Giving Thanks to Those That Help You Succeed

Have you thanked a teacher or school counselor yet this year for all they do? With Thanksgiving around the corner, I tend to reflect back on the things I am most grateful for. I feel very blessed to have had so many great mentors in my life.

My Mom is one of my biggest inspirations and supporters. She is a wonderful 5th grade teacher who works tirelessly to find fun and new ways to educate her students. She has inspired so many students along the way. I have been blessed to have some really great teachers that have helped shape me into who I am today. Looking back, I don’t think our school counselors or teachers always get the recognition that they deserve.

Being a daughter of educators, I have seen first-hand all of the hard work that goes into educating our students. It is a non-stop job. Teachers and school counselors worry about their students as they do their own kids.

With the holidays around the corner, it is easy to get wrapped into the busyness of life. Make sure to take some time out of your busy day to thank a school counselor or teacher for all they do! We are so fortunate to have so many great educators that we get to work with day in and day out here at ICAN. To all of the school counselors and teachers out there, we THANK YOU for all you have done and continue to do for your students!

"There is no greater joy nor greater reward than to make a fundamental difference in someone's life." -Mary Rose McGeady

Meghan - ICAN Hiawatha Center

A Chat with Hawkeye Admissions

For the last several years, ICAN has had the privilege of partnering with Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, in providing services and information to families as they prepare for life after high school. For most Fridays from October through mid-May, I have office hours on Hawkeye’s main campus and am available to meet with students and parents as they visit the campus and also those that have made appointments for financial aid and career and college planning assistance. 

Through this partnership, I also have the opportunity to participate in Hawkeye’s Experience Hawkeye Visit Days, where students and parents come to learn more about what Hawkeye has to offer.

I've asked Jason Streed of HCC’s office of admissions to share some insights on what kind of trends he is seeing and also to get some tips for students as they consider their post-secondary plans.

What kind of trends are you seeing at Hawkeye CC as far as college majors that students are enrolling in (voc-tech/gen ed, etc.)?

That depends. For many years, the most popular majors for recent high school grads have been transfer majors like Liberal arts and Business Administration. That continues to be the case. Among our Career & Technical (CTE) programs, health science programs like Nursing and Dental Hygiene always attract many students. Also popular are Police Science, Early Childhood Education, and Ag-related programs.

Adult students often pursue transfer majors, as well, but they are more likely to choose CTE programs. They typically need short-term programs that deliver immediate job prospects. As a result, programs with a high proportion of older students in Medical Lab Technology and Industrial Automation, especially since many high schoolers are basically unfamiliar with the excellent opportunities in those areas.

Has enrollment at HCC been on the increase, decrease, or staying level, in recent years and in what areas?
Typical for the state. Over the past five years, our enrollment has decreased about 2.40% per year; the state average across all 15 community colleges was -2.30% per year. (Eight had greater declines.) This trend reflects many factors, including the demographics of the state in general, as well as the economy, which has been at nearly-full employment for several years.

Please give your thoughts on students taking college credit classes in high school (should everyone take them? How many classes are recommended? What happens if they fail?)
I’m a believer. That is, I believe students should get the chance to “level up.” Students who are ready for Comp 1 or Stats, or who want to build job-ready skills in welding or coding or health care, can really benefit from the jump-start college courses can give them.

There’s no easy answer to which classes or how many a given student should take. Making those choices depends on each student’s situation, what their school offers, and so on. Students should work with people they trust – family members, teachers, counselors, college-level academic advisors – as they decide which opportunities best fit their needs.

As for the risks, yes, they exist, and we make students aware of them. Failing or withdrawing from classes can have significant effects on GPA, academic standing, and financial aid eligibility. When high school students enroll in college classes, we make it clear they are beginning their college transcript, and we spell out precisely the impact poor performance can have on their educational future.

How important is it to be involved in activities in college?
Extremely! Activities connect students to each other, to faculty and staff, and to the community outside the college. Students who only report to class, do the work, and pass the tests might get their degree, but they’ll miss a vital part of their education. Every college graduate I know can tell a story about a club, organization, or activity that opened the door to people, places, and opportunities they’ll never forget.

Activities don’t have to fill every blank space in a student’s planner, of course. I usually recommend students choose something related to their program or career and something that mostly just fun or social. As an English major, I was an editor for UNI’s literary magazine, but I also helped with an environmental action organization. Both led to experiences and connections that I treasure to this day. That’s what I want for all students

How important are college visits and when should students take them?
Very! And they should take them as soon as they can after they decide which colleges are on their short list. We sometimes see students and their families as late as the July and August before their fall term begins. That’s not quite ideal, but we’re always happy to help them get personally acquainted with campus.

Really, the time to begin for most students is spring of the junior year. That gives them and their family time to map out the next year of admissions, scholarship, and financial aid steps. A quality visit, whether individual or event-based, will give them information that’s both school-specific and general. And simply walking around campus with a knowledgeable guide allows students to begin comparing schools for overall fit, as well.

Does HCC offer any classes or services to help students explore careers?
Yes! Our Career Services Center is open to everyone – even prospective students who have not yet enrolled. Many, many students are either entirely undecided or have doubts about their first interest. The Career Services staff can help students explore options based on their personal interests, skills, priorities, objectives, and the job market.

We also offer Career Exploration, an entire class devoted to increasing students’ knowledge of themselves, career planning, and their options. It’s designed to follow the National Career Development Guidelines and is offered both in classroom-based and online formats.

Is it wise to work, either work-study or off campus, for college students?
Sometimes! Every student needs money – for school, of course, but also for things like food, their car, and a social life. Also, every student has limited time and energy. These two facts are usually in conflict.

Most students work, often out of absolute necessity. To be successful, they must be realistic about the job’s hours (How many? Which shifts?) and its physical and psychological demands (CNA? Welder? Cashier?). On-campus jobs, work-study and otherwise, often don’t require extra commuting, and departments are mindful their employees are students first. But sometimes they’re in short supply, or the hours are not ideal, so students seek off campus work. That’s manageable, as well.

As usual, it’s all about managing time and maintaining balance – two life skills students need to work on anyway. The right job, approached in the right way, can give students financial support and add substantially to their college experience.

John - ICAN Waterloo and Hiawatha Centers

Campus Safety

Colleges and universities devote a lot of resources toward making sure students are safe on campus, but there are still some steps you can take to ensure your own personal safety.

1. Program the number for campus security in your phone and use it if you ever feel unsafe or threatened.

2. Enroll in your college’s emergency notification system. It will update you via email or cell phone of any emergency situations and give you specific instructions on where and what to do.

3. Walk across campus with a buddy, especially at night, and stick to well-lit parts of campus. Most colleges offer a Safety Escort that can accompany if you find yourself uneasy or apprehensive about walking to your car, residence hall, or parking lot.

4. Lock your dorm room and windows when you leave, and if you have a car or bike on campus, lock that up too.

5. Use your common sense to stay safe, no matter where you are! Be aware of your surroundings; don’t be so absorbed on your phone that you get distracted and forget about your safety!

6. Pepper spray or mace can also help with self-defense but be aware of campus policy before carrying.

If you would like to download a safety-and security- statistical report from the Department of Education on your college, here’s the link

Cindy - ICAN Hiawatha Center

Unique Scholarships

There is no denying that the process of searching and applying for scholarships is not the most fun thing for many high school and college students. But with the cost of a college education, scholarships are essential. A few times a year’s students reach out to me and ask about scholarships.

My response is usually the same: start with local scholarships first. Your school counselor would know about local entities that provide scholarships to students in the community, best part of local scholarships is that you’re competing with your classmates, so the applicant pool is not very large, meaning that there’s a better chance of students getting some of that local money. Then I tell them to search for college scholarships from the college(s) they’re considering attending.

Colleges usually post their scholarships on their financial aid page, but also feel free to contact the college directly to ask about certain scholarships or scholarship competition days. 

When you’ve completed your local and college scholarships, then look to your state education agency, in Iowa we have the Iowa College Student Aid Commission. 

Finally, use resources at the national level. #1 scholarship search engine is This is a reputable and free resource. Below are a few scholarships that I’ve come across that are not your typical scholarships.

-Klingon Language Institute Scholarship -

-Common Knowledge Scholarship -

-The Chick and Sophie Major Memorial Duck Calling Contest – to contact the scholarship committee email

-Cappex Easy Money College Scholarship -

Of course there are thousands, upon thousands of scholarships out there. Please use ICAN scholarship database to search for Iowa scholarships remember the Iowa College Aid Commission and never pay for any type of scholarship service. Talk to your high school counselor or college admissions representatives if you have questions about certain scholarships.

Lupe - ICAN Coralville and Davenport Centers

The FAFSA and Special Circumstances

We are in the third year of (PPY) Prior Prior tax year for FAFSA and it has been a welcomed change. Students can now file for financial aid as early as October 1st of their senior year allowing for additional time to compare award letters from colleges. For example, high school seniors are now using 2017 tax information for the 2019-2020 school year.

But what happens if there is a significant change in household income between filing taxes and the student starting college? If the FAFSA does not adequately reflect your current situation or your financial circumstances have changed since you submitted the FAFSA, you may request a reevaluation of your financial aid eligibility.

Examples of income change may include: 
  • Unemployment 
  • Loss of a benefit 
  • Job Change 
  • Illness 
  • Retirement 
  • Separation or Divorce 
  • Unusual uncompensated medical expenses 

To request a special circumstance, the student or the student’s parents (if the student is a dependent student) should ask the college's financial aid office about the school's process for a “professional judgment review.” Some colleges call it a special circumstances review or a financial aid appeal.

Colleges may ask the family to write a letter summarizing the special circumstances and to provide appropriate supporting documentation. Most colleges will have a form that can be downloaded from their website to start the process.

Financial aid advisors will work with your family to make sure you are receiving the most financial aid you are eligible to receive. As a reminder, don’t change anything on the FAFSA. You must contact the financial aid office if you think that your current financial situation may qualify for a special circumstance.

Jessica - ICAN Ankeny Office

Financial Aid Verification - Getting and Understanding Tax Transcripts

If you applying for financial aid you might need to provide financial aid verification documents to the institution that you are planning to attend, including a tax return transcript. Remember that 2016 is the tax year utilized for filing the 2018-19 FAFSA, and 2017 is the tax year used for 2019-20 FAFSA.

There are several ways to order tax transcripts, which are outlined here,, but the quickest route is to set up an online account to review your tax return transcript. To register for this online service, go to the following webpage,, and review the information just below Get Transcript Online:

What You Need
To register and use this service, you need:
  • your SSN, date of birth, filing status and mailing address from latest tax return,
  • access to your email account,
  • your personal account number from a credit card, mortgage, home equity loan, home equity line of credit or car loan, and
  • a mobile phone with your name on the account.
What You Get
  • All transcript types are available online
  • View, print or download your transcript
  • Username and password to return later
From this webpage,, select Get Transcript Online, and follow the directions to create your account. After you set up your account, make sure to remember your username and password because you’ll need them to log in.

You should also have your cell phone with you, because you will get a text with a secure code that enables you to log in to your account. For Higher Education/Student Aid, you will want to select/view Return Transcript. Then, select the year that you would like to review.

Troy - ICAN Ankeny and Des Moines Centers

Two Types of Associate Degrees

Students can attend a community college and achieve an associate degree. But many students and parents do not understand that there are actually two types of associate degrees in community colleges. Understanding the difference will help students plan their education and career.

There are two types of associate degrees. One is an Associate of Arts (AA) or Associate of Science (AS). This is a four year college transfer degree. A student takes the first two years at a community college and then transfers to a four year college. Students can select from a variety of academic programs, and also complete much of the required general education requirements for a bachelor degree.

An Associate of Applied Science (AAS) is a career and technical degree where the emphasis is mainly on skills and knowledge in a specific career area, and then the student is trained and gets a job after about two years. The training tends to emphasize hands-on learning. For example in most construction technology programs students will build a house from the ground up. Culinary Arts students will run a restaurant or catering service. Auto technology students will provide car servicing and repair for a small fee and cost of parts to car owners. This especially fits students who are more active in their learning and who do not like to sit. Commonly the AAS will not transfer well to a four year college without additional courses being required. There are cases where four year colleges will write articulation agreements with colleges to allow an AAS program to lead to a four year degree. The emphasis of the AAS degree is two years of training and then the student gets a job. On most community college websites career and technical programs will have the label of AAS as the resulting degree. Many community colleges will offer even shorter term programs as a certificate or a diploma which might require one semester of classes or one year.

Post-high school education has a lot of options for students today. Understand your options, choose an academic program, and go for it! By 2025, 68% of the jobs in Iowa will require come type of post-high school education. Book a career exploration appointment at your local ICAN Success Center, and the ICAN advisor can review the various options that are out there for you.

Steve - ICAN Council Bluffs Center