4 Reasons Why This Could Be Your Best Semester Ever

A portrait of a mixed race college student at campus

Even if you think the college – and the whole world – has overdosed on positive thinking, there are good reasons to be optimistic about Fall 2017. Here’s why you should look forward to this semester:

1.) It’s new. Whether this is your first semester at Castleton or your final semester as an undergraduate, the start of term is a chance to start over. You will be taking new classes and probably meeting different professors. No matter what high school or past semesters were like, this is an opportunity to discard bad habits and replace them with positive ones. Cluttered folders? This semester, you’ll keep them tidy. History of procrastinating? This time, you’ll make sure you start projects early.

2.) You’ve done it before. Even if this is your first semester at college, you know what works for you. After all, you were a student for twelve years before you arrived at Castleton. You know you need to start studying long before exams. You know you need to have another pair of eyes look over your essay before you turn it in. You may be making a transition – from high school to college or from mediocre study habits to strong ones – but some of the territory will be familiar.

3.) Help is available. Lots of factors can affect your ability to succeed at college. That’s why Castleton provides different types of support. Need help with math, writing, or a particular class? The Academic Support Center (ASC) offers tutoring. ASC counselors can also answer your questions about paying for college, managing your time, and studying effectively. If you find yourself worried, anxious, or depressed, you can schedule an appointment with the Wellness Center.

4.) Surprises are just around the corner. You don’t know what this semester holds. You might find you’re better at math or public speaking than you thought you were. You might discover a passion for Latin American literature, ceramics, or molecular biology. That Soundings event you dreaded might be fascinating after all. And you might make a new friend in that general education class you have to take. The discoveries you didn’t plan are what make college – and life – exciting.

So take a deep breath, and start studying! This semester will be a busy one, but you’re going to embrace the challenges. After all, you don’t know where they’ll lead you.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

 

Future Selves: A New Approach to Time Management

sun-riseWhen you hear the words “time management,” what leaps to mind? The most productive person you know? Everything you have to accomplish in a given day or week? Your weekly planner?

You already know time management is necessary for academic and professional success; you may even use a planner or planning app to keep track of your commitments and deadlines. But for a few minutes, I want you to stop thinking of what you want to do, what you have to do, and how you can fit all of them into a 168-hour week. Yes, you should download – and complete – a weekly schedule. However, instead of reviewing your current responsibilities, take some time to ponder the future. So take a deep breath, relax, and let your imagination wander.

First, ask yourself who you’d like to be a week from now. I know: it’s not very far in the future. But maybe you’d like to be a more confident, active, or upbeat version of yourself. Imagine that person going about his or her life. Then consider what that student’s schedule might look like.

Second, imagine yourself five years from now. Where are you living? Are you in your first post-college job? In graduate school? What do you do in your free time? Flesh out this character you’ve created: give yourself the social life, relationships, and hobbies you long to have. Don’t edit your dreams; let them evolve without judgement.

Next, envision the person you want to be in ten years. Where are you? What are you doing for a living? What do you like to do in your spare time, and with whom do you spend it?

Finally, make a list of things that are important to you: your highest ambitions, the most crucial relationships, your most deeply held beliefs. Don’t judge or rank them – just jot them down.

Now, come back to the present.

Think about the future selves you’ve imagined. Then consider your current schedule. Is your current time management plan likely to help you become that person? What might you do now to make that dream become reality? In some cases, this means actively doing something. For example, if you are interested in public relations, you should be applying for internships in that field. In others, you may need to reevaluate the time you spend in certain activities. There’s nothing wrong, for instance, with playing videos games to unwind or have fun with friends. But if you’re spending whole days enthrall to a game instead of immersing yourself in classes, clubs, or internships, you might have a harder time landing that position in management.

While you’re at it, look at your list of priorities. Then assess whether your current schedule reflects those values. If you’re like most people, you’ll say family is important to you. But how often do you take the time to get in touch with your grandma? Maybe you want to make a difference in your community, country, or world. What are you doing about that desire?

When you do this exercise, you may find a gap between your future selves and your current schedule, between your ideals and your daily grind. That’s normal for people of all ages. Don’t be discouraged. Instead, make small changes to ensure you’re spending your time on the aspirations, people, and principles that mean the most to you. Effective time management isn’t just doing a lot with your time; it’s making sure you’re living your most fulfilling life.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

You in 750 Words: Crafting a Compelling Personal Statement

student_writingYou’ve earned good grades in your classes. You’ve taken all the required standardized tests. You know you want to go to graduate school and where you want to study. Yes, you’ve got to write a personal statement, but that shouldn’t be a problem. After all, you’ve spent the last four years writing papers, including some in-depth research projects. How hard could one two-page essay be?

Very. The personal statement, or statement of purpose, is one of the most challenging documents you will ever compose. After all, you have to explore your intellectual or professional interests, describe your qualifications, and explain your interest in a particular program. That’s a lot to convey in 600-800 words! In addition, the essay should showcase your best writing: succinct, clear prose with no grammatical, spelling, or punctuation errors. Finally, you will have to adapt your statement to particular schools and programs; in some cases, you may have to revise it completely.

This may sound daunting, but don’t be discouraged – even if writing is not your forte. If you’re a good student with a strong interest in your field, you have a compelling story to tell. Follow this plan to construct an effective personal statement.

1.) Start Early. By early, I mean months before your application materials are due. This will give you ample opportunity to revise your essay and proofread it multiple times before the deadline. (Bear in mind that the due date is the last possible moment you can submit your application. By procrastinating, you leave yourself open to all sorts of last-minute emergencies, including illness, computer glitches, and busy recommenders. Be smart and make sure all components of your application – recommendations, test scores, personal statement, writing samples – are in at least a couple weeks ahead of the deadline.)

2.) Address the Entire Prompt. Most graduate programs ask applicants to discuss their scholarly interests, their relevant academic, personal, and professional experience, and their reasons for choosing that particular department. Read the entire prompt carefully and respond to every part of it. Some departments may not specify what they want you to explore; they may merely require a biographical sketch or statement of purpose. In that instance, compose an essay that describes all of the above.

3.) Be Specific. People who study literature love to read. Biology majors like science. Aspiring social workers want to help others. None of this is surprising – and that’s why you shouldn’t include it in a personal statement. The admissions committee already assumes you have a general interest in the field. Your job, as an applicant, is to persuade them of the depth of your commitment. Discuss the scholarly research you want to pursue in graduate school or the contributions you hope to make in your career. For example, an MA candidate in history might explore the effect of the Civil War on the New England fishing industry while a graduate student in physical therapy might have a particular interest in working with stroke patients.

Once you’ve described your academic and professional goals, connect them to the program in question. Discuss how its faculty, courses, and research opportunities relate to your interests. By addressing how your interests align with the department’s strengths, you establish yourself as a serious candidate who has carefully researched the program.

What you don’t want to do is bring up personal reasons for selecting that institution. For example, you should not say, “I am interested in the Master’s program in Geology at the University of Wyoming because my boyfriend goes there” or “I am applying to the University of California at Santa-Barbara because I have always wanted to live in California.” This may be true, but strive to find other factors – specific faculty, courses, or research institutes – that attract you to that program. Only mention personal motives if they are relevant to your goals. For example, you might write that you are applying to the University of Vermont Medical School because you have a strong interest in providing primary care to Vermont communities.

4.) Be Professional. Think of a personal statement as an interview on paper. (Some programs also require in-person or phone interviews.) You want to present yourself as a serious student who can work with others, assumes responsibility, and generally acts like an adult. Thus, your essay should discuss relevant experiences – research projects, jobs, internships, and volunteer work – that demonstrates these qualities and the depth of your interest in the field.

In some cases, your essay may have to address a weakness – either because the prompt requires it or because your transcript contains some poor grades. This can be tricky: you don’t want to put yourself down, but neither do you want to appear whiny or childish. (“Yes, I earned a C- in Organic Chemistry, but that’s because science is hard for me/I do not like science/ my teacher was disorganized/ I had a lot going on that semester.”) Here’s what to do: admit a weakness (“I struggled with writing or math/I had a bad semester.”). Then briefly describe the steps you took to rectify that problem. (“I sought tutoring/I became a more focused student/ I learned how to manage time.”) Your goal is to acknowledge the problem, show how you resolved it, and then move on. This allows you to present your weakness as a strength, an example of your resilience and determination.

5.) Get Help. You’re not in this alone. Castleton boasts many resources to help you prepare for graduate school. Make appointments to have faculty members review your essay; you should also meet with Career Services Director Renée Beaupre-White, Writing Specialist Bill Wiles, and/or a Writing Clinic tutor. Meet with them well in advance of your deadline to allow yourself time to revise your essay. Also, bear in mind that staff and faculty have busy schedules; you may have to wait a week or two for a meeting.

6.) Proofread. And proofread. And proofread. Read your essay forward and backward. Walk away from it for a couple days and then look at it again. Finally, have at least two other people – preferably faculty or staff – review it for you. Many graduate programs are highly selective, and you don’t want a careless error to stand between you and admission.

The personal statement is your chance to distinguish yourself from other applicants. That’s why it’s essential you take it seriously. Give yourself the time you need and the essay the attention it deserves, and you will be on your way to crafting a compelling and impressive piece of writing.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

 

From Refugee Camp to Citizen Scholar: TRIO Star Adan Osman

Some students’ paths to college are a little rockier than others. Adan Osman’s journey to Castleton began in Kakuma, a town turned refugee camp in Northern Kenya. His parents had fled there to escape civil war in their native Somalia.

At four, Adan started his education. But his first day of school was also his last. Violence greeted him and the other students on their way to the camp’s school. “I didn’t want to go to school to get beaten,” he recalls. “Some kids would go to school and never come back. So I stayed home and helped my mother.”

When Adan was nine, his family immigrated to Utica, New York. But being in the United States didn’t mean his battles were over. At his new school, Adan’s teachers placed him in a TV room where he watched movies during the day. “I saw The Lion King,” he chuckles. “It was my first American movie. I loved it. But it didn’t help me learn English.”

Two years later, Adan’s family moved to Burlington, Vermont. There, Adan finally received the intensive English language instruction he craved. Adan worked hard, and after graduating from Burlington High School, he was accepted at Castleton.

Starting college meant confronting a new set of challenges. “It was a whole new world; there was nothing familiar,” says Adan. He worried his English wouldn’t be good enough. And small, rural Castleton seemed isolated after vibrant, diverse Burlington. And it was far from his family.

One of Adan’s high school teachers urged him to sign up for Castleton’s TRIO program, saying it would provide him with the support he needed to finish his degree. Adan was skeptical, but he enrolled anyway.

Today, Adan has nothing but praise for Castleton’s TRIO program and the Academic Support Center’s staff. “They understand people from different cultures, and that’s the most beautiful thing,” he says. “Without them, I wouldn’t be here ready to graduate.” He is particularly grateful to Academic Counselor Becky Eno. “She has helped me a lot with my writing,” he says. “She sat down and showed me exactly what I needed to do. My papers have gone from C+ to A+.”

Adan’s writing skills have helped him succeed outside of the classroom. As a part-time employee at the Park Street Program, a residential treatment program for juvenile offenders, Adan must prepare reports about his work with clients. “I’m proud of my writing as a social worker,” he says.

Perhaps because of his bumpy beginning, Adan has a strong desire to help others thrive. In addition to his job at Park Street, he and some friends from Burlington are founding Building Blocks to Success, a multicultural mentoring program for young men. He is working with education professor Emily Gleason to plan a course for educators who will be working with Syrian refugees. And between classes and work, Adan spends lots of time at the gym, where he informally mentors those new to exercise. He thinks of starting a fitness bootcamp to help others get in shape. He sees clear parallels between himself and the young people he helps. “When you grow up on your own, not having someone there for you, you do things on your own,” he says quietly. “No one is there to build and help you up. I want to give back and help others who haven’t had the same opportunities I’ve had.”

In May, Adan will graduate with a Bachelor’s in Social Work degree. After graduation, he and a friend hope to open a Somali restaurant in downtown Burlington. He is excited about introducing Vermonters to Somali food, which fuses Middle Eastern, East African, West African, and Egyptian influences. “I’ll be using my degree in a different way to make a difference in my community,” he muses. “Food brings people together, and it’s an opportunity to teach people about the culture.”

Becky Eno has high praise for Adan. “He is a TRIO Star because he turns his adversity into strength,” she says. “He has transformed himself from a freshman (and sophomore) who doubted that he should even be in college into a successful senior. He encourages other students to realize their own best potential.”

-Dorothy A. Dahm

 

 

           

   

Really Free Money: Strategies for Scholarships

teenage student giving thumb up while using laptop

If you’re like most college students, your financial aid package is a mixture of loans, grants, work study, and scholarships. And if you’re like many of your peers, you may be pretty vague about the details of your package. No question about it, college financing is confusing; that’s why colleges and universities employ experienced professionals to staff their financial aid offices.

But even if you avoid financial details, here’s one principle you need to remember: you want to borrow as little money as possible. You’ll have to pay back loans, whereas you won’t have to pay back scholarships and grants. Therefore, you want to apply for as many scholarships and grants you can.

Unfortunately, many students don’t bother applying for scholarships. Often, they assume they won’t qualify; sometimes, they think the application process isn’t worth the award. Above all, they’re simply unaware of the breadth of scholarships available. The fact is, if you’re a college student in decent academic standing, you qualify for scholarships! Here are some tips to maximize your scholarship earnings:

Get Creative – and Confident. Devote time to researching possible scholarships. There are scholarships for academic excellence, of course, but also for students from certain backgrounds or geographic areas, cancer survivors or their family members, and individuals with specific career goals or interests. Start by applying for the Returning Student Scholarship at Castleton (due March 4th). Next, look at resources in your community: businesses and service clubs, such as the Rotary or Lions Club, often offer scholarships. VSAC maintains a database of scholarships for Vermont residents (also due March 4th). Finally, check out Fastweb, College Board, and Finaid.org to search for scholarships. On Fastweb and other sites, you may have to spend some time filling out questionnaires to be matched with scholarships; however, your effort could be worth hundreds – or even thousands – of dollars.

Get Organized. Make checklist of all of the items you’ll need – essays, letters of recommendation, transcripts, etc. – to apply for each scholarship. (You’re applying for than one, naturally.) Include the scholarship’s deadline at the top of the checklist. You may even want to maintain a folder for each application.

Get Deadlines. Remember: the deadline is the absolute latest date you can apply. Play it safe, and make sure your application materials are ready at least a week in advance.

Get Help. If you have any questions about any aspect of your scholarships applications, check in with a faculty member or any of the counselors at Academic Support. We can also assist you with scholarship essays. Whether you need help getting started or want someone to review your draft, you can visit the Writing Clinic or schedule an appointment with Bill Wiles, our Writing Specialist. Call 468-1347 or stop by to schedule an appointment.

Like college itself, applying for scholarships takes time, effort, and organization. Expect to devote several hours to each scholarship application. Although you may prefer to use your free time to relax or socialize, think of your scholarship search as a part-time job: one that will help you on your journey to your ultimate goal. Now, that’s exciting!

Good luck and don’t forget to stop by with questions!

-Dorothy A. Dahm

FAFSA: Don’t Delay, Do It Today!

student-loan-paperwork

Have you completed your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)? It’s easy put off tasks that are complex, boring, and time-consuming – and many students consider the FAFSA all three. (That’s why so many professionals don’t do their income taxes until the last minute!)

But just as you shouldn’t procrastinate about your homework, you shouldn’t delay your financial aid application. This year, you can fill out the FAFSA as early as October 1, 2016. Here’s why you should complete the FAFSA before the end of the Fall 2016 semester:

1.) States Don’t Wait. Remember: you use the FAFSA to apply for aid from the federal government, your state, and your school for the coming academic year. Many states have deadlines – usually in February or March – for state-specific aid, including grants. (Vermont has a first-come, first-served policy, which means you should apply as soon as possible after October 1, 2016.) Find out your state’s deadline, and make sure you submit the FAFSA well before that date. You don’t want to miss out on any aid, including grants and scholarships, which you won’t have to repay! (Please note that if you are a Vermont resident and want to apply for a VSAC grant, you should apply online after you complete the FAFSA.)

2.) Early Birds Get the Institutional Worm. Technically, you have until March 31, 2018 to apply for financial aid for the 2017-2018 year at Castleton. But the sooner you submit your FAFSA, the greater your chances of receiving aid from Castleton – or any college, for that matter. Castleton plans to start awarding financial aid to returning students in mid-February 2017, so be sure to complete your FAFSA by the start of the New Year.

Of course, there are legitimate reasons why students put the FAFSA on the backburner. Fortunately, you can apply early even if the following apply to you:

1.) You – or Your Parents – Haven’t Done Your Taxes Yet. No worries. This year, you can use your 2015 income information.

2.) Your Financial Circumstances Have Changed. Maybe you or your parents have lost a job. Maybe you’re working fewer hours than you did last year. If that’s the case, you may be reluctant to report last year’s income on the FAFSA because you’ll probably receive less aid than you need. Here’s what you need to do: report last year’s income on the FAFSA. Then, contact the Financial Aid Office. Explain that your income has changed and ask the staff to complete a professional judgement review. This will give you an opportunity to report your estimated income for the coming year. Bear in mind that you may have to provide proof of your income change, such as a layoff notice or information about unemployment benefits or severance pay.

Whatever your circumstances or concerns, you should never postpone the FAFSA. If you have questions about the application process, please call Academic Support at 468-1347 or stop by to schedule an appointment with a counselor. You can also contact the Financial Aid office at 468-6070.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

 

A Way with Words: TRIO Star Jadie Dow

jadiedowAt first, the numbers didn’t add up. Jadie Dow was a good student, but she struggled with calculus. And sometimes, the first-generation college student wondered if she’d be able to pay for her education.

Fortunately, Jadie took advantage of the TRIO Student Support Services Program at Castleton’s Academic Support Center. She visited the Center’s Math Clinic. Thanks to the math tutors, she got through calculus. The TRIO Grants she received her freshman and sophomore years helped defray the cost of attending Castleton. Finally, she met with Academic Services Director Kelley Beckwith, who helped Jadie understand her bill and loan options. “With the grant and Kelley’s advice, I no longer had to worry about money,” says Jadie.

Today, the senior Journalism major with a minor in Business Administration is thriving at Castleton. A strong student with a GPA of 3.57, Jadie has been the editor of The Spartan, Castleton’s student newspaper, since Spring 2016 after writing for the paper since her freshman year. She also sings in Vocal Unrest, Castleton’s acapella group.

Jadie also has a gift for teaching. She is a Teaching Assistant for the Communications Department Feature Writing course. Since Spring 2015, she has been a Writing Tutor at the Academic Support Center. A gifted writer, Jadie finds teaching rewarding. “There’s that moment when you finally see it click in someone’s head – even when you think you’re not explaining it very well,” she says. Writing Specialist Bill Wiles praises her work with students. “Jadie is patient with struggling writers. She meets them where they are and brings them (sometimes kicking and screaming) to where they should be,” he quips.

Despite her current success, Jadie hasn’t forgotten what it felt like to be a new college student. For two years, she served as a Student Orientation Staff leader, helping freshman acclimate to college during orientation weekend and throughout their first semester in their First Year Seminar class. Dr. Andy Alexander, chair of the English department, felt grateful to have Jadie to support his class of TRIO students. “Like you hope all SOS will be, Jadie was an excellent role model for my first-year students, in just about every way,” he says. “She was funny, but she knew how switch gear when needed… it seemed to me that Jadie represented a quiet source of comfort to those students who needed it. One very important thing is that Jadie let the students know that she took her studies seriously AND that she had to actually work at things to do well.  She shared her study habits, and I think all these things combined served the students very well.”

Although Jadie is enjoying her final year at Castleton, she’s excited about what comes next. In the spring, she’ll begin an internship at the Rutland Herald’s newsroom. After graduation, she hopes to be a journalist and eventually edit her own newspaper. Someday, she plans to earn a graduate degree and teach journalism at the college level.

Jadie credits the Academic Support Center with her success and advises new TRIO students to visit the Center. “It’s all free and everyone is so helpful,” she says. “It won’t always be like that, so take advantage of that while you can.”

-Doe Dahm

 

From Reluctant Student to Public Health Advocate: TRIO Star Kyla Leary

kyla leary

Before Kyla Leary enrolled at Castleton, she wasn’t sure whether college was right for her. She’d struggled in high school, and her high school teachers had emphasized how challenging college classes would be. “I was afraid of the volume and level of work,” she says. And like many new students, she worried about meeting new people.

Once Kyla arrived in Castleton, she found a host of people waiting to welcome her. “I had an amazing suite my first year,” she says. She joined the cheerleading team and made more friends there. She took classes in Mandarin Chinese and studio art. And despite her initial anxieties about meeting new people, she discovered she had a gift for presentations when she earned an A+ in Effective Speaking. Her professors proved friendly and approachable, and though Kyla sometimes needed help, she found it – and lots of encouragement – at the Academic Support Center (ASC).

Today, Kyla is a senior Ecological Studies major and Global Studies minor with a 3.15 G.P.A. She balances her academic achievements with athletics: she is still a member of the cheerleading team, and she plans to join the varsity track and field team this spring. She attributes her success to the assistance she received through Castleton’s TRIO program. During her time at Castleton, she has taken advantage of the ASC’s tutoring services and met with many of its full-time staffers. “It’s so nice that we don’t have to pay for tutoring; it’s not that way at other colleges,” she says. “And each year, I’ve learned more about time management, improved my math and writing skills, grown socially, and become more independent. I can figure out when and how to ask for help.”  

After graduation, Kyla plans to work at Johnson Group Consulting, Inc., the national public health advocacy firm where she has interned for the last two summers. During her internship, Kyla discovered she had a knack for data when she caught a serious error in a report. Kyla’s attention to detail impressed the firm’s director, who offered her a full-time position after graduation. Kyla also plans to take classes in public health after she leaves Castleton. But her ambitions don’t end there: she hopes to work overseas for a bit and eventually build a career in maternal-child health. A lifelong animal lover, she also dreams of extending her advocacy to animals.

Although Kyla seems to have the world at her fingertips, she still remembers what it felt like to be a new student in an unfamiliar environment. She encourages other students to seek support at the ASC. “I always tell other kids to ask for help, especially if they had a 504 or IEP plan in high school,” she says. “I tell them not to worry about what others think and to not think of any support they receive as an advantage or disadvantage – it’s just a resource. And the ASC is just such a good, safe place to study. Everyone in the department is working for you.”

-Dorothy A. Dahm

When You Can’t Move On

college-student-depression

What can’t you get over? A bad grade? A bad semester or year? A breakup? The person you were in high school? Mistakes you’ve made? What’s between you and success?

There’s no question about it: moving on after a painful period can be tough. Sometimes, it can seem almost impossible. And in some circumstances, you might not even want to move on entirely. For example, losing a loved one can be painful, but you probably don’t want to forget that person. In other cases, replacing negative thoughts with positive ones can be difficult.

But feeling frustrated and discouraged doesn’t just mean a series of bad moods: it can interfere with your ability to do well in college and meet your goals. So if you can’t move on, keep moving! Here are some ways to keep going even when you find yourself in a rut:

1.) Take care of yourself. This means eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, exercising, and getting regular check-ups. It also means taking time to do the things you love: reading, watching a favorite film or television program, practicing a hobby, or getting together with friends and family. Start thinking of yourself as a person with physical, mental, and emotional needs. If you’re healthy and well rested, you’ll be far better equipped to deal with any problems that may arise.

2.) Get out of yourself. Do something nice for someone else. This can be as involved as volunteering for a charity or as simple as really listening to a friend or family member. Hearing about others’ problems will make your own seem less overwhelming. And for a few hours or minutes, you won’t be thinking about your own pain or frustration.

3.) Try something new. Have you always wanted to eat Thai food, tap dance or go on a particular hike? Now is the time to do it. Even listening to a new genre of music or reading a different kind of book is energizing. You won’t like everything you try, and don’t feel you have to the finish the book or continue with tap if you don’t enjoy it. But you’ll never know until you try.

4.) Figure out what you have to do. If you’re a college student, this means attending class, completing assignments, and submitting them on time. Some students also have jobs, bills, and family obligations.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try reevaluating what you really do have to do. Could you take that class another semester? Reduce your hours at work? Cut your expenses? What changes would make your life less stressful? Figure out what you have to do. And do it.

5.) Get Help. Remember: you are not alone. There are lots of resources available right on campus. Here at Academic Support, we can help you find a tutor, understand your bill, manage time, and improve your study skills. If you need to talk to someone about personal issues, meet with a counselor at the Wellness Center. And if you’re not quite sure who can help you, ask anyone at Residence Life, Wellness, or Academic Support. We can point you in the right direction.

If you find yourself dwelling on the past and feeling unable to move forward, know you’re not alone. Most people, including professors and university staff members, have been through rough periods. Get help if you need it – and realize that you don’t have to solve all your problems at once. Sometimes, we don’t leap forward: we take baby steps. And that’s okay.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

 

 

 

 

Student Loans 101: Getting Educated

student-loan-calculator

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