The College Search for High-Ability Students

This blog is a featured guest blogger from the University of Iowa
In my role with high-ability student recruitment, I work with bright, talented, and high-achieving students who are exploring future options. The college search is difficult for every student, but high-achieving students often feel additional pressure in this process, with the added expectation from parents, teachers, and peers about what their future will hold. Here are a few tips that I often give to these students as they navigate these choices.

Decide what you’re looking for. As a talented student, you have a whole world of options available to you! At the beginning, all of these choices can be overwhelming. Before you start narrowing down your list of colleges, spend some time thinking about what kind of college or university experience you want. Do you want a large school or a small one? Do you want to be close to home or further away? What types of co-curricular activities do you want to get involved with? What are you interested in majoring in? Answering these questions can help you cross certain schools off of your list.

Explore your options. Once you have a few ideas about what kind of college experience you’re looking for, it’s time to do your research! Websites like College Raptor can be great resources as you search for schools that fit your criteria. Some other great search tools that I’ve heard students talk about are Colleges That Change Lives, Cappex, and Big Future by the College Board. These tools can allow you to sort by the characteristics that you’re looking for in a college, including distance from home, size, ranking, major, or co-curricular activities.

Visit campus and talk to current students.
As a high-ability student, it’s likely that academic life is going to be especially important to you. If that’s the case, be sure to maximize the time you spend learning about academic life on your visit. Call the admissions office and ask if it’s possible to sit in on a class, meet with a professor or an academic advisor, learn more about the Honors Program, tour a research lab, or have lunch with a current student in your major area of interest.

Understand the timeline.
Many highly selective institutions offer a variety of different admissions option. Some colleges admit on a rolling basis, others may offer early decision or early action. This can be tough to sort out, so be sure you have a solid understanding of the timeline for each school you choose to apply to!

Rankings aren’t everything. High-achieving students will sometimes get caught up in the rankings game, and feel as though they have to attend an institution that has a high national ranking. Remember that fit is a lot more important than ranking. It doesn’t matter if a college is in the top ten if it’s not the right fit for you.

Make the decision that’s right for you. Every high school senior feels a lot of pressure when it comes to making their college decisions, and many students feel like their parents, teachers, or peers are trying to make this decision for them. My best piece of advice is to block out the noise, don’t be swayed by peer pressure, and make the decision that’s the best fit for you. The college decision is all about fit: academic fit, financial fit, social fit, etc.. Once you’ve gathered all of the information, it’s up to you to decide what campus is the right one.

Don’t look back. Now that you’ve made your decision, make the most of it! Let go of all of the other schools that you applied to, or thought about applying to, or didn’t get in to. Focus all of your energy on the experience you’re about to have at the school you chose, and go be an incredible student.

This blog is a featured guest blogger from the University of IowaSusan Dickinson - Assistant Director, High Ability Recruitment - University of Iowa

My FAFSA is submitted. Now what?...Scholarships!

Scholarships can be a game changer for high school seniors! Now that you have submitted your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and College Admission Applications, you might be starting to receive financial aid packages. These financial aid packages might leave you wondering how else you can off-set the cost of school.

This is where scholarships come in really handy. Before we begin, you will need to have a few things handy. Make sure you have an updated copy of your Activity Resume. If you are unsure of your activity resume, we have created a template for one on our website that you can utilize. It might also be helpful for you to have a copy of your FAFSA near you as some applications will ask for information regarding your FAFSA. Many scholarships require that you submit a FAFSA form. If you have not submitted your FAFSA yet, we are here to help!

Scholarships are funded by a variety of places. Such as: Community organizations, colleges, employers (yours or your parents) and local businesses/organizations. Scholarships are awarded based upon Need (Families financial situation by filing the FAFSA) or Merit (grades or accomplishments), Cultural, religious or other affiliations.

You can find scholarships in a variety of ways. I always tell students to first start within their own network. What I mean by that is to start with your high school guidance counselor, college financial aid offices, student/parent place of work, and check with the local clubs/organizations you are involved in! I also tell parents to think about any place they write a check to. For example: Your water department company.

Local/Community Scholarships:
·         High School Counselor
·         High School Website
·         City’s Foundation Page

College/University Scholarships
·         Financial Aid Office
·         Admissions Office

Statewide Scholarships
·         ICAN-
·         Iowa College Aid Commission-

National Scholarships

 Good luck!

Meghan - ICAN Hiawatha Center

Job Shadows & Internships - A Chat with an Intermediary Network Coordinator

Natalie Harris is the Intermediary Network Coordinator at Iowa Western Community College. She was kind enough to be interviewed about her job and the crucial role she plays in helping high school students in the career decision making process.

What does an Intermediary Network Coordinator do?The Iowa Intermediary Network Coordinators connect school districts, students, and educators to employer partners through work-based learning experiences. Our work provides opportunities for students and educators to interact with industry professionals and to connect today’s students to future careers through high-quality, real-world experiences. We connect students and educators with job shadows, worksite tours, classroom speakers, educator externships, and other career exploration activities.

How do job shadows and internships help students in the career decision making process?Work-based learning experiences such as job shadows and internships allow students to better understand how to align their career goals and interests with post-secondary decisions. Students will have a better understanding of career pathways, education requirements, skills needed, and even what a day on the job looks like! Experiences can involve multiple career pathways, or can involve multiple perspectives on a single industry.

How many people around the State of Iowa are there in your job and where are they located?The state is comprised of 15 regional intermediary networks, located in each of the 15 Iowa community college regions. Each regional network has at least one coordinator, however, some programs have 2 or more staff. You can view a map of the community college regions and networks here:

How does a student access your services?You can visit our Iowa Intermediary Network website, To find the coordinator in your region of the state, simply click on the ‘Contact Us’ tab on the top right of the page. From there, type in your zip code and you’ll instantly have your regional coordinator’s phone number, email address and local website.

Thank you Natalie for this great information and the important role you play to help students explore careers for their future.

Steve - ICAN Council Bluffs Center

Understanding Work-Study

In my office, when we are doing a FAFSA and get to the question that asks the student, “Do you want to be considered for Work Study?” I am often asked, “What is that?” That is a very good question. According to the Federal Student Aid website (, Federal Work Study: “…provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, allowing them to earn money to help pay education expenses. The program encourages community service work and work related to the student’s course of study.”

In a nutshell, this particular question on the FAFSA is asking if the student wants to be considered for the program, which means IF the student is offered work-study, he/she has the opportunity to accept or decline the offer. Not everyone is offered Work-Study as part of their financial aid award. The college decides who has the need for it and how much work study money they are awarded.

The next question usually, is, “What kind of job will I get?” There are lots of different work study jobs. Many work study jobs will be right on campus, but some could be off campus. For undergraduates, the jobs will likely be for hourly wages, but typically, the jobs are not too difficult. There are a number of different types of work-study jobs available on each college campus. When I was in college, I was a music major, and my work-study job was being a piano accompanist for lessons and recitals. For me, it was the PERFECT job! Many of my friends had jobs in the library or in food service. A friend of mine had a work-study job writing parking tickets for student/staff/visitors who were parked illegally, in lots where they were not supposed to be. Since he was a freshman, and also at a small college, his peers gave him a bad time about writing tickets on them, so he stopped writing tickets to avoid that peer pressure, and soon, he got fired from that job! He then actually ended up with a better job – covering the sign-in desk at the gym, where he often had time to do homework while getting paid on-the-job.

Some other on-campus work-study jobs might include Media Center Assistant, Office Assistant, Tour Guide/Admissions work, Marketing, an assistant in a particular academic department, Technology/IT, Tutor, Front Desk of a dorm or other building, Rec Center/Fitness Center worker, or research assistant. Off-campus work study jobs might include working at a Boys & Girls Club, a Food Bank, or other private non-profit organizations or public agencies.

Regardless of the job, you will be paid by the college, and it is up to you how you use the money. It can be used for incidental expenses, saved toward the next semester’s books or bill, or whatever you need to use it for.

What would I advise, you ask? I’d advise you to say “yes” to being considered for Work Study. If it’s offered to you as part of your Financial Aid package, you can always decline the offer if you don’t want or need it. If you do accept it, it could be a great experience and will definitely help you earn some extra cash. The total amount of money you can earn is limited to whatever you are awarded, but the experience of working and the opportunity to meet new people are both priceless!

Mary Joan  - NW Iowa Student Success Centers

Getting Started with Scholarships

This long weekend of festive family fun is a great time to relax, take time for yourself and enjoy family. It's also a great opportunity to begin the scholarship process and there are several ways to get started.

Get Organized
It's easier to apply to multiple scholarships if you are organized. As you begin your search  begin keeping track of scholarships you qualify for by due date on a spreadsheet.Track the name, URL link, due date, and requirements. Once you have a list of scholarships you can sort by due date and work through the list as the deadlines approach.

For juniors this is a great way to get a jump on the scholarship process. Most scholarships have annual applications that are due around the same time each year. Make a list of scholarships you qualify for now, and once you're a senior you'll simply have to double-check the due dates and begin the applications.

Finding Scholarships
  • First - apply for all the scholarships at each of the colleges you are applying to.
  • Second - check with local resources - school counselors, family employers, church or civic organizations
  • Third - search online. Visit for a list of good sources of scholarships, and check our the ICAN Scholarship Database
  • Fourth - check out the micro-scholarship program Raise.Me. Setup an account and earn money for actions you've probably already taken throughout high school to prepare for your next steps.

If you aren't already signed up for ICAN's Senior Alerts sign up. Throughout the year we send emails about scholarship opportunities. Register at

Activities Resume
Make sure your activities resume is up to date and ready to go. This will help you in answering questions on different applications, and in some cases you may be able to attach the resume as part of your official submission. If you haven't started a resume yet, download the template from the ICAN website -

Take your time when writing an essay. It is ok to use the same essay for multiple submissions, but make sure to edit the essay to make it fit each individual scholarship. Submitting an essay that is clearly being reused is an easy way to get disqualified.

When writing your essay, make sure you save enough time for editing. Never submit your first draft. Read it out loud and ask someone to proof read it for you as well.

Letters of Recommendation
If you haven't already, now is the time to get letters of recommendation requests out. Ask someone who knows you well but it's family. A teacher, counselor, pastor, coach, or community-member is a good choice. Give them 2-3 weeks, a copy of the scholarship(s) you are applying to and a copy of your activity resume. The more information and time you provide to the writer, the better the letter will be.

As seniors, scholarships should be your new part-time job. Apply for as many scholarships as you qualify for. Even the small ones add up and can make a big difference toward you overall college costs.

Good luck with your scholarship search!

Brittania - ICAN Hiawatha Center

I Filed the FAFSA- Now What?

FAFSA Season continues and we have done many FAFSAs over the last month. One of the questions we get a lot is- OK we have it filed but now what? 

First, I want to mention that the colleges/universities that you put down on the FAFSA form will be able to download the results within a week or two after you submitted the form. Some schools will start downloading the 2020-21 FAFSA forms right away but many will wait until November or even a little later.  Depending on the schools you listed, you may not hear back RIGHT away if you filed your FAFSA in early October.  

Whenever those colleges/universities do download your FAFSA results they may have to ask for some further documentation from you in a process called “Verification”. If you are selected for verification that doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. It is a “check and balance” that Federal Student Aid has about 30% of FAFSA applicants complete. You may be asked for a tax transcript,   copy of student/parent tax info, verification worksheets, and possibly other documents. Whatever you are asked for by the colleges/universities just return that in a timely manner. If you don’t, it could cost you some financial aid.   

If you need to make any corrections to your FAFSA or add schools that you hadn’t listed on the initial application, you can add those after the initial application is processed in a week or two. You can go back into with your FSA ID and add schools or even make corrections if need be.   

Eventually you are going to receive a Financial Aid Package from each school that lists the grants, scholarships, and loans for which you qualify. These can come from schools at different times of the year. Remain in contact with the colleges you applied to and ask when you should expect your Financial Aid Package from them. If you haven’t received it when you think it should be coming,  there might be some documentation at that school you are missing.  

Stay on top of the whole Financial Aid process and don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions at ICAN-  877-272-4692 or

Once you have received a financial aid package it's time to compare and make some decisions. We can help there too.

Erick - ICAN Ankeny and Des Moines Centers.

Understanding the College Search Vocabulary

This blog is a featured guest blogger from the University of Iowa

The college search process, especially at high-selective institutions, comes with a lot of new vocabulary. For families going through this process for the first time, there’s a lot to learn. Here is a cheat sheet with a few good vocab words to know:

Holistic application: A holistic application looks at more than just a student’s GPA and test scores. Holistic reviews usually take into account a student’s coursework throughout high school, volunteering, student activities and involvement, an essay, or even potentially an interview. Holistic applications are intended to look at the whole student, beyond the numbers.

Rolling admission: Rolling Admission means that students can apply at any time during a large window. Colleges review applications as they receive them, and make admissions decisions shortly after receiving applications, typically within a few weeks.

Early Action (EA): Early Action is an opportunity for students to apply to colleges early in their senior year, and find out about admission earlier. Deadlines for EA tend to be in October or November, and students often receive admission decisions in December, instead of having to wait until the spring. Early Action is a non-binding process, meaning that students can apply Early Action to multiple schools, and if admitted, they are not committed to attending.

Early Decision (ED): Early Decision is similar in timeline to EA, but it is a binding process. Students can only apply ED to one institution, and if they are admitted, then they are committed to attending that college, and must withdraw all applications to other schools. Students should only apply ED if a school is truly their top choice.

Regular Decision: The Regular Decision timeline is the counterpart to EA and ED. By applying regular decision, students will find out if they are admitted typically by April 1st. Students can apply regular decision to as many schools as they’d like, and have until May 1st to make their final college decisions and accept their offer of admission. If a student applies Early Action, but is not admitted in the fall, their application is sometimes rolled back to the regular decision pool, and they would find out if they were admitted in April.

Waitlist: Many highly-selective institutions maintain a waitlist once admission decisions are made. If students are not admitted in early April, they may not be outright denied admission, but will instead be put on a waitlist. If admitted students decline their offer, and a spot opens up, a student on the waitlist may yet be offered admission.

Acceptance Rate: A college or university’s acceptance rate is the percentage of applicants that are admitted to that institution. Some highly selective institutions have acceptance rates as low as four percent, meaning that only four percent of the students that apply to these schools are admitted. Remember -- a low acceptance rate is not necessarily an indication of quality. Don’t get too caught up on the numbers. If you are applying to an institution with a very low acceptance rate, be to have a back-up plan.

One good thing to note: timelines and application processes are different everywhere, so be sure to check with the specific schools you’re applying to in order to best understand their timeline and expectations. This can be a complicated process, and there is a lot to learn for everyone, so always be sure to ask questions!

Susan Dickinson - Assistant Director, High Ability Recruitment - University of Iowa