Student Loans 101: Getting Educated

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In just a few weeks, it will all be over. You’ll turn in your last exam and sigh with relief. Then you’ll don your cap and gown, accept your diploma, and pose for photos. Finally, you’ll be off to the real world – to start your job search or, if you’re lucky, your first post-college position.

But one aspect of your education is just beginning: your student loan repayment. This may sound intimidating, especially if the financial vocabulary is new to you. However, with a little research, you’ll find your debt far less daunting. Here are some key points to remember as you prepare to tackle your loans,

1.) Know your loan servicer. Although you’ve borrowed money from the federal government, you’ll your federal loans through a loan servicer, which the federal government will assign you. Common loan servicers include Navient, VSAC, Nelnet, and Granite State. If you took out a private loan, from a bank, for example, you will repay the money you borrowed, plus interest, to that lender.

2.) Understand grace periods. Most federal loans, except for PLUS loans, have a six-month grace period. That means you do not have to start paying your loans until six months after graduation. Use this time to educate yourself about your loan repayment options if you haven’t done so already. And don’t get too complacent: you’ll have to start making payments shortly, so you don’t want to get used to spending a lot of your income.

3.) Know your options. There are lots of ways to repay your student loans. You can pay the same amount every month for up to ten years (Standard Loan Repayment), or you can make payments that increase over time (Graduated Repayment). Some plans take into account your income (Income-Based, Income-Contingent, or Income-Sensitive Repayment.) Other options exist as well. Although you will pay the least interest – and thus the least amount of money – under the Standard Repayment plan, other schemes may be better suited to your financial situation. This is particularly true if you find yourself working less hours or earning less money than you anticipated. Visit https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/understand/plans for an overview of your repayment options.

4.) Beg forgiveness – or at least a reprieve. If you return to school, are active-duty military, find yourself unemployed, or experience economic hardship, including Peace Corps service, you may be able to defer your loans. That means you won’t have to make payments for a period of time. Depending on what type of loan you have, the government may even pay your interest during your deferment. If you find yourself unable to make payments, ask your loan servicer for information about your options. In addition, the federal government offers loan forgiveness programs for some teachers and public servants. If you qualify, you may not have to pay back some of your loans. Visit https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation for more information.

5.) Do the math. Know how much you borrowed and how much you can expect to pay, over time, under the various repayment plans. Fortunately, the federal government offers a website that will do the calculations for you. You’ll need your FSA id to log in.

It’s natural to be apprehensive about your student loans. After all, you borrowed a lot of money to get where you are today, and you may already be anxious about starting your career. However, by educating yourself about student loans and your debt, you can prevent most problems and ensure a much brighter financial future.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Game of Life: Come Learn, Come Play!

wheelAs college students, we’re caught up with our social and academic lives. With so many thoughts zooming in and out of our heads, where do we find time to think about life after college? Although we’re in college to prepare for our careers, we rarely ponder life after graduation.

It’s time to narrow that gap. On Wednesday March 23, 2016 from 5:00-6:30 PM in the 1787 Room, the Heritage Family Credit Union, Academic Support Center, and Student Life will host a Game of Life Financial Reality Fair to heighten students’ awareness of financial literacy and personal finances after graduation. You can start at 5, 5:30, or 6 pm, and it takes about a half an hour to play. After you play, stick around for free pizza and a chat about the game.

It works a lot like the board game Life. You’ll choose a career and create a monthly budget based on a starting salary for that position. Then you’ll visit various stations to explore housing, transportation, food, night life, pets, furniture, and cell phone options. See how far your money goes! In the end, you’ll meet with a financial advisor to discuss your budget and assess how well you made out. But don’t worry: in the Game of Life, you get a second chance to make your budget work!

This will be the second annual Game of Life held at Castleton. Last year, 100 students attended. We’re hoping this year will be even bigger – and we can’t wait to see you there.

-Katie Haseltine

Katie Haseltine is a junior Management and Marketing major who tutors math and writing and serves as a Student Ambassador in Admissions at Castleton University. She is also actively involved in planning events through the Campus Activities Board.

Bumps in the Road: TRIO Star Rachel Brigham

rachelkittySome students start college, earn excellent grades, and graduate in four years. For others, the path is a little less direct. Sometimes, they even take a detour. That’s what makes their eventual success all the more remarkable.

In high school, Rachel Brigham was a good student. “I did all my homework at school,” she said. “My time was structured for me.” When she enrolled in Castleton in Fall 2006, she continued this pattern, earning a G.P.A. of 3.74. Both math and writing came easily to the health science major, so her future seemed bright.

Then, Rachel embarked on her first serious relationship. Her boyfriend frequently skipped class, and Rachel found herself playing hooky with him. “I thought, ‘Well, he’s not going to class, so I’m not going to class,’” admitted Rachel. “I let my relationship influence my schooling.”

The years rolled on – and Rachel’s grades plummeted. Twice, her semester GPA dipped below a 1.0. Finally, in Fall 2010, at the start of what would have been her fifth year, Rachel withdrew from Castleton.

In the real world, Rachel worked over sixty hours a week to support herself and repay her student loans. She knew that taking time off from her education was the right thing to do, but the fact that she hadn’t finished her degree nagged at her. The following autumn, she took two classes at Community College of Vermont (CCV). “I got a B in one and failed the other,” she said. “That showed me I wasn’t ready to put in the time and effort I needed to go back to school.”

Finally, in January 2014, Rachel reached a breaking point. “I couldn’t keep working just to pay back my student loans and not have a degree,” she said. Once again, she enrolled at CCV. This time, she earned an A+ in the class she took. Rachel was ready to return to college.

That fall, Rachel enrolled at Castleton again. Since then, she has earned mostly A’s in her classes despite the fact that she works 66 hours per week while taking courses part-time. Rachel, who once skipped classes to hang out with her boyfriend, has become a master of time management.

She’s also not afraid to get help when she needs it. After failing the first exam in her physics class last semester, she met with Deborah Jackson, Math and Science Specialist at Castleton’s Academic Support Center. Through regular meetings with Jackson and diligent studying, Rachel earned a B+ in the course.

Rachel’s efforts have paid off: her cumulative G.P.A. is now 3.0. But Rachel, who is scheduled to graduate in May, intends to keep studying. For the last few years, she has been a caregiver for older people, including those with dementia. The work, although challenging, has sparked her interest in elder issues and geriatric nursing. She now hopes to pursue a nursing degree at Castleton or the University of New Hampshire.

As a caregiver and future nurse, Rachel wants to make a difference in others’ lives. However, she also hopes her story will motivate others to pursue their dreams – even if they’ve had some bad semesters. She advises students not to put off assignments. “No one wants to sit down and write a ten-page paper,” she said. “It’s better if you start early and don’t procrastinate.”

She also emphasizes the role of healthy relationships in academic and professional success. “Surround yourself with people who want you to succeed,” she said. “My current boyfriend is supportive of the work I do; it’s important to him that I get through school.”

Rachel’s determination has also impressed faculty and staff. “Rachel has demonstrated grit and resilience,” said Deborah Jackson. “Despite hardships, she has refused to give up her goal of earning a degree. I believe she could inspire other students inclined to quit when facing a challenging semester.”

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Spring 2016: Here’s What’s Going On at Academic Support

photo-for-student-access-and-opp-guide-march-2008From paying for college to thriving after graduation, we’ve got you covered!  

Thursday, January 28th. Resume and Cover Letter Workshop. It’s never too early to start preparing for your job search. Renée Beaupre-White, Director of Career Services, will help you market your best asset: you! Academic Support.2-3 pm.

Wednesday, February 10th. FAFSA Renewal Drop-In. Bring your questions about completing the FAFSA and applying for financial aid. Academic Support. 2-4 pm.

Thursday, February 11th. Interviewing Strategies. Don’t sweat the big interview! Renée Beaupre-White tells you how to impress. Academic Support. 2-3 pm.

Wednesday, February 24th. Scholarship Help Drop-In. Come with questions about scholarship applications and essays. Academic Support. 2-4 pm.

Thursday, February 25th. LinkedIn Profile. Learn how social media can help you boost your career. Academic Support. 2-3 pm.

Thursday, March, 10th. Job and Internship Strategies. Ready, set, go! Renée Beaupre-White helps you translate your dreams into reality. Academic Support. 2-3 pm.

Wednesday, March 23rd. Game of Life. The most fun you’ll ever have learning about saving money and planning for the future. Location TBA. 5-7 pm.

Thursday, April 7th. Resume and Cover Letter Workshop. Renée Beaupre-White will help you market your best asset: you! Academic Support. 2-3 pm.

Wednesday, April 13th. Senior Loan Event. Dinner – and straight talk about repaying your loans. Academic Support. 4 pm.

Saturday, April 30th. TRIO Community Service Day. Join students from all over the state and give back to your community. Location TBD. 9 am.

For more information, call 468-1347, visit www.castleton.edu/academicsupport, like us on Facebook (Castleton Academic Support), or follow us on Twitter (@CastletonTrio).

Procrastination: Know It, Beat It, Use It

stressedstudentYou knew about the paper for your history class two weeks before the deadline, but you didn’t start it until the night before it was due. There was really no way you could have begun earlier – not with the labs for your science class, your big stats test, and all the reading you’ve had to do lately. Sure, things got a little rushed: doing all your research online at 11pm wasn’t ideal. And maybe you didn’t proofread as carefully as you might have. But you got a B- on the essay; that proves you work well under pressure, right?

Many college students admit they procrastinate. Some wish they could conquer this tendency; others don’t perceive it as a problem. However, putting off assignments and study sessions can make you more anxious and less effective. If you’re rushed, you won’t work as carefully, and you will make more mistakes. Had you put more time into that history paper, that B- could have become a B, B+, even an A.

So if procrastinating is such a bad idea, why do so many students – and professionals – do it? Think about why you saved the green beans or mushrooms for last when you were a kid. Part of you hoped they would go away or at least become tastier by the end of the meal. But you finished the rest of your dinner, and there they were: colder and more unappetizing than ever.

By saving them for last, you didn’t make them disappear. You made them worse.

No matter how much you want to change, altering your habits can be hard. Here are some tips to help you overcome your procrastinating tendencies:

  • Talk yourself through it. Every time you’re tempted to delay an assignment, tell yourself that putting it off will only make it more difficult – and make you more stressed.
  • If you need help, get it. It’s tempting to put aside what we find difficult. If you’re struggling with an assignment or course material, meet with your professor, join a study group, or use the tutoring services at Academic Support.
  • Break it up! Too many students try to complete essays and projects in one sitting. The next time you receive a large assignment, try dividing it into multiple smaller tasks. For example, if you write an essay, you might brainstorm and create an outline one day, compose a rough draft the next, and revise your paper the day after that.
  • Celebrate each success. Change is difficult. Everyone who’s overcome a weakness knows that. (And that includes all of us!) Accept you will slip up occasionally, and reward yourself when you succeed. Indulge in a cupcake, meet up with a friend, or relax with a favorite book or movie.

As you change your approach to your academic work, you’ll find yourself replacing your procrastinating habit with a planning one. And as you become better at organizing your assignments, you’ll find yourself with less stress – and more time for the things you enjoy!

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Building an Academic Community: TRIO Star Matt Fortier

Matt Fortier1Matthieu Fortier
Expected Degree: BA in Psychology (Honors), May 2016

Matt Fortier admits it: he wasn’t the most engaged student at Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester, Vermont. He was more interested in fitting in and having fun with his friends. But he’d enjoyed his psychology class, his grades were good enough to get him into college, and the first-generation student arrived at Castleton hoping to major in psychology.

Matt may have been a lethargic student in high school, but Castleton’s faculty woke him up. One day, he asked his psychology professor a question. “I don’t know,” his instructor replied. “You figure it out. Then come back and tell me.” This was startling, but exciting. Matt liked taking responsibility for his own learning, and he appreciated being treated as a member of an intellectual community. He immersed himself in study and research, earning a cumulative GPA of 3.74 and serving as a Teaching Assistant in psychology and English classes. He is a member of the Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society.

Now a senior, Matt is working on his honors thesis, which explores the relationship between wisdom and well-being. After graduation, Matt hopes to pursue a PhD in psychology at University of Vermont or Temple University. He is particularly interested in lucid dreaming and its implications for treating phobias and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

In addition to his professors, Matt credits Castleton’s Academic Support Center (ASC) and TRIO with his success. A Summer Transition participant, he has also taken advantage of the ASC’s Writing Clinic, graduate school counseling, and academic mentoring services. He has also been a Summer Transition Mentor and tutored other students in psychology.

“Matt provides a wonderful model of how to use college to change your life,” says Becky Eno, Castleton’s Academic Counselor, who has worked with Matt in Summer Transition. “He appreciates the way faculty and staff ushered him into the intellectual community as a valued, contributing member, and he enjoys welcoming other students in as they show interest. And he does it all with his inimitable, quirky sense of humor!”

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Study Smarts and Money Smarts: TRIO Star Amanda Larabee

Amanda Larabee1Amanda Larabee
Expected Degree: Bachelor of Arts in Multidisciplinary Studies, May 2016

Growing up in Clarksburg, Massachusetts, Amanda Larabee knew she wanted to become a teacher. Amanda’s mother encouraged her daughter to pursue her goals. “It’s K-16, not K-12,” she always said. But the first-generation student knew paying for college would be a challenge.

When Amanda was accepted at Castleton, she threw herself into financing her education, applying for over 60 scholarships as a high school senior. Her hard work paid off: she received more than $16,000 her first year. At Castleton, she researched both personal finance and her financial aid. She always holds two to four part-time jobs to reduce her college debt.

But Amanda’s struggles haven’t kept her from excelling in and out of the classroom. Math has always been difficult for her, so she sought help at Castleton’s Academic Support Center. Again, her efforts paid off. With a cumulative GPA of 3.46, she recently received the Dr. Diane Wolk Scholarships for Promising Educators. She has also been active in the Student Government Association.

Amanda’s ultimate goal is to give back. She aspires to teach first grade in New York City public schools, where she hopes to make a difference in students’ lives beyond the classroom. Today, she serves other TRIO students as a Financial Literacy Peer Educator. She wants to help other students reduce their debt and manage their money.

“Amanda has laid the financial foundation for her future,” said Kelley Beckwith, Director of Academic Support at Castleton. “She’s gone out of her way to educate herself about managing her money. Students like Amanda are what TRIO is all about.”

-Dorothy A. Dahm