One Simple Step to Reducing College Debt

Wouldn’t it be awesome to graduate debt-free with a college degree!?!? For most of us, this is more fantasy than reality, especially with the rising costs of a college education. However, there are things you can do right now – as a current student or even before you’re admitted – that can make a huge difference in your student loan debt over the course of your time in school. The obvious things include following a sound budget, working while you’re in school and borrowing only the amount you need to pay your tuition and purchase books (even though most schools offer the maximum and require that you adjust the amount you’re willing to accept). Those things work! They are tried and true, but there is also something else you can do – it’s as simple as filing your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) early.

The ins and outs of the FAFSA

Every college student should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), including those who are still waiting on their letters of acceptance. The FAFSA requires you to answer questions about your income and assets (for dependent students it also requires information about your parents’ income and assets). The answers you provide, along with IRS documentation, will help the federal government determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC indicates the amount of money that the government expects you and your parent(s) to be able to pay toward your college education for the upcoming academic year. If your estimated cost of attendance (COA) exceeds your EFC, you may qualify for need-based loans (which are subsidized while you’re in school and have lower interests rates after you graduate) and/or grants to help pay your college bills.

Even if you feel that you do not qualify for need-based assistance or have enough to cover tuition, you should still file the FAFSA. The FAFSA is required in order for you to take a federal school loan of any kind, and it is also required for students who wish to work on campus.

“Filing early is especially important for those who hope to qualify for grants and/or student employment. Grants are awarded to qualifying students on a first-come, first-served basis. When the funds are depleted the level of need is not considered, which means an early application can mean the difference in qualifying for federal college grants such as Pell, FSEOG, and TEACH grant, as well as state grants, such as the KHEAA CAP grant,” said Cindy Troutman, program manager for WKU Online.

You can file your FAFSA as early as January 1 of the year you intend to enter school. For those hoping to get started in Fall 2015 – your FAFSA awaits! You’ll have to repeat the process each year as you pursue your education, but the first application you fill out is the most cumbersome. Below is a list of items you’ll need to complete your application. The more organized you are when you start the process, the more smoothly it will go.

What You’ll Need

  • Social Security number
  • Driver’s license (if available)
  • Your tax forms (don’t worry if they aren’t complete yet—you can use estimated numbers now and adjust them later if needed)
  • Your parents’ tax forms (again, using estimated figures is OK for now)
  • Records of untaxed income, such as payments to tax-deferred savings plans, child support, veterans benefits, or workers’ compensation
  • Current bank statements
  • Information about any businesses you or your family own, investment mortgage information, business and farm records, and other investment records

This sounds like a lot, yes! It’s not as bad as it seems, because there is easily accessed help along the way. You can even access a practice worksheet at www.fafsa.ed.gov. The worksheet will allow you to do a practice run, so you can see the process before you officially get started. You can fill the FAFSA out as early as January 1, but anytime in January helps to ensure that you’re among the first group considered for aid.

Steps to Getting Started

  1. Pull the required documents together, which are outlined above.
  2. File your FAFSA online at fafsa.ed.gov (the school code for WKU is 002002)
  3. Speed the processing of your FAFSA by signing the form electronically with a Personal Identification Number (PIN). Follow the steps outlined at fafsa.ed.gov to request a PIN or visit pin.ed.gov – the process is simple. Also, if you’re a dependent student, one parent must register for a PIN as well, since the application will also require a parent’s signature. in order to sign the FAFSA electronically.

What’s Next

Once you file your FAFSA, you’ll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) that contains your EFC. If you provided a valid e-mail address at the time of your application, you’ll receive your SAR by e-mail. You can also view it online. Your SAR and EFC will be sent to the schools you listed on your FAFSA. These schools will offer you financial aid packages based on the results of your application.

Helpful Resources

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Tips for a Successful Spring Semester

It’s a new year! Let’s get off to a great start this semester by using some tried and true strategies!

# 1- Set Goals and Stick to Them!- Every course is a new beginning.. so have a positive outlook! Carefully look over the syllabus and start breaking down lessons, assignments and projects into smaller, manageable tasks. Creating goals and staying motivated are important skills that anyone can benefit from having. WKU Online will be offering a free webinar regarding goal setting and achieving positive results on Monday, February 2nd. For information on how to register for this webinar, just email us at successonline@wku.edu.

#2- Stay Motivated!- Setting goals and resolutions sound great at the beginning of a new year or in this case a new semester. However, the hard work is staying motivated and making progress! While online courses offer more flexibility, they also require more self discipline! Your course syllabus needs to be the guide you reference often. Make sure you are staying on top of due dates and deadlines!

#3-Put in the Time!- A general rule of thumb for an online course, is to put in three hours a week of studying for every credit hour. If you are attending full time with 12 credit hours, you will be putting in a full week of work, every week!

#4-Be Proactive!- As soon as you are having trouble in a course, contact the instructor, ASAP! The longer you wait to get clarification on unclear material, the further behind you may get.

#5- Be Your Own Resource!- If you are a non-traditional student take pride in your life experiences! Your work experience may also be relevant to some of your course work. If appropriate, share your experiences with classmates via discussion boards. Likewise, you can learn a great deal from your peers as well. The instructor isn’t always the only person with valuable insight !

Hopefully, you will find these tips useful! However, please know that you are not alone on this journey! WKU Online is here to help! We have a Student Resource Portal full of helpful hints as well as a directory of our vast array of student services! Familiarize yourself with all the support you have at your fingertips, just a click away at :http://www.wku.edu/online/srp/ .

Best of luck on a great semester!

Danita

WKU Online

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U.S. News ranks WKU online bachelor’s programs 2nd in nation

WKU’s online bachelor’s degree programs have been ranked second in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

WKU finished in a three-way tie for Best Online Bachelor’s Programs in the rankings released this week. Pennsylvania State University World College was first and WKU tied with Daytona State College and University of Chicago-Illinois.

WKU was also ranked 11th in Graduate Criminal Justice Programs, 35th in Graduate Education Programs, 70th in Graduate Nursing Programs and 84th in Master’s of Business Administration Programs.

“This recognition is a validation of the hard work and dedication of our faculty in developing and teaching online programs at WKU,” Beth Laves, Associate Vice President for Extended Learning & Outreach, said.

The Division of Extended Learning & Outreach (DELO) operates WKU’s online offerings and supports faculty in the development of courses, training, tools and resources to enhance the learning experience and heighten student engagement.

WKU Online program services staff also provide award-winning student services that play a significant role in making our program stand out,” Dr. Laves said.

She said those services include access to an Online Presentation Coach, Online Writing Center, electronic resources from WKU Libraries, research assistance, a directory of Top Tools for Online Learners, Online Tutoring and Career Services and other services specifically designed for distance learners and free of charge.”

Ten years ago, WKU had 1,262 undergraduate students enrolled in one or more web courses. By fall 2014, online enrollment had quadrupled with 4,949 WKU undergraduates taking at least one web course.

WKU makes 12 bachelor degree programs available online: Sociology, Child Studies, Family Studies, Organizational Leadership, Interdisciplinary Studies, Computer Information Technology, Dental Hygiene, Environmental Health Science, Business Administration, Registered Nursing to Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Systems Management and Technology Management. Students have the opportunity to earn a certificate or degree through more than 80 online program options at the undergraduate and graduate level.

“I am extremely proud of our faculty and our partnership with DELO, which allows us to produce such a great program,” Dr. Douglas Smith, Department Head of Sociology, said.

Dr. Smith teaches in the online master’s in criminology program and said that students in the program are typically adults working in the criminology field looking for a degree to advance their careers. The program began in 2008 and has had 21 graduates and currently has more than 50 students enrolled.

To determine its rankings, U.S. News analyzes data that reflects how an institution’s online bachelor’s programs are being delivered and their effectiveness at awarding affordable degrees in a reasonable amount of time.

“WKU achieved the number 2 ranking based on a high level of student engagement, faculty credentials and training, student services and technology and its peer reputation in distance learning,” Dr. Laves said.

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New Student Service: Online Presentation Coaching Center

Hello! WKU Online is very excited about our brand new Online Presentation Coaching Center! The Center provides a great opportunity for online learners to polish up on their presentation skills! The Center offers professional critique from faculty from WKU’s Department of Communication. Students can receive help on presentation delivery and structure as well as more technical aspects like recording and uploading videos. This service allows you to practice your presentation and receive valuable advice before submitting the finished product to your instructor! The Online Presentation Coaching Center also encourages alumni to utilize this service! Professionals preparing for a presentation in the workforce or during the interview process can also find this service useful! For more information on the Online Presentation Coaching Center, please review the following link:http://www.wku.edu/online/srp/opc/.

If you have any questions or are interesting in submitting a video for review, feel free to contact WKU Online staff at successonline@wku.edu.

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Midterms, Finals, Research Projects … Oh My!

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Tis the season for exams, research projects and comps! This can be stressful for all students–I know, for me, I can always think of one more thing (at least) that I could’ve/should’ve done to prepare better, be more thorough, etc. Having a plan, familiarizing yourself with available resources and being able to use the tools available most effectively is critical! This is especially true for those of us who must maximize every second available. This article is dedicated to those three things: planning, resources and effectively using tools.

Proper planning often means the difference between acing an exam/final project and getting a less than desirable grade to add to your transcript. There are some proven methods that you can easily use to help insure that you maximize your time, minimize stress, and achieve the grade you want.

  1. Save your sources! We have all been researching something and thought, “that’s a great article, but not for this paper.” Save it! It will in turn save you so much time later! You can do this by creating a digital library/database of your favorite articles through citeyoulike or iCyte.  If decide to do this in a word doc that you can save to your desktop, you may enjoy looking at some examples at https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/614/03/. Just remember, if you’re doing it for personal use, you don’t have to concern yourself with creating a perfect document. The idea is to create a reference tool for yourself that will save you time on future projects.
  2. Don’t wait until the last minute! Work on your project(s) and/or study for your exam(s) in chunks. This may sound idealistic, but it’s actually quite doable, even with all of life’s other obligations. “Time-chunking” may mean that you set your alarm 30 minutes earlier than normal or use your 15 minute break at work to study or find peer reviewed journals for your project. While that doesn’t sound all that appealing on the surface, the rewards reaped are great! You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish! In fact, this strategy is more effective for long-term retention of material!
  3. Take time to breathe, literally! Research has shown that cardio boosts brain power and improves your memory! It also minimizes stress and increases your energy, allowing you to achieve more with less time!
  4. The old adage goes, “you are what you eat” and this carries greater truth than we originally thought. Yes, eating before you sit down to finalize your paper or take your exam is important, but what you eat is also extremely important. You will want to focus on brain-boosting foods and drinks; not brain-blocking. Research suggests that high-carb, high-fiber, slow-digesting foods like oatmeal are best. Learn more about the impact of nutrition on performance at http://www.goodluckexams.com/what-to-eat-before-an-exam/ and http://her.oxfordjournals.org/content/26/6/1086.full.
  5. Practice good time management: It’s no secret that when we procrastinate we feel a great deal of pressure and anxiety. Our performance is negatively impacted anytime we’re pressed for time, whether it’s studying for an exam or finalizing our research paper. Much of the pressure and anxiety that comes with procrastination can be easily avoided with proper planning, organization and realistic expectations. The one strategy that has helped me most as a student/wife/mom/full-time employee/cub scout leader :) is having all of my due dates available at a glance. Each semester I take a few extra minutes to print each syllabus and add due dates to my main calendar. This keeps me on track and helps me keep my school work on the “front burner.”

Where To Get Help

  1. Technical Assistance can be found through WKU’s IT Helpdesk. They are open 7 days a week and provide services online via chat and help request, as well as by phone. Visit www.wku.edu/it/helpdesk.
  2. Research and Library Assistance: WKU Libraries provides an extensive collection of peer reviewed journals, refereed articles, and research guides. They also have subject specific librarians available to assist you with your research topic. Visit www.wku.edu/online/srp and click on the Library Services tab to access these services and more!
  3. Writing Assistance: Are you having difficulty narrowing the topic for your paper? Do you need help improving the organization and flow? The WKU Writing Center will assist you! They will work with you one-on-one through a live or recorded session – whatever best meets your needs. To learn more, visit http://www.wku.edu/online/srp/writing-center.php.
  4. Online Presentation Coaching: If you would like feedback on your virtual presentation, the Online Presentation Coaching Center is here to help! The Center provides a unique opportunity for you to receive feedback on your delivery technique, structure/flow and transitions, along with helpful instructions for Tegrity setup, as well as troubleshooting suggestions. The purpose of the Center is to provide you with a secure location to practice and improve your skills before submitting your final project to your professor.
  5. Career services, counseling, tutoring and a variety of free tools for organization, time management, research, and more are available through the Student Resource Portal at http://www.wku.edu/online/srp/.

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Fun Fact Friday with WKU Online

5 Fun Facts from WKU Online (a.k.a. things to be thankful for today):

  1. As of today, September 19, you are over 1/4 of the way through the fall semester! There are only 11 weeks left until finals week!
  2. Fall break is less that two weeks away (October 2 and 3).
  3. While you may have research projects coming due and midterms are just around the corner, you also have more support than ever before through the Online Writing Center, Online Tutoring and WKU Libraries. See all that is available at www.wku.edu/online/srp.
  4. If you need to change your class schedule, there is still time to drop a class and add a second bi-term. You have until October 15!
  5. Last, but not least … it is Friday!!! Have a great weekend!

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Strategies For Success

The semester starts in one week. Whether you’re a seasoned online learner or a first-timer, we have a few suggestions and some free tools that will help make your semester a bit more enjoyable.

Familiarize Yourself With The Student Resource Portal (SRP)  
WKU’s SRP was designed to allow easy access to resources and support across campus with a single click! The SRP provides  access organization and stress management tips, online tutoring, the WKU Writing Center, the Online Presentation Coaching Center, the DL Testing Centers, and much more!  The SRP is accessible at www.wku.edu/online/srp or from inside your online course in Blackboard.

Utilize Free online-learningOnline Tools
When I first started taking online classes, I limited myself to the tools I had readily available in Blackboard. It didn’t occur to me to search elsewhere, because I simply didn’t know what was possible. After a few semesters, I learned that the possibilities are endless! There are numerous free and low-cost online tools available to assist you with research, note taking, collaboration and organization. One of the most helpful tools I discovered was CiteULike – touted as “everyone’s library,” CiteULike allows you to save scholarly articles and search by keyword – it’s free, easy to use, and will save you hours of precious time by building your own library of articles most prominent in your particular field. There are also tools available that help you cite your sources, and protect you from accidentally plagiarizing.  Visit http://www.wku.edu/online/srp/tools.php for a complete list of our favorite tools!

Ask Questions
If you are unclear about technology, the requirements of an assignment or have trouble finding a resource that the professor has referenced, ask. It is true what they say, there are no stupid questions. If you are struggling with something, you are not alone! Your professor should assist you with any questions you have pertaining to class materials or assignment issues. If you have technological trouble, the IT Helpdesk can assist you. Visit www.wku.edu/it to access live chat or submit a help request.  

Use Proper Netiquette
In online courses nearly all communication is written. This makes it especially important to communicate clearly, since you will not have the added benefit of nonverbal communication, such as  facial expressions or tones of voice. One of the most common ways you will interact with your peers in an online classroom is through discussion boards. Oftentimes, the instructor will post a topic and require students to post to the discussion board, respond and perhaps evaluate their peers submission. Choose your words carefully, as your tone online may seem harsher than you intend it to be. Avoid using all capital letters all the time, as most people associate this with yelling. Proofread assignments and posts before your send them, so you can avoid mistakes that could cause confusion and misunderstanding.

Read more on Netiquette at www.albion.com/netiquette/corerules.html.

Stay Motivated
While online courses cover the same content, and they are taught by the same professor; they are very different in their structure. Studying online offers much greater flexibility in time and space than face-to-face courses. This flexibility is what makes it possible for many of us to continue our education, because we can fit in study time around all of the other things that require a specific schedule. This flexibility also makes it surprisingly easy to push our classes to the back burner, and quickly lose track of what needs to be accomplished. This is why again and again you will hear people say that the key to succeeding online is self-motivation. 

One of the keys to staying motivated is planning. Proper planning allows you to minimize stress, gain a feeling of accomplishment, and avoid feeling discouraged/overwhelmed. One of the most important things you can do, and also one of the easiest, is keep a calendar. Your calendar should reflect the due dates of all of your upcoming assignments, tests, discussion board posts, work obligations, out-of-town trips, family commitments, and anything else that goes in the must-do category. Seeing everything in one place will allow you to have an accurate view of your day-to-day. This makes it easy to see when you have time available, and quickly spot a week that you have an unusually busy schedule. This allows for proper planning, and as I said at the beginning, proper planning = minimized stress, feelings of accomplishment and a more positive, can-do attitude. 

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