to having the barcode is that it saves time and allows you more opportunities to meet with the colleges you’re interested in.

One of the largest college fairs in the state of Iowa is the Golden Circle College & Career Fair hosted this Sunday, September 24th from 12:30-3:00 PM at the Iowa Center for Higher Education-2500 Fleur Drive, in Des Moines. For more information, visit

It’s an exciting time to start the college search process. With the information you gathered from the fair, contact the admission offices and schedule a visit. You can either call or set it up online. Good luck and most of all have fun with your college search.

Cindy - ICAN Hiawatha Center

Stick With the Challenge

In my 18 years as a high school counselor, I remember many students, and parents also, who thought it was “ok” to relax a bit the senior year of high school – take it easy, reward the student with an easy schedule. My advice about this is, “NO – Don’t do it!”

First let me say that I am a proponent of electives – the arts in particular! These classes definitely have a place in a student’s schedule! But, it is very important to continue to prepare for college throughout all four years of high school, including your senior year. This is the year to continue to add the next math class, an advanced science class, maybe psychology, if you haven’t taken that yet, and/or continue with foreign language if you haven’t stopped taking that. Most high schools with which I’m familiar do require a 4th year of English, but many don’t require that 4th year of math or science, let alone foreign language. These classes will help you in ways you probably never thought. They will prepare you for math and science in college.  When you don’t use math (and often science), you tend to get rusty and forget what you learned. They will keep your mind sharp for the ACT. i.e. My previous school was an ACT testing site, and I heard many, many students over the years comment that math was so much more difficult on the ACT their senior year because they weren’t taking a math course. It’s the same way with science. Sometimes, just taking a challenging class and sticking with it is great preparation for college simply because it forces a student to work hard, study, and stick with a challenge without giving up. Also, if you are planning to attend an Iowa Regents University (Iowa, ISU, UNI), the best way to enhance your RAI is to have as many core classes as possible on your transcript.  This can help make up for an ACT score or GPA or class rank that isn’t stellar, perhaps. Does this mean a student should shy away from electives – things like FCS, Industrial Tech, business, music, art? Absolutely not!  Those courses are very important in a well-rounded education. But don’t substitute all of those electives to avoid taking challenging courses that will help you be successful in college.

One reason I used to hear in favor of taking an “easy schedule” was that students (and often parents) were concerned about the student’s GPA. First of all, the GPA is figured using all of the grades throughout the high school years, so the senior grades do not change the GPA drastically in most situations.  Also, colleges would rather see a little bit lower grade in a challenging course than straight A’s in easy courses that will not prepare the student for the rigor of college. Also, as I touched on before, simply taking a challenging course and sticking with it far outweighs the “risks” of a slightly lower grade going into the GPA. Challenging courses will prepare a student for college much more than an easy schedule, regardless of the grade earned. My experiences have shown me that many students and parents have the misconception that if the student is going to a community college, they don’t need to keep challenging courses in their schedule. This is definitely not true. The more a student can prepare as one would prepare for a four-year college, the more successful they will be no matter what type of post-secondary education they choose. Many community college programs require math, English, science, so  students should be as academically prepared as possible for any type of college program.

As a parent, former teacher/counselor, and ICAN Student Success Advisor, I would definitely recommend continuing to challenge yourself with rigorous, college-prep classes throughout high school. That senior year is vital as a last chance to get prepared for what in most cases will be a much more demanding curriculum in college. I used to have to collect data from our high school graduates about their post-secondary experiences. I never once, in 18 years, had a student say “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard in high school,” or “I wish I hadn’t challenged  myself so much my senior year.” However, I had many, many students say “I wish I would have taken more challenging courses in high school.” This is the truth, and I offer it as advice to you! I truly believe you will never regret keeping a rigorous, challenging schedule throughout your high school years, including that final senior season!

Mary Joan - ICAN Hiawatha Center

Correcting Two Income Tax Myths

At ICAN we see a lot of tax returns when we help a student with a FAFSA.  As an ICAN advisor, we are not tax experts, but we do become familiar with tax information in relation to students as dependents in connection with parents’ tax returns.  There are two myths I would like to address.

First, many parents believe that if they claim their children as a dependent on their parent tax return, the child cannot file a tax return for themselves.  This is not true.  Even is a student is claimed as a dependent on their parents’ tax return, the student can still file their own tax return.   If a student works a part-time job and has $400 in federal withholding withheld from their paychecks in a year and they have no tax liability, the student can file a tax return (probably a 1040EZ) and receive the $400 back if they had no liability.  The student cannot claim a personal exemption for themselves (the student) and the parent also claim the student as a dependent.  But yes, the student can file a tax return, and should file, to recover the withholding from their paychecks.  That is the student’s money that is withheld, and they should file a tax return to get it back.

Second, many parents believe that on the FAFSA the student is a dependent or independent student based on whether the student is claimed or not claimed as a dependent on the parent tax return.  This is not true. A dependent student on the FAFSA requires that parent information is reported on the FAFSA, and an independent student means the student does not report parent information on the FAFSA.  Parent information would include income and assets of the parent(s). Whether the student is a dependent or independent student on the FAFSA is based on the dependency questions on the FAFSA not on a tax return.

I hope this clears up some misunderstanding that has been going on.  Happy income tax and FAFSA filing!

Steve - ICAN Council Bluffs Center

Freshmen - Keep ALL Options Open

Maybe some of you starting high school know exactly what you what to do after graduation.  But I am sure most of you will change your mind many many times.  Make sure you keep all options available to you whether the future is college, military, apprenticeship, or heading right off to work.

If you plan to go off to college make sure you are working with your counselor and choosing the appropriate classes to get you into the college of your choice.  You can start researching colleges now by going to their website and looking at the list of either required or recommended courses.

If you plan to pursue career training or an apprenticeship…. What classes in high school can help you prepare?   For example, let’s say you want to take up welding. Maybe you help your Dad at home or it’s the family business.  Check out your high school’s course listings for any industrial technology classes you can take while in high school.  One, you will receive free hands on training, two you will get a deeper understanding of the career and if this is a good fit for you and three you will be meeting one of your graduation requirements.

If you plan to enter the workforce after right high school, think about what classes will help with gaining immediate employment.  Again work with your counselor and consult your high school’s course guide. If you’re interested in becoming a CNA, perhaps your high schools can work with the local college to enroll you in a Certified Nurse Aid course for work in a skilled nursing facility.   Or maybe you want to open a daycare after graduation.  Does your high school offer child development courses or even certification courses to allow you to open a preschool/daycare business?

As you go through the next four years you will change your mind about your future career  many times and that’s okay, just prepare for all options now.  Check out the ACT profile for a free career interest assessment.

Jessica - ICAN Ankeny Center