First Things First

You are going to be busy in college.  You will have classes, studying, possibly a job or work study, relaxation, and social activities.  As I have talked to college freshmen through the years, one of the biggest challenges they have is managing time in college.  In high school, the high school schedule will manage a lot of your time for you.  But college is a whole new game.

Colleges will advise students that for every hour they are in class, students need to spend two hours outside of class preparing.  A lot of college freshmen don’t believe this, but eventually they realize that the rigor of college is a lot harder than high school.  What are some of the tips to help with time management?

First, understand that everyone has 24 hours in a day.  Some people get a lot done and some people are always pressed to meet deadlines and be productive.  People that get a lot done don’t have more hours in a day.  What is the difference?  Productive students realize that time management is a matter of priorities.  This means doing first things first. 

Second, productive students develop a system to organize their time and accomplishing tasks.  A planner with a calendar is still a great tool.  There are free apps for smart phones that help you keep track of meetings, due dates for papers and assignments, and notes.  Whatever you want to use, the bottom line is you need a system.

In my career serving high school students as a teacher, coach, athletic director, school counselor and many other roles, it was vital that I keep track of events, due dates, and tasks.  Keeping my events on my phone or computer is a huge help.  But I still used paper to keep track of what needs to get done first – a matter of time priorities.

This system might be of help to you.  I have used this system in the past, and I still use it today.  First thing when I start my day, I make my to-do list.  Then I prioritize.  The system I use is a letter system:

A = must get done today

B = needs to get done in the next week

C = needs to get done in the next month or two

So here is an example of one of my to-do lists:

A   Email school counselors on spring presentations
A   Email school counselors on presentations for next week
B   Did Mrs. Jones email me back about a presentation date?
B   Email XYZ College on a regional presentation date
A   Record mileage from presentation last night
C   Work on ICAN blogs
B   Update inventory numbers
B   Enter financial aid alert sign-ups

So the way this works is: A items need to get done today; B items need to get done in a week; C items can wait and are primarily keeping those things on your radar.  A items go off your list as you get them done, B items can become A items, C items can become B items.  New C items may be added for down the road.

As things get done that day or the next morning, I evaluate my list using this system:

√ checked it off – got it done!

→ carry it forward to the next day

  in progress but not done

Del  delegated it to someone

So here is what I got accomplished one day:

    A   Email school counselors on spring presentations
    A   Email school counselors on presentations for next week
    B   Did Mrs. Jones email me back about a presentation date?
    B   Email XYZ College on a regional presentation date
    A   Record mileage from a presentation last night
  C   Work on ICAN blogs
  B   Update inventory numbers
    B   Enter financial aid alert sign-ups

Whatever doesn’t get done, is carried to the next day.  Then I add tasks that come up for the next day, or to keep things on the radar such as add things on future dates for assignments/research papers that are due, date you need to start a project or paper, personal items like call mom.  It also serves as a good record to keep track of what you have finished. 

First things first!  Hope this helps!

Steve - ICAN Council Bluffs Center

Use the GI Bill to Pay for Your College Education

So college is in your future but you’re not sure how to pay for it.  Consider joining the military and taking advantage of the GI Bill.   So what is the GI Bill anyway?  According to  the term GI Bill refers to any Department of Veterans Affairs education benefit earned by members of Active Duty, Selected Reserve and National Guard Armed Forces and their families. The benefit is designed to help service members and eligible veterans cover the costs associated with getting an education or training. The GI Bill has several programs and each is administrated differently -- depending on a person's eligibility and duty status.

Use your GI Bill to pay for all types of training including your Associates, Bachelors and advanced degrees.  Don’t forget about vocational and technical programs.  This type of education may complement and strengthen the military training you will be receiving while serving your country or train you for a new career all together.  Think….HVAC, EMT, auto repair or electrician.  Perhaps at the end of your service your skills will be superior and you just need that certification or license to work in your chosen profession. Done! Depending on the type of GI Bill program and eligibility, you may be able to take advantage of GI License and Certification Reimbursement Program. 

In addition to the many talents you will gain from military training, let’s think a minute about those soft skills.  For example adaptability and flexibility in the workplace, ability to get along and work with all types of people, problem solving and leadership skills, not to mention a strong work ethic.  

All of these qualities make future employers down right giddy.  Your military training will set you apart from the pool of applicants and provide you with a competitive edge to land that job!   

Okay, now going back to the last sentence of the first paragraph “The GI Bill has several programs and each is administrated differently -- depending on a person's eligibility and duty status.”  Do your homework! Prior research is extremely helpful in defining which military branch and potential career opportunities best suit you.  Once you have enough information set up an appointment with a recruiter.  They can walk you through your career options, GI Bill benefits and answer any questions you may have.

                        Jessica - ICAN Ankeny Center

Choosing A Major

Whether you’re a junior starting the college search process, a senior filling out applications for admission, or already a college student, chances are you’ve had plenty of people ask you, “What are you majoring in?” If you already have a good idea of the type of career you’re looking for, this question is probably easy to answer. However, if you have no idea what you want to do, this question can be supremely stressful. Lots of students feel pressured to choose a major as a high school junior or senior, and they worry that they have to stick with that major in college, even if it doesn’t turn out to be a good fit.

If you are still questioning your major, you’re in good company! 30-50 percent of students come into college still deciding on a major, and close to 80 percent of college students change their major at least once. So much changes as you transition from high school to college, and it’s only natural that your interests and career aspirations will change too. Don’t feel stressed if you don’t know what you want to study, or if you change your mind! As a high school student, I thought I knew what I wanted to do, but I wound up changing my mind right before freshman orientation, and wound up going into college undecided. I picked a major in the first semester of my sophomore year, and I still managed to graduate in four years.

There are lots of different tools that you can use to explore potential careers and college majors. Check out to fill out a career interest inventory online -- it only takes about fifteen minutes! Job shadowing and volunteering are also great opportunities to see if a career is a good fit for you. Check out the Iowa Intermediary Network for more information about job shadowing, and for volunteer options near you!

If you’re currently in college, develop a good relationship with your academic advisor. They can help you figure out what classes might correspond with your interests, and they might have good recommendations of activities on campus that can help you learn more about different majors.

Talking to your family and friends can also be an easy way to learn more about different careers or college majors. Ask your relatives and friends what they like about their jobs and what their career path has looked like -- everyone’s story is different.

It can seem stressful to not know what you want to major in or what career interests you, but relax! You have plenty of time to explore and learn more about different opportunities. Explore your options with ACT Profile, job shadowing, and volunteering, and spend time talking to your friends, family, and academic advisors -- you’ll find the right fit in no time!

Susan - ICAN Coralville Center

My Older Self talking to my Younger Self

When I talk to students about paying for college, I always tell them to think 10 years down the road. I know for students this can be hard but it could ultimately save you time and money. These are the things I wish I could tell myself.

  • Do some career research, I really had no idea what to do in college so I decided with Biology because I was good at it. I enjoy what I do now and I wish I could have figured this out earlier.
  • Apply for as many scholarships as you can. I rarely ever applied for scholarships and the sad part is I had really good grades. Doing that work can pay off by not paying it back in loans.
  • I should have applied to be a Resident Assistant a lot earlier. This job in college saved me a lot of money.
  • I wish I spent more time with family. A lot of the friends/girlfriends I hung out with in college I don’t see anymore.
  • Please do research on your private loans because I didn’t. I was always last minute; you need to find a loan that is going to work for you.
  • Lastly, don’t beat yourself if you splurge once and awhile. I missed out on some fun activates in college because I didn’t want to spend the money. Yes, live within your means and be smart with your money but it is ok to have some fun.
These are somethings I would have told myself 10 years ago!

Sean - ICAN Sioux City and Orange City Centers

Student Loan Repayment - Where to Start?

Student Loan Repayment…where to start? Well, if you just graduated from college you have 6 months before repayment starts on your student loans. This is your grace period, the time for you to figure out your job and living situation before you are expected to start making payments.

The important thing right now is to get your budget in line and figure out how much your monthly payments are going to be. The National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) is the US Department of Education’s central database for student aid and has the list of all your federal loans, how much you owe, your interest rate, who your loan servicer is, and their contact information. Visit to get started. You’ll need your FSA ID to gain access.

If you have private loans they will not appear on the NSLDS website so you’ll have to contact each lender individually for the loan information.

Once you have all your loan information gathered, the next decision will be to consolidate or not. Consolidating your loans will take all your individual loans and payments and combine them into one balance and one payment.

It’s good to note here that federal loans and private loans cannot be consolidated so if you have both you’ll always have at least two loan payments.

Consolidation can be a good idea if you can get a lower interest rate than your current loans have individually. If you have a loan for each year of college you have four individual interest rates. Let’s say for example:
  • ·         Year One: 4.5%
  • ·         Year Two: 5.6%
  • ·         Year Three: 6.8%
  • ·         Year Four: 6.8%

When you look into consolidation, inquire about the current loan rate. If your consolidation loan would give you a rate of 5.6% then it makes sense to consolidate years two, three, and four together but to leave year one as a stand-alone loan because it already has a lower interest rate than your consolidated rate.

You can contact your loan servicer or visit their online account portal to determine your consolidation options and your repayment options.

So now we can talk repayment options, there are several.
  • ·         Standard Repayment
  • ·         Graduated Repayment
  • ·         Extended Repayment
  • ·         Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment
  • ·         Pay As Your Earn Repayment
  • ·         Income-Based Repayment
  • ·         Income Contingent Repayment
  • ·         Income Sensitive Repayment

For all the details on these Federal Repayment Options visit

My advice on loan repayment is pretty simple; pick the plan that enables you to live comfortably but also enables you to pay the debt down in the fastest amount of time with the least amount of interest. Some of the repayment options offer extended repayment terms up to 25 years and very low monthly payments, however this just means you are adding more interest to your balance and carrying the debt with your through most of your adult life.

There are other things you will want to focus on in a few years. For some marriage and children are on the horizon. Some will want to purchase a home. Some want to travel or buy a new car. All of these things are major financial decisions that can be impacted by your choice of student loan repayment plan.

You also want to focus on planning for retirement. I know you just graduated from college and retirement seems a lifetime away, however now is the best time to capitalize on that lifetime of savings. The more you can contribute to a 401k or Roth IRA now, the more time it has to grow.

The sooner you are out from under your student loan debt, the sooner you can start capitalizing on your financial freedom and bring your focus on your future goals. 

Brittania - ICAN Hiawatha Center

Quality Food That Doesn't Break the Bank

Summer vacation is here.  Hopefully, you have a job lined up.  Try to save as much of your money from your summer job as you can.  Here at ICAN, we encourage you to not spend all your money eating out, but if you were to enjoy a restaurant now and then, where would you go?  

In college, I remember taking a study break to order five McDoubles off the dollar menu once – not the smartest choice I’ve ever made.   
Here are my top 5 restaurant choices:

5. Chick-Fil-A
·         Simple, yet satisfying.  Family friendly.  Great chicken.

4. Culver’s
·         Two words:  Butter.  Burger.

3. Firehouse Subs
·         Quality subs and they make it easy to donate to support your local fire departments.

2. Chipotle
·         Big burritos, quality food, at a quality price.

1. Five Guys
·         A little pricy, but the BEST burger I’ve ever had.

What are yours?

Shea - ICAN Hiawatha Center