Life After College: Three Ways to Prepare for What’s Next

There are many paths to choose from after graduating college, including graduate school, entering the workforce, traveling, or serving your country in some capacity. Similar to high school, the more time you take to prepare for your future, the less difficult those decisions may be. Luckily, your college or university will have plenty of people and resources that can help you find your ideal path after graduation. Here are three major options to choose after college: 

1. Continuing School: Keys for Graduate Education

Many professions, such as law or medicine, will require some graduate coursework before you can even apply for the job. If you chose one of those as your major, you probably already knew those requirements.

The appeal of college as an undergraduate is as broad as possible. For graduate course work, it should be much more specific. When considering a graduate program or school there are plenty of different questions to ask. Does my current school have a the right program for my interests or do I need to attend a different school? Does my program have additional requirements (GRE, LSAT, etc.) that I must complete beforehand? How many students does my program accept? Is there any funding available for me? Do I have to attend classes in person or is there an online track? Addressing these before applying are fundamental to picking the right program. The sole purpose of these programs is to provide more professional experience that can help in your career and increase your earnings. Knowing what works best for you and what works best for your future is an important part of the decision making process.

2. Tools to Pick the Right Career

The two outcomes that colleges value the most are how many people graduate and how many of them are employed after graduation. They place an extremely high value on these and have many resources dedicated to helping students in their next phase of life. As a senior, you should know what’s at your disposal. Here are three resources to consider:

1. Opportunities for Your Major – Every college has a connection with their local area that includes partnerships and research opportunities. They often build good relationships in the community because those who partner with the campus can hire new talent from recent graduates. Therefore, many major programs will have information about offers exclusive to your academic discipline. Get in contact with your department head to see what opportunities they may have available to you.

2. Your Career Center – Every university has a dedicated career center that’s sole purpose is preparing students for gaining employment. This can be limited to resume critiques or more involved like mock interviews and setting up networking opportunities. This is a valuable resource because they keep in contact with alumni who can give information about what it takes to make it into a career field. This helps the career center prepare students for a specific need such as working on a portfolio for an art school or mock interview questions from previous applicants. The more information you give them, the more they can assist you in finding and securing a job opportunity.

3. Attend a Career Fair – The career center will go above and beyond to help you prepare for what to do when you are applying for positions. They will also help with the hardest part, finding the companies that are hiring. Every year, companies will flock to college campuses in search of new talent to recruit either for internships or for job opportunities after graduation. Attending these is an essential step in preparing for the workforce after college. Many companies will stay and do first rounds of interviews based on the resumes that they receive. Keeping that in mind,  you should check for a list of companies that were invited and prepare copies of your resume to hand out. Bigger universities will also have industry specific fairs or online job fairs, so check to see what your campus has to offer.

3. Alternative Forms of Employment: the Choice to Serve

If graduate school or the traditional workforce do not immediately jump out to you, perhaps you are interested in the chance to serve, either through religious organizations, non-profit sectors, or through the government. One of the best and most secure ways to travel internationally is through service like a mission trip or through the Peace Corps. Both require you to stay and serve a community for a period of time ranging from weeks to a few years with the Peace Corps. Either option can be extremely rewarding for those who choose these options.

If you are planning to stay in the U.S., there are similar ways to serve through AmeriCorps programs or through fellowships that target underserved communities.

Another admirable option is serving in the armed forces. The military is always looking for new recruits and those with a college education become instantly valuable, given chances to rise up in the ranks faster than those who immediately enlist out of school. Talk with a recruiter if this is something that interests you.

Why You Should Build an Online Portfolio in College

In the modern workforce, almost every job features an online component, either for branding purposes or as a part of their business operations. This is also true during the hiring process. Gone are the days where you can just walk into a company to meet the manager in person and hand-deliver a resume. In an increasingly digitized and automated world, it’s important to stand out. Many hopeful workers are building their own personal online portfolios to do just that, and they’re starting in college.

A bearded man smiling towards the camera showing off his computer with his portfolio on display.While some careers already require workers to curate a portfolio, it‘s something all students looking for internships or about to graduate should consider. A digital portfolio is a perfect addition to your resume, allowing you to show what makes you unique while also controlling your digital narrative. A digital portfolio helps you create the narrative in a positive way. It showcases what you’re capable of and highlights work that you’re the most proud of producing.

Online portfolios aren’t just for creative careers. They can be useful for just about any career field, from teachers to construction workers. A link to your portfolio in your resume allows hiring managers to become familiar with your work easily before an interview. Here are three things to consider while building an online portfolio:

1. Show off your skills

A student in the library working on her computer and taking notes of something.The benefit to a portfolio is that it can be both universal in scope and incredibly specific for an audience. Not every job is going to require the same thing, so your portfolio should highlight all of your skills. Think of your portfolio as an extension of your resume, as well as a trophy case of your best work. Portfolios are great for showing, not telling. Photos, short descriptions, and organized sections are perfect for highlighting the things that show how well you do each skill. Remember to keep it neat, as visual as possible, and easy to navigate for potential employers.

2. Build off your resume and define your narrative

Employers are not looking for descriptions of the previous job you had, they want concrete evidence of what you can contribute. Portfolios can be the perfect exclamation point to your resume by offering several examples of what skills you possess. The best examples of what you can do come from college assignments and even activities that you’ve been involved in. Did you help coordinate an event? Did you participate in a big project? Did you have an assignment that you aced? These papers or projects show off your ability to understand instructions and perform desired tasks, the keys to a great worker. A resume highlights your accomplishments in school, at a job, or internship. Use your portfolio to give better context to those highlights. 

A student working on her computer, building a resume.Portfolios are also a great way to market yourself. A portfolio can help build that narrative by offering extended contact information or access that can show how you operate in the professional world. Copying your LinkedIn URL or a dedicated Instagram page to your work can help show your ability to be professional even when outside of the work environment and linking to your online portfolio from your LinkedIn account will give potential employers further insight into your talents.

3. Be Creative

An online portfolio is meant to help show people who you are and how talented you are. Do not be afraid of making it unique. There are plenty of free online platforms that will assist in creating a website. Even free to use sites can allow for customization to really let your creativity shine. A great resume catches an employer’s eye quickly by showing what makes you unique. Let your portfolio do the same by demonstrating your personality in the professional space. 

A student working on the computer building his portfolio.It’s always important to stand out in a shifting work landscape. The best way to do that is highlighting what makes you successful. Be proud of those accomplishments! They tell the story of who you are as a person and a worker. Employers want to get to know both sides of you.

If you need some examples of what an online portfolio looks like, do some research. A simple online search will show you a variety of portfolios and ways you can create a portfolio that’s as unique as you are. 

Three Tips for Picking the Right Graduate Program

During your undergraduate studies, you are given time and space to determine what career path is right for you. One in three students will change their major during their time in college! While that is okay for a bachelor’s degree, you don’t have that same leniency with graduate programs. Graduate programs provide a lot of value and are required in many career fields. It is important that you find one that is worth your time and money. Here are three things to consider when making that decision.

1. Consider your desired career path and goals.

Woman looking out of an open window in front of her computer, pondering the paths she could take in life.There are many benefits to advanced degrees. Increased earnings, switching careers, and even personal goals can be a part of the decision to pursue a master’s degree or higher. To truly make the smartest choice you should factor in everything that you can. The primary benefit of a graduate education is very specialized knowledge that can benefit you or your career path. This can be as simple as a school principal versus elementary teacher. It can also be very specific like choosing a course that uses a unique coding program for one sole purpose. Take inventory of what your goals and needs are, then look at what various schools can provide you. Course listings are provided that give a synopsis of each course offered.

2. Fit your lifestyle.

Enrolling in an undergraduate program should be about the skills you will learn and the value you will receive from your education. Your graduate program doesn’t have to win you over with a nice gym or club sports, the program is the selling point. Therefore it is best to find what works the best for you and your profession. Location is a very important first factor to determine. Some programs are only offered in specific regions, like marine biology on the coasts. However, if your program can be more universal then you should focus on what makes the most sense. If a middle school in Springfield accepts teachers from Missouri State or Drury then you don’t necessarily need to go to Harvard or Yale for grad school.A black woman leading a business meeting and pointing at an easel of paper.

You should determine how your current schedule can accommodate the courses you’ll need to graduate, as well as your schedule. Many people begin graduate programs after having a full time job so they have to build their graduate class schedule around the demands of a job. This can mean taking courses solely online versus going to some in person throughout the week. The important thing to remember is to do what works for you and your schedule.

3. Build a long-term plan.

There are far more circumstances that you have to account for when planning your graduate education. Many people pursue this degree while working in their career field, so there is only a finite amount of time available. A black man mapping out something on sticky notes on a window. Additionally, while scholarships and grants for pursuing a graduate degree are available, there aren’t many of them, so financial decisions should be part of the process.

Before pursuing a grad program consider what is needed and at what timeframe. If you are looking for very specific instruction, make that a priority. If you are just getting the program but have no pressing need, then build your schedule that can maximize your ability to achieve and is the most financially advantageous.

Seven Advantages to Building Credit Before Graduating

Credit and how to manage it is an important subject that is often neglected in high schools and even colleges, unless it’s a part of your degree field. However, it is something that everyone should at least have some knowledge about. Whether you are purchasing a car or renting/buying a house, your credit score is used for a long list of large purchases along with smaller, everyday items as well. We have put together a short list of things to keep in mind, along with tips, to make sure you understand the world of credit.

What is a Credit Score?

A credit score tells banks and lenders how likely you are to pay your loan back in a timely manner. It is based on your credit history which is a record of how much you have borrowed and paid back. Late payments decrease your score, while consistent, on-time payments will gradually increase your score.

What makes a Credit Score Good or Bad?

Credit scores are typically rated on a scale from 300-850, with a higher score meaning better credit. According to Experian, a credit reporting agency, 700 or above is considered good, while above 800 is excellent. The average credit scores fall in the 600-750 range. However, don’t be discouraged if your score is low, as there are many ways to raise it. These include making payments on time, cutting back on credit card spending, paying off debt, along with more ways that can be found with a quick internet search.

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Keep these seven things in mind as you consider credit cards and building your credit:

1. Getting a credit card can teach good credit habits.

Buying a car, a house, or any other large item is something that will more than likely require a loan from a bank. Many get the amount they apply for but the interest rates on these loans vary, and they can make a world of difference. Having a higher credit score is the biggest thing lenders use to determine the interest rates on these loans. Banks will see that you have a high score, meaning you are someone who doesn’t miss payments often and can be trusted to pay off the loan they are giving you. It can add up to a lot of saved money! Be careful, however, borrowing too much money or late payments will knock your credit score down.

2. Cardholder perks

Every credit card comes with its own set of perks. Even cards from the same company have different rewards. Some cards provide airline miles, while others provide cash back. These are just two of the rewards credit cards can give you but there are a lot more out there. Student cards may come with a lower credit limit but can give the cardholder access to things like scholarships, 0% APR for the first year, and discounts on school supplies.

3. Receive lower rates on loans

Buying a car, a house, or any other large item is something that will more than likely require a loan from a bank. Many get the amount they apply for but the interest rates on these loans vary, and they can make a world of difference. Having a higher credit score is the biggest thing lenders use to determine the interest rates on these loans. Banks will see that you have a high score, meaning you are someone who doesn’t miss payments often and can be trusted to pay off the loan they are giving you. It can add up to a lot of saved money! Be careful, however, borrowing too much money or late payments will knock your credit score down. 

4. Makes for a more appealing tenant

When attempting to rent a home, you will most likely have to submit your social security number so the landlord can see your credit score. You are much more likely to get approved or possibly chosen over other applicants if you have a higher credit score. This ties back to the loan section. The landlord will see that you have a high score and be more trusting of you to pay your rent on time and in full.

5. An increased credit limit on cards

The higher your credit score, the more willing a credit card company will be to give you a higher spending limit on your credit card. This can be nice for attempting to build your score higher or maybe covering you in an emergency situation you hadn’t saved up for. Maybe it’s an unforeseen health issue or car problems on a long road trip, a credit card can bring a sense of comfort knowing you have access to these funds in case a situation similar to these arises.

6. Save money on security deposits

Often, companies will charge a service fee when establishing utilities such as water, electric, or gas in your name for the first time or when moving to a new location. Having a good credit score can sometimes wipe these fees away completely!

7. Sense of achievement!

Having a good credit score is something to be proud of! Especially at a younger age. It is difficult to keep up on all of your payments, and adding another to the mix can be stressful and complicate things. If you are able to build your credit, that’s a big accomplishment. It shows that you have created a responsible spending plan and you have developed good credit habits. These are tools you will carry with you for life and will continue to be helpful as you progress into buying a home or whatever your next step may be.

Learn more and manage your credit score at

Three Major Steps after Decision Day

Hey Seniors! Congratulations on a job well done!

It’s time to celebrate — and then think about what’s next! Don’t lose focus, there are a few major steps you need to accomplish before you’re ready to attend college this fall. For those who have not made a decision yet, there is still time!

Most schools, especially community colleges, have a rolling admissions policy. This means that they are constantly accepting students up to the beginning of classes in August. Here is some information that will be helpful:

1. Finalize all scholarships / financial aid

Two people staring at the screen of a laptop.

There are different ways to pay for school and most students have multiple sources to do so. Make sure your college has all your information so you are all set for the beginning of your semester, especially if you plan to take summer courses. Each student will be sent a document that considers all forms of your financial aid, including grants and loans from filing the FAFSA, institutional  scholarships, and private scholarships you have applied for separately. By confirming with the financial aid office at your chosen college, you will be able to confirm what your true total for school is. If you have questions don’t be afraid to ask your financial aid experts on campus!

For students who still haven’t decided, there is still time. The most important thing for you to do is file the FAFSA. Every year there are billions of dollars that go unclaimed by students that could earn financial aid but missed out because they did not file the FAFSA. If you have not applied to schools there is a chance you will still qualify for automatic scholarships they provide for academics. If there is a school you are interest in, reach out to their admissions office and they will fill you in on the steps you need to take. Find free help completing your FAFSA this summer at one of several events throughout Missouri.

2. Register for your Orientation

Students Walking down a Campus Hallway

After graduation, your college orientation will be the biggest day before you begin classes. You and thousands of fellow 

students will flood campus during the summer to get your plans finalized. Most orientations include meeting faculty in your major, setting up your course schedule, and confirming your housing. Orientation day offers you a chance to meet fellow freshmen for the first time and it is designed to be fun! Make sure you check out your school’s website and select an orientation date that works for you and your parents.

If you are still not decided, use this time to go on a college visit. A lot can change between the start and end of your senior year, so going to a campus with new perspective is vital.

3. Celebrate your Success!

A group of graduates celebrating their success.

The final months of senior year were like a whirlwind with spring sports ending, taking finals, and graduating. Take time to celebrate yourself! You are about to take part in one of the biggest changes of your life. That is something to be excited about. The more you can appreciate what it took to get to campus, the more invested you will be in your success while there.

For those who haven’t decided yet, don’t get down on yourself! All paths are not the same. In fact, most people go through ups and downs including changing majors or even schools. Remember that you have accomplished just as much by graduating high school and that your future is bright! Do not be afraid to ask for help while figuring out what’s next.

MyScholarshipCentral: Scholarships for Current College Students

three students sitting on a bench.

While many scholarships are only offered to high school students planning to attend college, there are a lot of opportunities designed specifically for current college students to complete their degree. There can be a lot of uncertainties when you go to college. One of the biggest is often money. Even if you no longer live on campus, college can be expensive and you might have a new bill that needs to be paid. Don’t lose heart because you are not out of luck! MyScholarshipCentral is an amazing site that compiles all available awards and gives descriptions about who may qualify. It is a very user-friendly site where you can filter scholarships to your specifications (gender, race, major, etc.). Here are three examples of scholarships you should look out for:

Purdy Emerging Leaders Scholarship

A student leader looking at the cameraThis scholarship is tailored to students in leadership roles on campus and is a renewable scholarship that can cover up to $5,000. It is available to current college sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Students with good academic standing and a 2.5 GPA or higher are eligible to apply. This scholarship requires three additional things; a list of activities and leadership positions (not from high school), a reference from a current advisor/professor, and a short answer on what being a leader means to you. By sending all of that information, as well as your EFC and school’s award letter, you are eligible to apply. This scholarship is open until May 31, 2022, and winners will be notified by June or July.

Morton A. Mitchell Scholarship

Many scholarships on this site are aimed at specific majors. This is an example of one, as this scholarship is aimed at students planning on working in the field of ecology or wildlife conservation. Students with majors in science hoping to explore this career field can earn this $4,000 renewable scholarship. Students in these major fields with at least a 2.0 GPA are encouraged to apply and fill out the questionnaire which asks for information about activities that you are involved in, as well as why you are interested in wetlands or ecology and conservation. This application is due April 15, 2022.

Zonta Club of St. Louis - Jane M. Klausman Women in Business Scholarship

A girl in a hijab takes notes in a large classroom.

Similar to the previous scholarship, this $1,000 scholarship is targeting students in a subject area. Business is the focus area of this scholarship. In addition to that, this award is specifically for women in the St. Louis area because the organization is based there. This scholarship is targeted at upperclassmen, either college juniors, seniors or students enrolled in a master’s program. Outside of the general information, applicants must fill out a 500-word essay describing their professional goals and how the award would help them accomplish those goals. This scholarship is due by May 1, 2022.

Just like applying for scholarships as a high school senior, there are plenty of general and incredibly specific options that are available to you as a current college student. The key is to be persistent and look at the various scholarships that you might qualify for. The good news is that MyScholarshipCentral is a valuable resource in that process. By creating your account, you are completing one major part of the process. Be aware of deadlines and try to be as prepared as possible so you give yourself the best opportunity to qualify. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your financial aid office for more information as well!

5 Ways to Maximize your College Visit

Visiting a college campus can be a major deciding factor when choosing where you want to go to school. Each place is unique and finding out what you like about the environment is important. But don’t stress too much about it, we’ve got you covered! Here are five things to consider before, during, and after visiting a college campus.

1. Choose the way you'll visit

A campus tour guide giving high school students a tour of the college campus.

There are many ways to tour a college campus. You can set up your own private tour, go on a class trip with your school, attend a large themed visit day, even just show up and walk around by yourself! The key is to determine what is right for you. If you have a general interest but do not know much about the school, consider going on a trip with your school where you get a basic tour of campus and breakdown of what they offer. If you or your parents have questions about a school, then a private solo visit might be right for you. If you want to see what the campus atmosphere will be like at its best, a weekend visit or time when the school is celebrating homecoming or other events may be a perfect choice.

Wanting to attend a school that’s pretty far away but cannot make it in person? Try checking out a school via a virtual tour. Virtual tours can take you through various buildings on campus while providing information about different degree programs offered. A virtual tour can help you decide if you’re really interested, and then it may be beneficial to schedule an in-person tour just to be sure.  

2. Consider meeting Faculty

A student talking to a faculty member in Student Services.

Getting the best education possible is the true purpose of attending college, so you should find out if you can learn there. A good way to do this is to meet some of the professors. When taking a personal visit, many schools will reach out to faculty who are available at the time of your trip to give information about their degree program. 

This includes going over possible courses, chances for internships, and mapping out your schedule early on. If you request it, you can even sit in on a lecture. This is an excellent way to understand what it will be like to go to a college or university, and is something that everyone should try before making a decision. 

3. Bring your parents

A group of people walking up the stairs.

College is a big journey for your parents just like it is for you. They will be just as excited and probably have worries similar to yours. It is important to have them involved in the process. While you focus on what it is like to attend the school, your parents will be interested in finding out if it is feasible to attend. College visits spend a portion of their time focusing on the cost and financial aid available to all students and depending on when you visit (ex. Your senior year after filing the FAFSA) you can meet with the financial aid office and discuss what scholarships or aid is available to you.

4. Eat the food

A woman carrying a tray full of food and a glass of orange juice.

As a freshman, you will spend most of your time eating in a dining hall. The sooner you try the food, the better. If you have certain dietary restrictions, finding out what options are available to you is important. Most campus dining halls have vegetarian/vegan options readily available, as well as gluten-free alternatives. 

If the dining hall is unavailable, then consider other options in the campus student union. This area will likely include more popular restaurant options with the convenience of staying on campus. If neither of those options are appetizing, this is a great chance to explore the area and try local restaurants! Talk to your tour guide to get suggestions about the options around town.

5. Ask for free stuff!

a pile of rolled t-shirts, like what you would get from a college visit.Colleges have budgets dedicated to promotion and advertising. Do not feel bashful in asking if they have anything to offer you on your visit. This could be a free shirt or pennant, a discount to the school store, free food in the dining hall, or waiving your application fee if you apply that day. They want you to enjoy your day just as much as you do, so don’t be afraid to see what they can offer.

A college visit will be the best indicator of whether or not that school is right for you. The more prepared you are, the easier it is to decide that big question: do I want to go here? Even if the answer is no, you gain valuable information that you can take to the next college until you find your best fit.


5 Reasons to Apply to Multiple Schools

a girl reading a piece of paper she received in a large manila envelope.

Going into my senior year, I had everything mapped out. I visited Truman State University and immediately fell in love with the campus and atmosphere. There was no other place that I wanted to go. Later that spring I found out about William & Mary in Virginia, the school Thomas Jefferson went to. It was a school that seemed so perfect there was no need for a back-up plan. I only submitted one application because there was only one school I felt I should go to. Problem is, William & Mary did not agree and I got the rejection letter in the middle of April without time to apply to a different school.

Nearly 37 percent of all college students will transfer schools at some point in their educational journey. That was the case for me when I eventually made my way to my first dream school, Truman State, after spending two years at a local college. Millions of students across the country feel the same as I did, lacking other options when their main plans did not work out. As a student who went through this struggle and as a former college advisor, I’ve learned that one of the biggest keys to academic success is feeling some investment in your school, which is why most students only apply to their top choice.

Today I want to talk about five reasons you should apply to multiple schools. Hopefully, this will help you as well!

1. Circumstances change.

A lot can happen during the course of your senior year. Your relationships will change, you’ll gain new interests, etc. I was someone looking for a small school with a rigorous academic focus but chose to go to a school close to home instead. Likewise, there are plenty of students across the country whose priorities are constantly changing. To counter this, it is crucial that you apply to more than one school.

If you’re undecided on a major, a community college might be a better short-term option where you can get your general education credits out of the way before deciding on your path. You may also consider getting your associate degree or a certificate first, then if you decide you want to do more, you can stack those credentials by getting your bachelor’s degree later.

Applying to two universities, differing in demographics and campus, can provide a chance to have two styles of campus. When I was a College Advisor, I had a student who was offered a volleyball scholarship after she played in a spring tournament. This changed her options drastically and she ended up choosing a school she never considered before. It’s not always a bad thing!

Applying to at least three schools gives you a buffer if there is a major change that occurs outside of your control as well.

2. Other schools might offer more money!

Did you know that you could be accepted to multiple schools at the same time? Before you register for classes at your school of choice, it is a good option to apply to multiple schools and send them your FAFSA information. When filing your FAFSA you can indicate that you want your information sent to over ten universities. Each will give you information on how much financial aid they can provide. Remember, circumstances can change drastically during the year, so it is always important to see what the best financial option might be.

By looking at their multiple financial aid award letters, one student of mine was able to figure out exactly what ACT score they would need to achieve to make their top school financially viable.

3. There are ways to pay for application fees.

two people comparing numbers between a calculator and a piece of paper.

A big reason most people only apply to one school is application fees. They can range from low ($20), to medium ($60), to high (over $100). That can add up fast if you are applying to multiple schools. But there are ways to make it cheaper to apply to more colleges! First, if you are a student on free and reduced lunch or Pell eligible, you qualify for a national application fee waiver. Talk to your high school counselor about getting a fee waived. There are no limits to how many waivers you can fill out. If you do not qualify for a fee waiver, the university itself might be able to help. Many universities will waive application fees for students who come visit the campus or have talked to an admissions representative. Not only does that make the application cheaper, it gives you a chance to go visit schools.

There are also many schools that do not require an application fee for applying. All community colleges have a free application, meaning you are guaranteed at least one additional application that you will not have to pay for.

4. It makes the college process less stressful.

There is no denying that picking a university is a difficult choice for a high school senior. Especially if there are certain requirements you need to pass before you are officially accepted. The biggest of these obstacles for most students is standardized tests. The ACT and SAT can, not only decide if you can afford to go to the school of your choice, it can determine if you even get in at all. My ACT score was too low to get into William & Mary, but was good enough for Truman State. Some schools are even moving away from the standardized test score altogether. When you apply to multiple schools with different requirements for acceptance, it makes this score less impactful.

5. Don’t let rejection bring you down.

a teen writing things down in a notebook.

April of my senior year I was out of time and options. The only school I could see myself at did not accept me, and I did not finish the application to the only other school I visited. I eventually attended the University of Missouri-Kansas City for two years before transferring to Truman State. UMKC is a GREAT school, but I never felt personally connected with my choice. A lot of that was because I was judging it compared to the school I really wanted to attend. That attitude hurt my grades and my morale. The only solution was to go somewhere else for a fresh start.

This year, students across the country will get the same bad news. They did not get into the school of their dreams. But that should not be the end of your educational journey! By applying to multiple schools that you enjoy, you save yourself from feeling defeated. The main key to success in college is having an investment in your studies and that comes from being invested in your time at school. There is no such thing as a “safety school,” just other options you might enjoy if the first one does not work out.

5 Reasons to File a FAFSA

Every year, the U.S. Department of Education gives roughly $120 billion in federal loans, grants, and work-study funds to more than 13 million college students. These funds are awarded only to those who file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

By not submitting a FAFSA, students are leaving billions of dollars on the table, and are missing out on a pretty great deal. Federal loans have low interest rates, federal grants don’t need to be repaid, and work-study programs are a great way to pay for college while building your resume. And about 90 percent of high school seniors who submit a FAFSA enroll in college the following fall semester, whereas only about half of the high school seniors who do not submit the form end up enrolling in the fall. Filing a FAFSA to see what financial aid you qualify for could be the deciding factor.

The point is, there is NO reason you shouldn’t submit a FAFSA, and countless good reasons why you SHOULD. Here are five:  

More than just a loan

While most students submit a FAFSA as a way of securing a low-interest loan from the federal government, filing a FAFSA is also the only way to become eligible for certain types of aid that don’t need to be paid back. Every year, millions of dollars in grants and scholarships from states and universities are distributed based on financial need, and the only way to qualify for this aid is by submitting a FAFSA.

Most students qualify

You may qualify for free aid, like the Pell grant, or Access Missouri grant, but you won’t know unless you file. Anyone with a household income below $250,000 is eligible to receive some form of federal aid, as long as they submit a FAFSA. While only 5 percent of U.S. households make too much money to qualify for federal aid, more than 40 percent of high school seniors fail to file a FAFSA.

Federal loans are easier to pay off than private loans

Some students, instead of filing a FAFSA, choose to borrow money from private lenders such as banks, credit unions, state agencies, and even schools. However, there are many benefits to choosing a federal student loan over a private student loan.

The first is interest rates. In most cases, the interest rate on Federal loans is lower than those of private loans. The federal interest rate is also fixed and won’t change, whereas private loans can have variable interest rates, which are harder to predict.

Payments on Federal loans aren’t due until six months after you graduate or leave college, so you’ll have a grace period to land on your feet before your first payment is due. However, many private lenders require students to start making payments while they are still finishing school. Federal loans can also be deferred or put in a forbearance period if you are experiencing certain hardships, like a job loss or medical issue.  

It’s free to submit

It costs nothing to file a FAFSA, and you won’t be required to accept any aid you are offered. High schools across Missouri host FAFSA Frenzy events, where students can receive free help filling out their FAFSA. The FAFSA is easier now than it has ever been, with more simplified questions coming in the next few years.

Your financial situation could change

Unexpected crises, such as a global pandemic, create financial difficulties. One day, you could have a complex spreadsheet, mapping out exactly how you plan to pay for every one of your expenses; the next day, something bad happens – your income level changes, your employer goes out of business, a family member has a medical emergency, etc. – and your entire plan is sent into a tailspin. When special circumstances arise, you can appeal to your college’s financial aid office for additional assistance. Filing the FAFSA gives them a starting point to understand your financial situation. If things have changed, colleges can often use what’s called “professional judgment” to help you overcome new financial challenges and help get you back on your feet.

Four things to consider as you start your college career

You just graduated high school. You’ve chosen which college or university you will attend. Maybe you’ve explored the food and housing options at your new school. It’s an exciting time in your life. Right now, it probably seems like there’s so much you still need to do before you step on campus in the fall. Getting to campus is one thing – succeeding in college and finishing your degree is another! Here are four things to keep in mind that will improve your college experience in the long run.

You have options when it comes to which math course you take

Most colleges and universities require students to take at least one semester of math. For some of you, that sounds perfectly fine. You like math, and you’re good at it. For others, the idea of taking precalculus is not only terrifying, it does not match the work you’ll be doing in your field of study.

However, Missouri’s public institutions offer alternative entry-level mathematics courses that are most effective and beneficial to each academic major. For example: A journalism student doesn’t have much use for precalculus; however, a solid background in statistical reasoning can serve a journalist well throughout his or her career. So, make sure to know your options, when it comes to math pathways, and take advantage of them.

How many hours should I take? Think 15 to Finish!

You will hear the term “full-time student” fairly often in college. A full-time student, according to financial aid and the vast majority of colleges and universities, is a student enrolled in at least 12 credit hours per semester. But don’t think that means you can take 12 hours of class and still graduate on time.

You should strive to complete at least 15 credit hours a semester to put yourself on track to receive an associate degree in two years or a bachelor’s degree in four years. If you just can’t swing 15 hours every semester, consider taking summer courses to stay caught up.

This is important because additional time in the classroom comes at a steep price. An extra year in college can mean paying an extra year’s worth of tuition, fees, and housing, and missing out on that first-year salary!

Corequisite Courses can help you finish faster

Depending on your ACT/SAT scores or your GPA in high school, you may be asked to take remedial courses before enrolling into a credit-bearing course. These courses are meant to prepare you for difficult coursework in upper-division classes.

Students who must complete prerequisite remedial courses before they can enroll in credit-bearing courses often have to spend an extra semester or more in college, and are far less likely to graduate. The additional time in school can also increase college costs and result in more student loan debt.

Corequisite courses, on the other hand, allow students to earn credit toward graduation while they complete their remedial coursework. Corequisite courses provide additional academic support which may include tutoring, mentoring, labs, and workshops. Students take the corequisite course in conjunction with their credit-bearing course so they get the help they need simultaneously. Ask your advisor if your college offers this type of course. 

Things to consider if you’re already planning to transfer

If you do decide to move from one school to another, you deserve to see the credits from one school transfer to another.

To simplify the transfer process, Missouri’s colleges and universities have worked together to establish the CORE 42, which is 42 credit hours of lower-division general education courses that can be transferred seamlessly from one Missouri higher education institution to another.

To give yourself optimal flexibility, take care of your lower-division general education courses first. If you know you’re going to switch schools at some point, use our Course Transfer Tracker to check out how the courses you’re taking now will transfer to the schools you’re considering.