A Great Tool for Comparing Award Letters

If you are looking for help in estimating your total college costs, check out Iowa Student Loan’s College Funding Forecaster.  It's a free app, and you can find it at  www.iowastudentloan.org/forecaster.  To get started, go to the website and view the 2-minute College Funding Forecaster video.  Select next at the bottom of the page to proceed.

Using an award letter that you received from a college or university, enter the following information into the forecaster:
·         Direct Costs
o   Tuition and Fees
o   Room and Board (Housing and Meals)
·         Indirect Costs
o   Books and Supplies
o   Personal Expenses
o   Transportation
o   Other Expenses and Fees

After entering direct and indirect costs, the forecaster automatically calculates and displays the estimated (Total Annual Cost of Attendance) at the bottom of the page.  Select next at the bottom of the page to proceed.

On this page, input financial assistance information including:
·         Grants
·         Scholarships
·         Work Study
Also, enter savings, gifts, and other funding.  If applicable, enter estimated federal and institutional loan information.  Remember, student loans are a form of financial aid that must be repaid.  Select next at the bottom of the page to proceed. 

Next, view the 1-minute About Your Forecast video.  Select next at the bottom of the page to proceed.

After all of the information has been entered into the forecaster, the 4-year College Funding Forecast will be displayed at the top of the page, and the 4-year Forecasted Funding Gap will be displayed at the bottom of the page.  Select next at the bottom of the page to proceed.

Finally, a summary page will provide helpful hints to assist you in using your forecast to evaluate any potential gaps in funding.  If you have questions or would like help interpreting your college funding forecast, contact your institution’s financial aid department, or feel free to schedule an award letter review appointment with ICAN online at www.icansucceed.org/apt, or by phone at 877-272-4692. 

Thank you,

ICAN Ankeny/Des Moines Centers

Dealing With Drama

Hopefully you won’t be bothered with drama too much while in college, honestly, there’s better things to be doing than being engulfed in petty situations. Here’s my advice on dealing with drama, if you do get pulled into an awkward situation. 

  • First and foremost, be an adult. If something is bothering you about your roommate, best friend, boy/girlfriend don’t talk about it behind their back, don’t post on social media, deal with it like an adult and deal with it quickly before it gets too big to handle. If there’s an issue with a roommate and you don’t feel comfortable talking to them individually, you can have your RA with you when you confront the issue with the roommate.
  • Communication is key when it comes to relationships, if something is happening that you don’t agree with it, it needs to be addressed before the friendship or relationship is ruined by something insignificant. Also, limit your time your social media. Many things on social media can be misconstrued. Someone might post something silly or funny and people might take it the wrong way.
  • Don’t take things too seriously. Stay in your lane and avoid drama like the plague.
  • Lastly, college campuses have counselors that you can talk to if you’re having a hard time with any situation. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help if you’re feeling down. 

Lupe Hernandez

ICAN Hiawatha & Davenport Centers

Paying and Saving for College

I have worked in the area of college financial aid for almost 30 years, the last 17 as a Student Success Advisor at ICAN.  In those 30 years, I have had many personal experiences and I have had the opportunity to work with a lot of students and families and see many different situations.  I would like to share some of what I learned as a student, a parent, and as a professional in education as it pertains to paying for college.

On a personal level, in the last 30 years I have borrowed student loans (much more than I should have) while earning my undergraduate and graduate degrees.  I married my wife, who I met while in graduate school and who also works in education, and at the same time, I gained 2 young step-daughters.  I watched them grow up and offered them the opportunity to attend college.  And, more recently, I paid off my student loans…

Given the careers both my wife and I chose, we were both fully aware of the rising cost of education.  After talking about it for several months (or was it years) we finally started a 529 college savings plan for each of my daughters when they were about 8 and 9 years old.  We put a small amount aside each month at first and then, as it became more and more apparent that college was right around the corner, we increased our monthly contributions.

From a parent perspective, both my wife and I are so glad that we started to save for college when the girls were younger.  Looking back, we wished we would have started saving sooner.  The college savings plans gave us a “cushion” that we could rely on when bills were due so that it did not cause a financial hardship for us.  It also kept us from borrowing educational loans.  Putting aside some money each month for several years is so much easier than coming up with a large amount all at once.  Any amount saved puts you that much closer to meeting educational costs and keeping loan debt down, for both parents and students.

As parents, we always stressed to the girls the importance of education.  However, we also told them that they did not have to go to college just because we wanted them to, it was their choice.  Eventually, our oldest daughter went on to college and is currently a senior at the University of Northern Iowa and her younger sister has chosen to enter the work force.

When it came time to pay for college, we had many discussions in our household as to what the expectations were.  We were not going to pay for everything; however, we would help out.  It was understood that our daughters would be responsible for 1/3 of their total costs.  As we tried to have our daughters apply for scholarships (a difficult task by the way), we stressed the importance of completing college debt free.  We also talked about how working while in college can help pay for educational costs.

My daughter ended up receiving some scholarship money that, along with her part-time income, has enabled her to fund her portion of her educational costs debt-free.  As a college senior, she is understanding more and more the importance of working part time while school is in session and working more hours during the summer to help pay for education the following year (after her freshman year, she said, “If I work full time in the summer, it will ruin my summer!!”).  She has also more recently stated, “I wish I would have applied for more scholarships in high school.”

I think it is so important that parents and students have discussions early on about what the expectations are when it comes to paying for college so there are no surprises.  I have had families in my office applying for financial aid where the father turns to the student, for example, and tells her that he is no longer going to help pay for college and then turn to me to ask how much can the student borrow.  The student was already in her sophomore year at a 4 year university, was about $10,000 in debt, and needed to come up with $20,000 just for the next year on her own, and then for another year after that.  A little planning and discussion might have alleviated a lot of tears.

Some of the families I meet with have not planned for or saved for college.  They might have good incomes, a nice home, nice cars, etc., but no money for college.  Maybe the parents think that the student will get a lot scholarships based on grades or athletic ability, for example, while the student thinks that the parent will pay for everything like they have in the past.  Again, that’s why I think it is so important to have these discussions as a family early in the process.

The Free Application for Federal Student (FAFSA) can help a family obtain financial aid.  Financial aid is not there to pay for all of a student’s education, it’s there to supplement what the family has in the form of income and assets to help offset the cost of education.  Families should also consider savings (college savings plans, etc.), scholarships, and income from work (student and parent) to help them cover educational costs.

Loans are easy to borrow, but not so easy to pay back.  The average Iowa student earning a bachelor’s degree and taking out a student loan, graduates with around $29,000 of student loan debt.  That means their monthly payment, beginning 6 months after they graduate, will be just under $300 per month and the payments will continue for 10 years.  That’s $300 per month for 10 years.  Keep in mind that at that time in a student’s life, the student might want to purchase a new car, buy a home, and start a family.  All of those things cost money.   Can the student really afford to borrow almost $30,000 (and pay back about $42,000 depending on interest rates)?

Any scholarships a student receives, any money set aside in a savings plan, any money that a student can earn and save from working, is money that does not have to be paid back with interest. Something to think about.

Please remember that the team of ICAN advisors can help students and families as they go through this process of being aware of the cost of education and how to plan to cover those costs.

John Holland
ICAN Waterloo Center

Spring Break that Doesn't Break the Budget

Spring break is right around the corner!  What are your plans?  Each year, it amazes me the number of students that go to some exotic place and have a great time, but then complain about how much college costs and how they’ll be in debt forever.  Take this tweet, for example.

Does cost factor into your decision on how you spend your spring break?  If not, I encourage you to stop and think about it.  Is a week of fun worth the long-term effect on your wallet?  Are there places you could go, things you could do that would be less expensive?

U.S. News & World Report has compiled a list of the 10 Best Cheap Spring Break Destinations. 
Here is their Top 10:

  1. Myrtle Beach
  2.  Daytona
  3. Cancun
  4. Puerto Rico
  5. South Padre
  6. Nashville
  7. Punta Cana
  8. San Diego
  9. Austin
  10. New Orleans

Are any of these on your list?  Any other recommendations?  Have fun!

Shea Stamp - ICAN Hiawatha Center

ACT in April - Why It's a Good Idea

The ACT is the most common college entrance exam for colleges and universities in the Midwest. If you’re a high school junior who is planning to go to college, you should consider taking the test sometime in the next calendar year. The ACT tests students on the material they’ve learned through the end of their junior year in high school, so it’s a good idea to take the ACT at the end of your junior year or the beginning of your senior year: April and June are two of the most popular test dates for the ACT. Most students take the test twice, and you always have the opportunity to update your test scores if you retake the test after you’ve already applied for admission. Sometimes a one or two-point difference on the test can make a big difference in scholarship money!

The biggest problem that students have with the ACT has to do with the timing of the test. The ACT has four sections: English, Reading, Math, and Science, and students have about 45 minutes for each section of the test, with a short break in between. Even though 45 minutes sounds like a long time for each section, the time goes by quickly! Sometimes students will get halfway through the questions and then realize that they only have a few minutes left. It’s important to make sure you’re using your time wisely for each section of the ACT.

In order to get used to the timing of the test, completing a few practice tests can help significantly. Websites like actstudent.org, number2.com, chegg.com, and collegeboard.org offer test prep resources and practice tests free of charge. Taking a few practice tests will help you feel comfortable with the material and the time limits, and will help you feel confident on test day!

Visit ACT.org to register for the test online. When you register for the test, you have the option to select several different schools to which you’d like to send your test scores. Make sure to include all of the schools that you’re considering, so that they can see your test scores. If you’ve already applied for admission, make sure that the schools you’ve applied to have received your ACT scores so that your application can be complete.

The night before the test, make sure to get a good night’s rest, and eat a healthy breakfast the morning of the test. We know you’ll do great! 

Susan Dickinson 
ICAN Coralville Center