Life

Iowa program offers college advice for free

People walk along the sidewalk by Madison Street on the campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Wednesday, Apri
People walk along the sidewalk by Madison Street on the campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

For many high school students, deciding one’s next step after graduation can be very stressful — even more so during the coronavirus pandemic.

Free help is available from a state-sponsored organization, the Iowa College Access Network (ICAN).

With offices around the state, including ones in Coralville and Hiawatha, ICAN provides free counseling and information to high school students and their families as well as adult learners.

Through career assessments, assistance with financial aid paperwork and advice about borrowing responsibly, ICAN advisers assist with nearly every aspect of college planning.

They even help students prepare to live away from home for the first time, something Brittania Morey, 39, ICAN director of communications, said students often list as their No. 1 concern.

“It’s not just about help with forms,” Morey said. “It’s a fully rounded service.”

ICAN’s goal is to guide students toward the educational opportunity that will be the right overall fit in terms of campus life, available courses and cost.

Landing at the right school the first time is likely to save students money in the long run, Morey said.

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When students transfer from one four-year institution to another, for example, it could delay their graduation and require borrowing more money.

“Students are the most comfortable when the school fits their personality, interests and career goals,” Morey said.

ICAN advisers also help match students with apprenticeship programs, internships, two-year programs and more.

The program’s advisers are available to meet with individual students and their families, albeit remotely in recent weeks.

The cost of post-high school education is a concern for most people the ICAN advisers meet with.

ICAN staff steer students toward work-study programs or payment plans — things that reduce the amount of money students need to borrow.

“Borrowing should be the last resort,” Morey said.

Scholarships and grants are other options, including at private schools that might appear prohibitively expensive at first. “Private schools will often offer more scholarships,” Morey said. “We tell students never to judge a school by its sticker price.”

Although every person’s situation is different, Morey shared three pieces of advice the ICAN staff gives to nearly every student.

• Pursue some sort of training or education after high school. “Sixty-eight percent of jobs require more than a high school diploma,” Morey said. “Even if you don’t want to sit in a classroom, there are lots of hands-on opportunities. Keep your options open and explore.”

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• Take a career assessment test to narrow in on a field, even if a student has no idea what type of job he or she would like to do. “The best decisions are made using data about yourself.”

• File the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form even if post-high-school plans aren’t set. “That way, it’ll be completed and ready for you, if you need it,” she said.

For those whose personal or family financial situation has recently changed, especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic, talk to a college or university’s financial aid office. Many colleges and universities can individually review your circumstances and perhaps offer more financial assistance.

Many people are concerned about pursuing an education during the coronavirus pandemic, but Morey said colleges are offering support groups and doing more than ever to ensure student safety and make students feel comfortable.

With so many opportunities that open up through education, it’s as important as ever to complete college or a job-training program beyond high school.

That training “may not look like it has in the past,” Morey said. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t be successful.”

INFORMATION:

What: Iowa College Access Network

Phone: (877) 272-4692

Website: icansucceed.org

Schedule an appointment: icansucceed.org/apt

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