6 Things High School Grads Need to Do Before Leaving for College

graduation

Getting ready for your last high school prom and counting down the days till graduation are all you can think about.  Yes, freedom and plans for a fun-filled summer are just around the corner.  Before you know it, you’ll be loading up your belongings in the family minivan and headed off to college.  You’re so ready, right?  Well, maybe not.  Here are some tips for things to do this summer before you head off to college.

Downsize, Get Organized & Learn How to Do Your Own Laundry

You’re not going to be able to take your whole closet and every cherished belonging with you to the dorm.  Start downsizing now and make a list of all the things you’ll need to take with you.  A clean and tidy space will make things a lot more manageable.  Most likely you’ll go home a time or two on break and you can swap out things that you don’t need for things that you do.  But, in between those trips home, you’ll need to learn how to do laundry.  Those whites can turn into some interesting colors and transform into a smaller size if you don’t know your way around a washer and dryer.

Understand Your Financial Situation

Each family’s situation is different – make sure you understand what your family may or may not be able to contribute.  You should’ve already applied for financial aid.  If not, you need to complete the Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) ASAP!  Make sure you list on the application the school code of the college you plan to attend so your information is sent to that school.  If you still haven’t decided it’s best to list any school you think you may attend.  The financial aid office will then notify you of any financial aid you might be eligible for.  Know what each of those types of aid is and in what order you should accept them.  Visit StudentAid.gov for information on planning and paying for college.  Do you have enough money to pay for school?  Will you need to work part-time?  Make a budget and know what you can spend on certain things.

Get a Good Calendar and Prepare for a Whole New World of Time Management

One of the biggest challenges for a lot of you will be time management. When you head off to college, you won’t have somebody there to wake you up, make you breakfast and send you out the door in clean clothes with completed homework in hand.  Set yourself up early with a class schedule (make a course syllabus your new best friend) and a system that works for you.  You need to know deadlines for registration, papers, financial aid, coursework and everything in between.  Your chance of succeeding academically will rapidly evaporate if you don’t manage your time well.  You’re worth the investment – manage it well.

Craft a Good Resume and Learn How to Network

No, don’t wait until you’re approaching college graduation to write a cover letter and resume, you need one now.  Having a compelling and professional resume and cover letter is vital to applying for part-time jobs, internships, etc.   You might want to also consider changing your email address.  Employers probably won’t be impressed with an email address like justheretoparty@XXmail.com.  Work experience can be just as important as good grades when looking for jobs after college graduation.   Internships not only provide you with knowledgeable experiences in your field, but they also provide great networking opportunities.  Don’t settle in and nest, put yourself out there and go to as many networking events as possible.

Embrace Coupons and Master the Art of a Good Deal

Another difficult thing to learn is skipping those unnecessary splurges.  Yes, I know it’s all about YOLO but you need to embrace BOGO.  Coupons aren’t just for stay at home moms anymore.  Scoring deals whether in newspapers, magazines or with online sites like Groupon and Living Social it’s easier than ever.  But don’t get so caught up in the deals that you buy vouchers for and you don’t end up using.  That can cost rather than save you money.  Save those splurges for when you score a great “Buy One Get One” free or other greatly discounted offer.    Ask about student discounts and if available a studentadvantage card.  Start practicing this summer.  It’ll impress your friends and it’ll be a little more money in your pocket when you get to campus.  Another great way to save money is buying used textbooks rather than new.  Search sites like bigwords.com, Amazon, and TextbooksRUs to name a few.  If you buy new and then resell them back to the college bookstore check online sites first for what they’re worth.  College bookstore buy back rates are sometimes as low as 10% of what you paid for it new.  Lots of students are also now renting textbooks on sites like chegg.com.

Learn How to Keep You and Your Things Safe

Yes, you need to remember to lock your dorm room and place that lock on your laptop.  Losing your laptop can wreak havoc on your studies and a theft due to an unlocked door can also ruin your relationship with your roommate.  Start practicing being more aware of your surroundings and keeping yourself safe.  Program your school’s campus security number into your phone.  You never know when you might need it.  Safety also applies to protecting your social security number, PIN and passwords.  Your social security number is one of the main identifiers when checking on things like financial aid, grades, and registering for classes.  Make sure all your passwords and important numbers are not on a post-it-note on your desk.  Store them in a secure place.  Not protecting your identity and important information can have lasting long-term effects on your ability to get a job and apply for credit.

Congratulations on a job well done and making the decision to advance your education!

Susan Thares is the digital engagement lead for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid. 

A School Counselor’s Tips on Tying up Loose Ends before You Head Off to College

before_college

As a high school counselor in a rural community I’ve been fortunate to work with students and families and guide them through planning and preparing for college.  I’m also a single parent of two kids who survived the college going experience and graduated so I understand the somewhat overwhelming and daunting task it can be, especially for families who have not been through it before.   Once those scholarship applications have been submitted, the FAFSA completed and college acceptances received there are still some things students and parents need to do.

  1. Be courteous and notify the colleges and universities that you applied to but are not planning to attend of your decision.  It will free up their resources to assist other students.
  2. Follow through on scholarship requirements.  Some students, even though they were initially awarded a scholarship, didn’t actually receive the money because they didn’t complete all the requirements.  It may have been that they didn’t file all the necessary paperwork, or meet with their advisor or failed to make the necessary grades. Also remember, scholarships are free/gift money.  Don’t forget to follow up with a simple thank you note to the donor or organization.
  3. Make a financial plan and discuss expectations.  Apply for a debit/credit card if you don’t already have one.  Set limits and create a realistic budget that will carry you through the school year.  StudentAid.gov/budget is a great resource for college budget planning.
  4. Get connected with your new college email system.  This is how you’ll receive information from them.  Reply promptly to requests for information or documentation or you might lose out on some financial aid or end up with the least popular option for your on-campus work study job.
  5. Get credit for your classes. If you took college classes in high school be sure to request an official transcript from the college that you took the classes from be mailed to your future college.  There might be a small fee involved.  What is listed on your high school transcript isn’t enough.
  6.  Attend summer orientation with at least one parent.  Try to schedule it for one of the earlier options.  Typically you’ll be registering for fall classes during your orientation. Waiting until later in the summer means some classes you want to take are already full and you have fewer options to choose from.

You’ve worked hard to get this far but college may be even harder.  Don’t be discouraged.  Focus on the end result and the new heights a college degree will take you to.

Cheryl Knudson is a school counselor for Irene-Wakonda Public Schools in South Dakota

Class of 2013: What’s Next for Your Student Loans?

choose a repayment plan imageI’m not afraid to admit that being a college senior is a little frightening (okay, slight understatement-it’s extremely frightening!) As the Class of 2013 prepares to say goodbye to the comforts of our college community and say hello to the real world, we are faced with many realities. Where will I live? How am I going to find a job? Will I make ends meet?  Will I be happy?

And with all these new exciting challenges and responsibilities, one of the last things on most of our minds is repaying our student loans. Yet it’s one of our responsibilities and we should be prepared for when the first bill arrives in the mail.

I will be honest in saying that this repayment process is a little intimidating, and before writing this post I was at a loss of where to begin. Luckily, the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) has tools available to walk soon-to-be grads through the loan repayment process:

  • Exit Counseling: Recently redesigned to be more interactive, Exit Counseling provides important information to student borrowers who are preparing to begin student loan repayment. Exit counseling is required when you graduate, leave school, or drop below half-time enrollment, so talk to the financial aid office at your school about completing it.
  • Federal Loan Repayment Plans: Understanding the details of repayment can save you time and money. Find out when repayment starts, how to make your payment, repayment plan options, what to do if you have trouble making payments, and more!
  • Repayment Estimator: Federal Student Aid recently launched a Repayment Estimator that allows you compare your monthly student loan payment under different repayment plans to help you figure out which option is right for you.  Once you log-in, it will automatically pull in all of your federal student loan information so you can compare repayment plans based on your specific situation.

So with all of these great resources, I’ve found that things are clearer, and not quite as scary. Class of 2013 we are about to embark on a new adventure, best of luck to each and every one of you!

For additional information and tips, visit Federal Student Aid on Twitter , Facebook, and YouTube.

Kelsey Donohue is a senior at Marist College (N.Y.), and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

High School Graduation Rate at Highest Level in Three Decades

A new report from the Department of Education shows that high school graduation rates are at their highest level since 1974. According to the report, during the 2009-10 school year, 78.2 percent of high school students nationwide graduated on time, which is a substantial increase from the 73.4 percent recorded in 2005-6. The report shows that graduation rates were up for all ethnic groups in 2010, and that the rate for Hispanic students has jumped almost 10 points since 2006. 

US map of graduation rates

The report, from ED’s National Center for Education Statistics, also provides state-by-state data on high school dropouts. While the nation’s overall dropout rate is declining, Secretary Arne Duncan noted yesterday that the dropout rate is still “unsustainably high for a knowledge-based economy and still unacceptably high in our African-American, Latino, and Native-American communities.” 

Graph of dropout rates by race/ethnicity

Click here to read the entire report, including data per state, race/ethnicity and gender.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education 

Endless Possibility

Secretary Duncan greets graduates at NTC

Secretary Duncan talks with students before commencement at Navajo Technical College. Official Department of Education photo by Paul Wood.

Endless possibility. That’s the motto of the Navajo Technical College in Crownpoint. N.M., and it’s more than just a catchy slogan: The students there are proving that with education, possibilities are endless.

Secretary Duncan visited NTC last Saturday to give the commencement address at graduation and to see the great work of NTC students. Duncan left the visit inspired to learn that NTC graduates are working in digital manufacturing, supercomputing and DNA research and are employed on contracts for NASA, Boeing and others.

While many other higher ed institutions that serve mostly minority populations often fail to graduate even half of their students, NTC graduates more than 85 percent. Prior to the graduation ceremony, Duncan visited NTC classrooms and even danced during a reception later in the day.

Visiting Native American reservations “are easily among the most rewarding and uplifting things that I have done over the past 3½ years,” Arne said at commencement. “I have walked in beauty with the Navajo people in this land, and it is an opportunity I will never forget.”

Click here to watch Secretary Duncan’s commencement speech, and watch a short summary below:


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

In America, Education Is Still the Great Equalizer

“In America, education is still the great equalizer,” Secretary Duncan told a group of graduates at Fayetteville State University’s Winter Commencement on Saturday. Duncan described the importance of education in today’s economy, and that education is, in the long run, one of the best investments one can make for the future.

On average, Americans who have earned a bachelor degree will earn roughly one million dollars more over their lifetime than students with only a high school diploma, Duncan explained.

Secretary Duncan noted that the Obama Administration is taking big steps to keep student debt manageable through the recently introduced Pay As You Earn proposal. For those who qualify, the proposal would cap monthly student loan payments to what people can afford. “In practical terms,” Duncan explained, “1.6 million Americans could literally see their loan payments go down by hundreds of dollars a month.”

“We want people to be able to follow their heart and passion—and not just chase a big paycheck because they have to pay back loans. America can’t afford to lose that talent,” Duncan said.

Click here to read more about the Pay As You Earn proposal.

Additional Resources:

  • Find the right college for you with the National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator.
  • Click here to visit ED’s College Affordability and Transparency Center for information about tuition and net prices at postsecondary institutions.

Making History for Students with Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (far right) listens as (from left) Shandale Brown, Vander Cherry, Michele Hines, Ronald Covington, Tyree Jones, Kevin Thornton, Juan Rivera present a poem written by the class at their graduation ceremony, June 15, 2011. (Photo by the U.S. Department of Education)

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

As high school seniors all across the country graduated this week, history was quietly being made in Washington, D.C. at the Department of Education for 23 D.C. public school students with developmental and intellectual disabilities. They, like their peers across the country, were graduating too. They all participated in a program called Project SEARCH. The 15-year-old program now operates in 39 states and four foreign countries, but this is the first year that the federal government has hosted the project in three agencies including the Departments of Education, Labor and Health and Human Services.

The goal of Project SEARCH is to prepare high school seniors with developmental and intellectual disabilities for employment. Instead of attending classes in a regular high school, the participating students reported to work every day in one of the federal agencies. They received vocational training from a special education teacher for part of the day, and then worked as interns in different offices, learning skills that would prepare them for paid employment in the government or private sector. Job coaches who were part of the Project SEARCH team accompanied the students to their assigned offices to teach them the specific job skills needed to fulfill each task.

Unemployment and under-employment rates among young adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities are unacceptably high. Without the opportunity Project SEARCH offers students to develop work skills, gain experience, and find a job, these young people might wait a long time for their first opportunity to earn a living wage.  Or worse, they might not have a chance to enter the job market at all.

The federal government’s experience with Project SEARCH has been so successful that all three agencies will host a new class this coming school year. But what matters most is the change it has brought about in the lives of the students and how it has helped them prepare to meet the challenges of the work world. Some of the students shared their thoughts on their experience in Project SEARCH and what they learned from the program. Shandale Brown said, “I thought the program was going to be hard for me, but because there was a lot of support from the teachers and the job coaches and my supervisors, it turned out to be okay.”

Kevin Thornton shared:

In my job, I’ve liked filing, copying, and delivering mail, and I like that I get to meet people and talk to people all over the building. I’ve been able to ask people questions, both in the classroom and at my job. Learning to ask for help was very hard; I wanted to do things by myself, and I found out that I needed to ask other people to show me what to do.

The words of Vander Cherry express the hope and the promise that Project SEARCH offers to young people with disabilities. He is one of three interns who will be transitioning to competitive integrated employment at the Department of Education.  When asked what graduation meant to him and what’s next, Vander summed it up this way:

Graduation was life-changing for me – I always wanted to walk across the stage and graduate with people striving for the same goal.  And it happened!

I feel we made history – this was the first graduation ceremony held at the Department of Education.  It is amazing how much all of us have grown through the program.  And there in the audience was everyone who has helped us grow…our families, teachers, job coaches, supervisors, mentors and friends.  They all helped us get through the program and get ready for the “real world.”

I am sad to miss seeing my classmates and teacher every day, but I am very excited about my new job.  I will start on Monday at the Department’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA).  I worked there as an intern for the past three months, but now I’m going to be a real employee.  It’s kind of scary, but I’m really looking forward to it. When I started this program, I wanted to put my heart into it.  When you really put your heart into something – and open up your mouth too – you will get something back.  Now I want to give back to FSA, to do my best, so they will never regret their decision to hire me.  This program has given me a future.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan perhaps summed it all up the best when he told the students, just before they received their certificates from the D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson:

I’m extraordinarily confident in your potential because of what I’ve seen. Your work ethic, your commitment, your willingness to learn and to be team players, have been simply remarkable.  We have been honored to have you with us…Keep working hard, keep growing, and never, ever let anyone tell you what you can’t do!

Rayna Aylward is Project SEARCH coordinator at the Department of Education.

And the Winner of the 2011 Commencement Challenge Is…

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

Today, Vice President Joe Biden called Principal Alisha Kiner of Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis Tennessee to tell her that her school had won the 2011 Race to the Top Commencement Challenge! President Obama will travel to Memphis on Monday, May 16th to deliver the commencement for the class of 2011.

Check out Booker T. Washington High School’s finalist video:

The Race to the Top Commencement Challenge invited the nation’s public high schools to submit applications that demonstrate their commitment to preparing students for college and a career. Hundreds of applications were received and were judged based on the schools’ performance, essay questions and supplemental data. The six finalists were selected for their creativity in engaging and supporting students, academic results, and progress in preparing students to graduate college and career ready.

Congratulations to Booker T. Washington High School and all the finalists in the Race to the Top Commencement Challenge!

The Results Are In

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

Drum roll please…

The results of the public rating period are in, and today we’re excited to announce the top three schools in the 2011 Race to the Top Commencement Challenge!

Watch this video from Domestic Policy Director Melody Barnes to find out which schools made the top three:


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Later this week, President Obama will select the winning school from one of the top three. Over the past week, nearly 100,000 people from across the country submitted almost 300,000 ratings.

We want to thank all of the schools who participated in this year’s Commencement Challenge, especially our six finalists.  These schools represent the very best American public education has to offer. We are so proud of the all the teachers, students, administrators, parents and communities who are working together to help meet President Obama’s goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020.

Your Turn to Weigh In on the 2011 Commencement Challenge

Cross-posted from the White House Blog

Do you remember your high school commencement speaker?  Neither do I.

This year, one lucky high school will have an unforgettable commencement speaker – President Obama – and we need your help to determine which school it will be.

As part of the Race to the Top Commencement Challenge, public high schools around the country submitted an application earlier this year that describe how their school is preparing students for college and a career. We’ve narrowed down the schools to six finalists and now it’s your turn to weigh in.  Each school produced a short video with help from the Get Schooled Foundation and essay. You can review and rate each school on a scale of 1-5 (5 being the highest) between today and Friday April 29 at 11:59 p.m. EDT. Your ratings will help us narrow down the pool to three finalists and President Obama will select the winning school from one of these three.

Check out this video of President Obama asking for your feedback on the Commencement Challenge finalists, and then head over to WhiteHouse.gov/Commencement to rate each finalist.

 

The Commencement Challenge gives public high schools a chance to demonstrate how their school best prepares students for college and a career, helping America win the future by out-educating our competitors and achieving President Obama’s goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.

Each of the six finalists schools are an excellent example of the best America’s public schools have to offer.  Take a moment to watch their videos, read their essays and rate each school.

Melody Barnes is the Director of the Domestic Policy Council

Final Community College Regional Summit Focuses on Veterans, Military Members and Families

Tomorrow, April 15, ED will hold its fourth and final Community College Regional Summit at San Diego City College in San Diego, Calif. The focus of this one-day event is on Exemplary Programs for Veterans, Military Members, and Families, and will bring together federal, labor, industry and philanthropic partners to discuss how each entity can support local community college efforts to meet the President’s goal of having the best-educated workforce and the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.

Other topics to be discussed at the summit include solutions and promising practices in college completion, developmental education, industry-education partnerships, services to military service-members and veterans, transitioning adults to community colleges, and successful transfer programs to four year colleges and universities. The Summit will also provide a forum to identify local, state and national recommendations for increasing community college completion in order to meet the President’s 2020 goal.

Join us at 12:00 PM EDT on April 15, 2011 for a LIVE webcast of the summit (link will become active when the summit begins).

An Education Second to None

Photo of Secretary Duncan at Miramar
The 2nd Marine Division of the U.S. Marine Corps has a history of performing their best during tough fights.  The motto of the 2nd Division is “Second to None,” and just as the 2nd Division strives to be the best when called into action, President Obama has called the entire country to action in making our schools and students the best in the world once again.

Education and national security are closely related.  Only 25 percent of American youth qualify to enter the Armed Forces. Three out of four applicants are turned away because they lack a high school diploma, are obese, or have a criminal record. This sobering statistic means America’s ability to defend itself is put in jeopardy.

Yesterday at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar near San Diego, California, Secretary Duncan joined Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), Commanding General of Marine Corps Installations West, Major General Anthony L. Jackson, as well as several other military and civilian leaders in an event to bring attention to the link between education and national security. Secretary Duncan spoke of the need for a greater investment in education to ensure that more young people graduate from high school, obey the law, and get in shape. This is an issue that will determine our national and economic security for decades to come.

The Secretary also noted that fixing No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is the right step in improving education and will put more students on the path to graduating high school.  Congressman Duncan Hunter explained that “We want to fix NCLB this year. If it doesn’t get done this year, it doesn’t get done.”