March Madness

I love this time of year. When the calendar turns to March, you know that Spring is almost here. March also means, March Madness which for most people you think basketball. That is the first thing I think of but March Madness to me also means Spring Break, warmer weather (fingers crossed), and this year Opening Day of baseball.

But for the students/families in the Financial Aid Process, March Madness can mean something else.

For some high school seniors/returning college students, it can still mean trying to get in all their financial aid paperwork including the FAFSA form. If you are a student in that situation, please get the FAFSA done ASAP! Remember, the 2018-19 FAFSA form is asking for 2016 Tax information. Even though you and your family might have just completed your 2017 taxes, 2017 is NOT the tax year that goes on the 18-19 FAFSA form. This is one of the biggest mistakes this time of year that families make. You will use your 2017 tax info for the 2019-20 FAFSA. Need help filling out a FAFSA form, schedule an appointment with us at

For other students, you may have been getting Award Letters in the last month or two. For many families, trying to decipher what they mean is challenging. If you are a family that is having trouble, you can also schedule an appointment with one of our ICAN staff at . Bring in your award letter(s) and we can go over them with you. We can talk about your bottom line costs, amount you may need to borrow and what are the definitions/terms of student loans.

We also like to use an on-line tool called the College Funding Forecaster This tool allows you to estimate what it will cost, not just for one year but for the total years in college.

As for students/families that are freshman, sophomores and juniors in high school, March Madness can mean getting going with planning for your future after high school. At ICAN we have started our Spring travel season and more than likely will be coming to your high school with presentations on College & Career planning and/or the Financial Aid Process. Visit for a list of the Spring 2018 ICAN Events & Presentations.

Here is hoping a Happy March Madness to all!

Erick - ICAN Ankeny Center

Why Your GPA Matters

I’ve talked with a few parents recently that thought too much emphasis is put on GPA and test scores and that those things don’t really matter in the big scheme of things; that high school is just something to get through and then you can really figure things out about your future career after you graduate.

While I agree that there is more to a student than their GPA or test score, it worries me that students might be getting the message that these things don’t matter because there are many pieces to the high school puzzle that lead into future opportunities, and a lot of that rests on GPA and test scores.

Let’s start with GPA. Your Grade Point Average is the simple calculation of the value of the grades you have earned from the start of high school through your final day of senior year.

Many students make the mistake of not focusing on grades or classes until junior or senior year when they start thinking about post-high school plans. The problem there is that by then half the time you have to prepare is gone. We meet with so many seniors each year who are frustrated with the fact that they didn’t realize how important everything was at the beginning of high school. “I wish I would have known” or “I wish I had taken this more seriously” or “I wish someone had told me.”

If a student is looking to go to college, your GPA matters. GPA is one of four factors used when determining your admission eligibility to a college or university,

For example, the three Regent universities in Iowa use the Regents Admission Index or RAI Score to determine eligibility. A student must have a 245 or higher to be admitted. The RAI Score helps determine if a student is adequately prepared and ready for the rigors of college academics. Click here to calculate your current RAI score.

The GPA is part of the calculation so the higher your GPA, the higher your RAI Score and the more likely you are to be admitted. The direct correlation here is that the better you do in your classes, the better your grades, and the better prepared you are for college level classes.

In addition to the GPA, the RAI Score uses ACT score, class rank, and the number of core classes a student takes in its calculation. It’s all about preparation for the next step. So yes, GPA matters.

Now that’s not to say you have to be a 4.0 student to go to college, but a solid GPA goes a long way in making sure you are successful in your next venture.

Your GPA is part of the story you tell about yourself. It’s an accomplishment and can be a bridge to great opportunities, like scholarships. There are many scholarships, both private and institutional, that focus on academic success. The harder you work and the higher your GPA, the more likely you are to qualify for those opportunities.

Finally, your GPA helps prepare you in so many other ways for things you’ll face in college, and in your career. A solid GPA shows hard work and dedication to a task. Even in a class that you struggle through, your determination to do well, to seek out assistance, and to master the problem in front of you shows grit. Grit is something employers are looking for. Employers want problem solvers. They want someone who can think through a task, who will ask questions when needed, and who has the tenacity and drive to be successful.

There are many things that make you successful. Your extra-curricular activities and community involvement are important. Your devotion to family and friends, to your interests are important. You have to figure out what makes you tick, where your passion lies. However, there are universal factors that will help you reach your goals and be successful – your GPA is one of them.

Brittania - ICAN Hiawatha Center

Why Attend a Career Fair? Here's why!

Career fairs are a very important step in your search for potential job opportunities after graduation and summer internships. Many college campuses will host a career fair, where employers from the area, or even from around the country, come to campus in search of employees for internships and full time jobs. Check your college Career Services for a list of dates, locations, and times. Some schools will gear these fairs to your specific majors such as Engineering, Business, Industry & Technology, Human/Social Services, Education, Health/Wellness, Government, Agriculture and Life Sciences. Other schools will list it as a Career, Internship, and Graduate & Professional School Fairs. If your campus hosts a career fair, it’s a good idea to attend, regardless of what year in school you are.

My son recruits for a company in Iowa and has given me a couple of helpful hints to share when talking with potential employers.
  • Practice a 30 second pitch to sell yourself on why you would be valuable to an organization. 
  • Employers struggle with people not being able to communicate effectively. So practice, practice, practice and sell yourself. 
  • Make a good impression right from the start-dress professionally! 
  • Recruiters see over 200+ students over a 10 hour fair, so the more you stand out the better chance you have in getting a call back. 
Freshmen: Start to get a feel for the career fair environment. Set a goal of talking to three employers, and ask them general questions about their company and what they look for in employees. This will help you formulate some ideas about what you’re looking for in a potential career or internship, and help you determine what skills you should be building throughout your time in college. It will also help with you gain confidence in your ability to interact with others in the job

Sophomores and Juniors: Seek out internship opportunities. Talk to several companies about potential internships and be flexible -- an opportunity might not be what you’d envisioned, but it could be a great way to develop new skills. Bring updated copies of your resume and make sure engage company reps in conversations about what you could offer as an intern.

Seniors: Go to a career fair with concrete ideas about what you are looking for in a full-time job (position, location, organization), and talk to companies with positions that meet your criteria. Do some research ahead of time and choose specific companies to speak to. Bring updated copies of your resume and be confident in expressing your interest in the company.

No matter your age or what you’re hoping to get from your career fair experience, make sure to show up prepared. Dress professionally, have several copies of your resume on hand, and prepare a short pitch that you can give to employers about your qualifications and what you are looking for in a job or internship.

Good Luck!

Cindy - ICAN Hiawatha Center

It's Award Letter Time

Seniors, college Financial Aid award letters should be coming in, if you haven’t received them already. When reviewing your Award letters, it is important to think long term. How many years are you planning on going to college? Do you expect colleges to lock in their costs or to rise? Do you think you might have any outside scholarships coming down the pipeline? Are mom and dad helping pay anything out of pocket? Do you have any savings set aside? Do you plan to work? What are you expecting housing costs to look like? Are there any ways you can trim your costs?

Make sure you have a good understanding of what you’re looking at before you make a decision on a college choice. Consider using tools like College Funding Forecaster or a Loan Repayment Calculator to help educate you on the big decision at hand. As always, we would love to sit down and go over your Financial Aid award letters with you. Give us a call at 877-272-4692 or visit to schedule an appointment with one of our Student Success Advisors.

Shea - ICAN Hiawatha Center

ICAN Advisors are Here to Help You Plan

Spring is almost here. The weather in Iowa goes from 50 degree highs one week to 30 degree highs the next (and back up to 50 degrees again the next week, we hope). Spring is an exciting and busy time of year for high school students and parents, with lots of athletic practices, playoffs and events, spring plays, dances, ICAN evening presentations (financial aid and college planning), and of course, academics. Everyone’s schedule can get pretty busy, especially during the student’s junior and senior years.

With all of these activities going on, time can really fly by, and before you know it, the end of the school year is upon us. There can be a lot deadlines involved with the college admissions and financial aid process and it is important that families stay on top of everything that is involved with it.

ICAN help! (pardon the pun..)

At all of our ICAN locations (my locations are at the UNI Center for Urban Education and also Hawkeye Community College , both in Waterloo), we offer many options for one-on-one appointments.

For all high school students, regardless of grade level, we offer assistance in career exploration, choosing a college and campus visits. In addition, for juniors, we offer more specific guidance on paying for college and financial aid. And, for seniors, we offer FAFSA and CSS Profile assistance, Award Letter Review, and Alternative Funding Options for College. I can walk you through the steps of your decisions, help you understand your options and even help you outline a budget based on your future career training. Sometimes just talking things out can make a big difference in how you’re feeling and the decisions you make.

We can help with all of these topics and if one appointment is not enough, feel free to schedule another one to come back for more information. You can visit our website to get a full overview of our personal advising options-

It tells you which grade level the information applies to, what to expect in the appointment, and how long the appointment might take. You can also schedule an appointment directly by clicking here.

I urge all high school students and their parents to take advantage of ICAN’s free services. Whether it is a 30 minute or a 2 hour appointment, we are willing to take the time to help you through each step of the process.

Go to for an appointment. Or, if you have any questions about our services or would like to schedule over the phone, call our toll free number, 877-272-4692, or my direct line, 319-423-7703. I look forward to helping you in the Waterloo area!

John Holland - ICAN Waterloo Center

Being a First Generation Student

I was the first person in my family to go to and graduate from college. It is something that after all these years I am still incredibly proud of. My parents grew up poor. Talking about it now, they both wanted an education but due to the economic situation they both had to drop out of middle school to help feed their families.

Graduating from high school was mandatory; my parents always engrained this into me, and my brother and sister’s lives. Even though they were never involved in our education, due to language barriers and work commitments, it was always known that we had to graduate from high school. And we did.

Going to college was another story. My parents were supportive, but weary about me going to college. Mostly because they didn’t know how to guide me and they knew college was expensive. I was incredibly lucky to have positive role models in my life that encouraged me to pursue post-secondary education and helped me with the process. I was in Upward Bound during my Junior and 
Senior year in high school. This organization really made college possible for me. They took us on campus visits, paid for us to take the ACT among other things that made me think college was doable.  With the help of scholarships and federal financial aid I attended Muscatine Community College for one year and then transferred to Iowa Wesleyan College (now Iowa Wesleyan University) where I graduated with a BA in Liberal Arts.

For students who are going to be first generation students I encourage you to seek people that can help you with the college planning and financial aid process. It can be quite confusing and if you don’t have a support system at home you need to advocate for yourself and surround yourself with people who can walk you through this process. I’m always available!!!

Lupe Hernandez - ICAN Coralville and Davenport Centers

Should You Room with a High School Friend in College?

Deciding who to room with in college is an important decision. Roommates can make or break a college experience especially in the first year. Heading off to college puts you in some unfamiliar territory so a high school friend you already know seems like a good advantage. But does this solve one problem but maybe create others?

As a father and a former high school counselor, I have seen results from both sides of this situation. This is a question that I think has no definite answer, but it has some considerations both for and against.

Here are some pro-con considerations from a Huffington Post article “The Pros and Cons of Rooming with a High School Friend in College” by Katie Naymon.

1. You can discuss the rooming situation in person. Because you live close to each other, it will be easy to get together and plan what you need to bring to college for your room.

2. You’ll already have common ground. You both know your hometown and the culture that you lived in.

3. There is no awkward “getting to know you” period. You know each other’s personalities, so it will be an easier transition to living with someone.

4. You won’t get a weird random roommate. By taking your chances in a lottery system of matching roommates, you avoid the bad luck of getting someone who is totally different that you in your sleeping habits and studying. This assumes your high school friend will be similar to you in this area.


1. It can be awkward to turn down a classmate who asks you to room together. But you need to be honest and let them know your reasons. Your true feelings will likely come out later anyway.

2. It might be harder to meet new people. Part of the college experience is to make new friends. Sometimes rooming with a high school classmate will reduce a circle of new friends.

3. There is such a thing as “too much of a good thing”. It is different having a good friend versus rooming with someone 24/7, and it can cause additional stress in a relationship.

4. You might not feel comfortable confronting her/him. When conflicts come about, it is usually harder to confront the person who you have a history with from high school.

Rooming with a high school friend can work and not work. The key is to think it through and have the courage to choose what is best for you. If you do room with a high school friend and it does not work, then most colleges will allow you to switch roommates at the semester. Realize that the new and unfamiliar environment of the college will only last a short time, so a high school friend might be a security blanket that you won’t need. Just think it through.

Steve - ICAN Council Bluffs Center