Happy Thanksgiving!

23 Nov

Casey Doten, Financial Aid Administrator

Happy Thanksgiving! In addition to celebrating a cultural tradition here in the states, Thanksgiving is a great time to reflect on everything you’re thankful for in life.

Whether you’re flying high on life or currently going through the doldrums, it’s good to give thanks for even the little things. Research from Harvard Health finds that giving thanks can actually make you happier.

So if the end of the semester and the holidays cause more stress than happiness, now is the perfect time to reflect on the things that bring you joy – no matter how big or small they are.

Throwing a Great Friendsgiving

21 Nov

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Thanksgiving may be one of the few times of the year that you and your friends are going to be somewhat near each other. This makes it an opportune time to get a ‘Friendsgiving’ together and enjoy each other’s company for possibly the only time during the year. If your friends don’t already have this tradition, you’ll probably have to host the first one to get the ball rolling. But don’t fear, done correctly Friendsgiving can be a fun and low-stress opportunity to get together with your best friends.

The best way to optimize the fun-factor while keeping your actual work level low? Make it a pot-luck where everyone has to bring something. Whether it’s a side of green beans, a box of wine, or someone wants to volunteer to make the main course, everything is welcome! Be sure to coordinate who brings what though, so that four people don’t all bring those canned cranberries. This could be done with a Facebook event, or just keeping a spreadsheet of what people tell you. Typically there is far more than enough food to go around, so if one person shows up empty handed for some reason try not to lay into them too much.

If it’s your first rodeo (or even if it’s not), avoiding turkey is probably a good plan. Most people are getting their annual fill on the day of Thanksgiving and don’t desire any more. Plus, the amount of people who aren’t that crazy for turkey is pretty high considering we have a day that’s reserved for feasting on it.Friendsgiving1.jpg

Something you do not want to forget is dishes and glasses. If you don’t have enough plates for people to eat off of, you’re going to have issues. An easy workaround? Paper plates! You don’t have to buy extra plates just for this one event and, more importantly, there are less dishes for you to do. Just be sure that you have enough drinking glasses for people as they might use more than one if they switch up their drinks.

Speaking of drinks, make sure you have plenty of ice! What’s in your two ice trays isn’t going to cut it. Whether people are drinking water, lemonade, or even a mixed drink, having ice is important. So go to the gas station, spend $5.00 for a couple bags of ice and call this one good. Have someone coming who is a terrible cook? Let them be in charge of bringing the ice.

Another important, and possibly awkward part, is figuring out who your invite list will include. Depending on the size of Friendsgiving you are having, there might just be your core group of friends or it might get larger. Either way, be sure to include people’s significant others. If you don’t, you’re putting them in a spot where they have to ask you if they can come or your friend will just skip so they aren’t ditching their boy/girlfriend. If your invite list is getting larger, just make sure there aren’t any obvious interpersonal conflicts you’re creating or that there is anyone you are totally missing from the invite list. You can’t have everyone over, but there might be some people upset they didn’t get the chance to join.

Another important group to keep happy is other people’s parents. How might you fail to do this? Not letting your friends know of Friendsgiving ahead of time. If you spring this idea up last minute and a friend comes over when one of their parents had planned for super special bonding time, it doesn’t matter if there was a lack of communication. Parental wrath will ensue in some fashion. So avoid this, and other potential conflicts, by planning it out ahead of time.

The most important thing? Have fun! Friendsgiving is supposed to be a time to see your pals and catch up while reminiscing on that embarrassing thing that happened 3 years ago. The more stress you can avoid while putting this all together, the better. As host your job is to provide a location and some planning but don’t feel like everything is on your shoulders. Just remember that you don’t need to be replicating a massive family-style event to have a successful time with your best friends.

Making Black Friday Work For You

20 Nov

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Black Friday is one of the strangest times of the year. Steep discounts on electronics and other items have people lining up and camping out for these “doorbuster” deals for hours before opening. So, how do you take fullest advantage of the Black Friday savings without regretting the missed hours of sleep? Depending on what you’re looking for, you may be able to save money without all the hassle.

If after scouring the various Black Friday ads, you have found a doorbuster deal that you can’t miss out on you’ll want to be prepared. Find out what time the stores you’re interested in open and plan to be in line well before that depending on the location. At places like Target or Wal-Mart expect people to be setting up shop well ahead of time. Some stores are also open on Thanksgiving for those of you who are willing to forsake their second helping of turkey. In the event you’re going to be part of a (hopefully civilized) mob storming a store, knowing where your desired item is beforehand will probably be the difference in getting it or not.

Remember to keep your receipts from your Black Friday deals that you buy for yourself and to get gift receipts if you’re getting a gift for someone else. It’s an easy details that you can lose in the chaos, but extremely important in the event you need to return it.

The doorbuster deals and people lining up for hours may get all of the attention but there are much easier ways to get those great deals without wasting your Thanksgiving evening or sleep. Aside from a few deals, almost everything will be available online for the same prices. A nice kicker? Many places offer free shipping with their deals as well. You can do this all from the comfort of your own home without waiting in the cold for hours. Additionally, you can wait a few days to check out the Cyber Monday deals as well as comparing with other stores online to see who has the best offers! Overall, you are likely going to get just as great of a deal by shopping online and comparing prices as you are with joining the crazies.

An often overlooked, yet easy, method to get great discounts is by giving into the store’s attempts to connect with you. Follow them on social media, download their apps, register an account on their website, etc. These are all great ways to get exclusive coupons that can add up quickly helping you save big without wading through the crowds.

The experience of joining the pack for the crazy openings may appeal to some, but to many others it is a hassle not even worth contemplating. If you’ve tried it and never want to see that craziness again, or just don’t even want to see it, don’t feel like you can’t get great deals too. Just like any time you are shopping for big-ticket items you just need to compare prices, amass coupons and other discounts and you can come out hundreds of dollars ahead. The work you put in to shop intelligently is well worth the minimal effort it takes.

Stay Eligible For Your 21st Century Scholarship By Taking Enough Credits!

16 Nov

How Does the PLUS Credit Check Process Work When There Is a Credit Freeze?

14 Nov

The following is from the November 3, 2017 COD Processing Update:

Credit Check Processing for Borrowers who have requested a “Credit Freeze”
As a result of recent data breach events and heightened security concerns, many consumers are understandably taking steps to protect their personally identifiable information (PII). One of those steps may be placing a “credit freeze” on their credit profile at one or more of the credit bureaus, which prevents further credit activity from occurring without additional consent.

Because a credit check is part of the process when a borrower or endorser completes a Direct PLUS Loan Request or an Endorser Addendum on the StudentLoans.gov website, borrowers or endorsers with an active credit freeze may not be able to fully complete either process and may receive an error message when the credit check is run. The borrower or endorser must remove the credit freeze first; this action cannot be done by the school or Federal Student Aid. Note: Federal Student Aid can process an inquiry at two of the three main credit bureaus (currently Equifax and TransUnion). If a borrower or endorser places a credit freeze at only one credit bureau, Federal Student Aid could still receive a credit determination based on information provided by the secondary credit bureau.

Federal Student Aid implemented additional messaging on the StudentLoans.gov website on October 29, 2017. The messaging informs borrowers and endorsers that those who have a credit freeze on their credit profile will need to remove it before completing a Direct PLUS Loan Request or the Endorser Addendum. Federal Student Aid encourages schools working with borrowers and endorsers who may receive an error during the credit check process to ask about a credit freeze as a possible cause for the error.

Schools using the “Quick Credit Check” on the COD Web Site could experience an error or “timeout” response as a result of a borrower’s credit freeze. In some cases, Federal Student Aid will not be able to return a credit check response with the origination record and will reject the record with COD Reject Edit 996 (Invalid Value). Again, when troubleshooting a credit issue with a borrower or endorser, schools may want to see if the credit freeze situation may apply.

If you have additional questions about credit check processing, contact the COD School Relations Center. ”

COD School Relations Center
1.800.848.0978 for Direct Loans
Email CODSupport@ed.gov

Making Your First Student Loan Payment

9 Nov

It’s been six months since you’ve left school and despite not wanting to think about it, the time has finally come to start paying on your loans. Your loan servicer (the company that will collect payment from you) should have contacted you to let you know who they are by now.

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If they have not, be sure to log into the National Student Loan Database System (NSLDS) to find out who will be handling your loans. Be sure to let your servicer know how to contact you! If you think you can dodge them, they’ll just keep attempting to reach you at the contact info they have until your loan goes into default. And you don’t want that. You can also check your total federal loan balances on NSLDS to confirm how much you owe in total across all federal student loans.

Now that you know who you have in loan debt, be sure to log in to their website that’s provided on NSLDS to set up an account and see what your loan payments are per month.

Everyone is automatically enrolled in the standard 10-year repayment plan by default, which is actually the most aggressive repayment plan. Other repayment plans that are based off your expendable income might work better for you, especially as you get on your feet professionally.

While making higher payments is always preferable to pay down your loans as fast as possible and with the least amount of interest accrued, that’s not always possible on every budget. Ideally, your student loan payments won’t exceed 20% of your take-home pay. If it does, an income-driven payment plan might be needed to help shift the burden off your shoulders for now.

Once you know what payment plan you’re planning on and how much it’ll cost you monthly, it’s encouraged to sign up for auto-pay, also known as Direct Debit. Why pay your bill automatically when you probably prefer to choose when it comes out? Well, you’ll save 0.25% on your loan interest rate for federal loans.

For the average 2016 graduate with $37,172 in loan debt on the 10-year standard repayment plan this would equal $532 in savings. If you are enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan then you can save $1,252 for the 25 year term.

That’s not a bad trade-off considering you have to make the payments anyway and can choose what day of the month your payments are withdrawn when setting up auto-pay.

Once you’ve done all this, you are good to go! You’ve figured out who you are making payments to, made sure they fit into your budget with the correct payment plan, and can even set up automatic payments in the future so you don’t have to remember every month!

13 Must-Haves for Off-Campus Living

7 Nov

You’ve finally done it! The lease is signed, and you step into your first off-campus place, surveying your home for the next year or more. The boxes are all unpacked, but even though your dorm room was brimming with “stuff”, your new digs look barren. Here are 13 things you might be missing from your original packing list!

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1. Kitchen Odds & Ends

You know those miscellaneous things that are always just there in the back of a drawer or cabinet? You don’t realize you need them, you just find yourself in a pinch one day because you don’t have them. Things like a colander, wire whisk, spatula, mixing bowls, measuring cups, can and bottle openers, pot holders, and food storage containers. Picking them up now will save a lot of hassle later!

2. Pantry Staples

Having a kitchen means experimenting with new recipes (and let’s admit it, setting off the smoke detector once or twice), but it also means facing an empty pantry. It’s best to start off with some staples: spices, oil, salt and pepper, chicken broth, sugar, flour, pasta, rice, eggs, bread. Don’t forget those non-food staples, like aluminum foil and sandwich bags. With those out of the way, you can start filling in your pantry with ingredients for specific dishes. Staples can be different for different people, so think through your favorite meals, and write down reoccurring ingredients. Personally? Cheese and bacon are my two biggest kitchen must-haves.

3. Small Appliances

It’s pretty hard to make your go-to breakfast of waffles if you don’t have a toaster. An iron and ironing board, coffee pot, electric mixer, and blender are some of the many things that you might use (and probably never have had to buy before).

4. Paper Products

Believe it or not, off-campus bathrooms aren’t automatically stocked with toilet paper and tissues. If you’ve got these packed to bring with you, make sure you put them on top where they’ll be easy to find. While you’re at it, throw in some paper towels too!

5. A Shower Curtain/ Rod/ Rings

A lot of apartments will have a shower curtain rod already, but you’ll probably be on your own for the rest. Be sure to check the curtain you buy to see if it needs a liner as well. There’s nothing worse than realizing you can’t shower on day one without drenching your new bathroom.

6. Trash Can & Trash Bags

Sometimes the most obvious stuff is the easiest to forget.  You’ll thank yourself when you have a place to toss all that packing material on moving day! Relying on cardboard boxes just won’t cut it.

7. Cleaning Supplies

Coming from home, or a dorm, you might not have needed your own vacuum, toilet cleaners, mop, or shower spray. When you move off-campus, you’ll suddenly miss having a broom and dustpan, or even a couple of sponges handy. Start off with some other basics too: like hand and dish soap, laundry, and dishwasher detergent.

8. Furniture

The single futon that was crammed into your dorm room won’t look like much in an otherwise empty apartment. Identify your needs, and start looking early! Think about work space – do you need a desk? Or entertaining – do your friends normally crash on the couch, or should you have a table for dinner and games? Do you have a TV or gaming consoles? If so, where will they go? Get the measurements for your apartment and furniture before you buy, so you know each piece will fit and work for you.

Pro tip: Don’t forget to measure the doorways, and bring tools to remove the doors, or take furniture apart if needed. Legs often come off of couches for easier fitting.

9. Lamps/ Lighting

Check out the lighting situation before you move in. A lot of apartments and homes for rent, especially those near campus, don’t have overhead lighting. Look for lighting that isn’t highly directional, so that the whole room will be well-lit. Lamps with transparent or light-colored shades are a great choice!

10. Shelving/ Storage.

A lot of off-campus housing has limited storage. Make sure you pay attention to details when you’re touring housing options. Are there cabinets in the bathroom? Is there a pantry? Do the closets have shelving? Is the shelving solid? Some apartments have tons of shelves, but they’re all made of wire that smaller items can fall through. You may need baskets, multi-level hangers, a towel rack, or even a bathroom caddy if you’re looking at limited storage. You can also check out Buzzfeed and Pinterest for tons of clever storage hacks.

11. Internet Router

Most internet providers give customers the option to rent a router from them on a monthly basis, or use their own. Often, providers will allow you to purchase a router from them as well to avoid the extra monthly fees.

12. Curtains

Curtains aren’t just decorative. They also keep in a lot of warmth during the colder months. Check out what any bedroom windows face as well. If there are street lights or a busy road outside, you might want to pick up some blackout curtains so your sleep won’t be interrupted by lights and traffic.

13. Hardware, Thumbtacks & Command Hooks

Leasing offices have differing policies when it comes to hanging things, but chances are you won’t want your walls to be completely bare. Whether it is curtains, mounting a TV, or just some favorite posters, keep some hardware options on hand!

Preparing for Your First Indiana Winter Pt. 2

3 Nov

Casey Doten, Financial Aid Counselor & Native Minnesotan

While autumn may be far and away my favorite season, it also marks the approach of easily my least favorite time of the year: winter. If you’re from one of the many places in the world that Hoosiers dream about for 5 months of the year, your first Indiana winter can be a rough ride if you’re not prepared. However, with a little bit of preparation and proper clothing you won’t just survive, but thrive!preparing-for-indiana-winter-portrait

First things first, how you dress is going to determine how you feel for much of the day. So be sure that you have all the proper gear you need for any weather. Some days it will be in the 40’s, some days you might be hovering around 0 (Fahrenheit of course)! The key here is checking the weather in the morning, and there are several phone apps you can use for this. Don’t just look outside and see it’s sunny and assume you’re fine; some of the coldest days come when the sun is out since there are no clouds to help insulate.

A weather change you might not have ever thought of is the change in moisture in the air. Winter is extremely dry. Chapped lips, dry skin and nosebleeds can all be caused from the cold, dry air. Stock up on lotion and lip balm, because at some point you will need some. Just like the lack of sunlight (less than 9 ½ hours per day at times), you can’t change much about the humidity except how you deal with it.

Something you might have already put thought into is driving. After a month you might come to the reasonable conclusion that cars were not invented for winter driving. However, making sure that you have tires with reasonable tread will go a long way toward your ability to drive safely in the snow. Tires make even more of a difference than four wheel drive in snow and ice. A few things you might not have realized are important for driving safety in the winter are your wiper fluid and windshield wipers. Getting dirty snow tossed up on your windshield from the road can make visibility terrible without good wipers and fluid.

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In regards to warming your car up, it is actually a common myth  that you should do it for the benefit of your car. Unless you’re driving an older vehicle that would have a carburetor (which is quite rare nowadays), you don’t need to worry about it. The only reason why I let my car warm up is to give the heat time to get warm. The longer you let your car idle, the more gas you waste, not to mention opportunities for it to be stolen since the keys are in the ignition. Also remember to have a window scraper! If your windshield is iced over and you don’t have one, it’s not going to be fun to get it off.

Even though the weather can be a hassle, don’t use it as an excuse to skip class. You pay for your courses whether you are there or not, so not going wastes some of that money. Snow days are rare and few between, however instructors cancelling courses isn’t that uncommon. So if you expect that might happen, keep your eyes on your email as that’s the most likely way they’ll let you know (unless they are a monster who just puts a note on the door so you don’t find out until you arrive). You can burrito yourself in a blanket and watch Netflix later.

For a little bonus, here are some other blogs that help cover information about surviving in the winter if you’re new to it:

http://nyulocal.com/entertainment/2011/11/01/how-a-southerner-should-prepare-for-winter-in-new-york/

http://mitadmissions.org/blogs/entry/how-to-survive-your-first-winter-a-college-students-guide

http://lifeinleggings.com/winter/qa-tips-on-surviving-your-first-winter-season/

http://lifeinleggings.com/moving/what-ive-learned-living-up-north/

https://www.michigandaily.com/opinion/01jesse-klein-michigan-winters-suck20

Preparing for Your First Indiana Winter Pt. 1

24 Oct

The leaves on the trees are starting to change and that means a few things in order of awesomeness: Halloween is coming, pumpkin spice fever is in full pitch, and winter is coming. For all of the amazing things that autumn has, it always means winter is next. For those who are encountering their first winter that will be fraught with freezing temps and snow, the winter can be daunting. However, there is plenty of fun to be had if you’re not shivering the whole time!preparing for indiana winter portrait.jpg

If you have looked into building a cold winter wardrobe from scratch already, you’ve probably realized it’s not cheap. The keys are knowing what you actually need, how to find it cheap, and where you can’t cut corners. The only real difference between the locals who can shrug off the cold and those who freeze is in how well you prepare! Oh, and experience winter driving too but that can’t really be bought.

Remember, winter is long and you’ll probably be spending four of them here throughout college. A few timely purchases now can save you a whole lot of misery over the long haul.

The biggest key is layering. You might hear that over and over again, but it means a whole lot more than just tossing on a jacket and calling it good. The key to good layering is being able to remove what you don’t need when the time comes. We’ll start at the feet and work our way up:

Socks & shoes: Sorry, but flip-flops are going to go the way of the dino during the winter. Depending on how cold it is, you might be able to get away with a normal pair of socks and boots. However, as it gets colder you might want to toss on some thick wool socks underneath your footwear. If it is slushy out or there will be snow on the ground, wear some waterproof boots! If you don’t, you’ll regret it the first time you step in a puddle and walk around with soggy feet all day. Just remember not to over-do it on a day that’s not cold because sweaty feet in wool socks aren’t fun either. If you’re buying boots, select a pair that’s a little large because you’ll be wearing thick socks underneath.CYdHHksWAAA47bO.jpg

Pants: Typically just tossing on jeans or another pair of pants will do it. If it’s a colder day, wearing tights or leggings underneath your pants will help immensely – and no one can tell if you’re worried about that. Going to be stuck outside for an extended period in extreme cold? Layering leggings, jeans & sweats will keep you from being too miserable. Just keep in mind you’ll be very warm when you get inside.

Torso: You’ll have the most freedom here, but it’s also one of the most important areas. Tossing on sweaters, hoodies, vests & anything else you need can make you look fashionable and keep you warm. Big bonus is that you can take them off once you’re inside if you need. On top of all this, it’s all about the jacket you buy. Once autumn starts to fade, your fleece and other light jackets are going to go to the back of the closet. You’re going to want a heavy coat. There are tons and tons of options on what you do here depending on your style. Just remember that two of the biggest factors in staying warm are the material the coat is made of and how much air that it can trap. The more air, the more cushion between you and the cold.photo-1425100599170-85ec4f00a6ee.jpg

Others: Having a hat, scarf and gloves will make a world of a difference. Feeling your ears slowly freeze while walking to class is no one’s idea of a good day, so wear a cap! Maybe you have a family member who knits who can make one for Christmas. I personally didn’t start wearing a scarf until my last year of college and know I have no idea how I survived until then. It keeps wind from blowing down the front of your jacket, gives you a place to bury your face if it hurts to breath and can even provide another place for your favorite knitter to give you a gift! For your hands, mittens are going to be warmest but renders your hands basically useless. Personally, I wear a pair of string knit gloves and keep thick mittens in my pockets. That way I have the best of both worlds ready if I need.

Now how to find all of these cheap? Maybe you have a crafty friend or family member who can help you out?  If not you’ll probably have to buy them. One method is not relying solely on brand names. Your hat, gloves, and scarf don’t really matter too much where you get them from. However, for boots and your winter coat these can make a big difference. You can probably find a good selection of winter coats at various thrift stores as these are an often-donated item. Boots you’re probably going to have to buy new. Don’t be afraid to check out cheaper department stores for these.

Whether you’re a local who loves winter, or a transplant from a tropical paradise anyone can enjoy it if you’re bundled up properly!

Be sure to check out more tips in part two!

If you have any comments or advice, be sure to leave them in the comments.

Grad School Series: Letters of Recommendation

18 Oct

As part of the application process, you’ll need to submit letters of recommendation. You can help your recommendation letter providers write effective and timely letters by following the guidelines below:

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  • Choose recommendation providers who can attest to your potential as a graduate student. Ask if they would be willing to write you a good recommendation letter.
  • Coach your recommendation providers. Try to select recommendation providers who can talk about various aspects of your potential and suggest to them what they could highlight. For example, a research advisor could talk about specific research skills while a professor could talk about your academic potential. This prevents you from having three generic recommendation letters. Most recommendation providers appreciate knowing what they should discuss in their letters.
  • Read any requirements for an acceptable recommendation provider. Most graduate programs expect at least two of your letters to come from faculty.
  • Make the process as easy as possible. Provide your recommendation providers with:
    • a copy of your resume or curriculum vitae
    • a file that lists all of the institutions, program names, contact information, and application deadlines to which you are applying
    • a list of details they will need to answer specific questions about you
    • a friendly reminder of approaching deadlines

Remember to send a thank you note to all of your recommendation letter providers!

Good luck!

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