5 Tips to Rock Your First Internship

Congratulations! You’ve scored an internship. You’re about to begin laying the foundation for your future as a professional, get valuable hands-on experience, and increase your chances of finding a full-time job. If you’re feeling a little nervous, we’ve got some tips to help shake the first-day jitters and rock your internship.  

1. Be Prepared 

Do your research. Read up on the company’s purpose, history, and culture. Explore the industry and industry buzzwords. Ask your supervisor for any reading or work you should do before your first day.

2. Show Your Commitment 

Show up to work on time, and finish your work by the deadline. Ask questions if you have them, and express your interest and enthusiasm for your work. Don’t be afraid to ask your supervisor for feedback on your projects. You’ll learn about which areas to focus on and improve so that you can make the most of your internship. 

3. Network 

Your internship offers a unique opportunity to interact with and learn from people of all ages and backgrounds. Introduce yourself and try to meet everyone in the office (or at least your department). You’ll get insight into the inner workings of your company, and you’ll probably pick up a few extra projects along the way. You may even find yourself a mentor! 

4. Seize Opportunities

Your internship is what you make of it. There will be times when you’re not working on a specific task. Instead of sitting around, ask your supervisor for additional work. By asking for more responsibilities, you may land a project you can highlight on your resume and promote in future job interviews. 

5. Give Your Best 

Internships help you understand a specific industry or position. They also help you determine if it’s a career or passion you want to pursue. So, why not give it your best? You’ll get the most out of it if you do your best at every task. 

When your internship is complete, thank your supervisor for the opportunity! If you loved the internship, consider asking about extending it or applying for a part-time position. These tips will help you walk away with a valuable experience that teaches you about the workplace and allows you to forge relationships with professionals.

Financial 101: Scholarships Explained

Financial aid is money lent or given to you to you help you pay for school. Scholarships are often referred to as “gift aid” because they do not need to be repaid upon graduation.  

Scholarships can be awarded by private organizations, governments, and colleges or universities. They are often merit based. This means that they are awarded on qualities, like academic merit or athletic ability.  

Sources of Scholarships 

Colleges and Universities 

Many colleges and universities offer scholarships to their students. They can be merit-based, need-based, or a combination of the two! Scholarships offered by colleges and universities may also have certain requirements to continue scholarship for your entire time on campus. These terms and conditions are outlined when you are awarded the scholarship.  

Governments 

Some state governments may fund scholarships for residents attending college in their state. Your high school counselor will have more information regarding the kinds of scholarships your state may award.  

Private Organizations 

May companies, foundations, community organizations, and clubs sponsor scholarships. Scholars from these private organizations are called outside, or private, scholarships. Possible sources of outside scholarships include:  

  • Your parent/guardians’ employers or labor unions 
  • Your family’s religious center 
  • Organizations like 4-H, Girl Scouts, or Key Club.  

How to Find Scholarships 

To apply for scholarships, you will mostly likely start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the CSS Profile, if the schools you are applying to require it.  

Outside scholarships typically have their own application forms and processes. Start by talking with your school counselor about how to find outside scholarships. Be sure to also use online tools from reputable places, like the Encourage App! Outside scholarships typically have their own application forms and processes.  

Finding and applying to scholarships may take some time and effort, but we promise it will be worth it in the end! 

What is the CSS Profile?

As you are exploring your financial aid options, you may come across the CSS Profile. CSS stands for College Scholarship Service which is administered by College Board (The same organization who administers AP exams, PSAT, and SAT). Hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide require it as a supplement to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Be sure to check if colleges you are interested require you to submit the CSS Profile! Read on to learn more about CSS Profile:  

Why do I fill out the CSS Profile? 

The CSS Profile allows you to be considered for need-based financial aid from certain schools. It is more in-depth than the FAFSA, so colleges can see your true financial need on a deeper level.  

When do I fill out the CSS Profile? 

The CSS Profile typically opens on October 1 for the upcoming school year. You will want to submit your CSS Profile no later than two weeks before the earliest college or scholarship application deadline. 

What do I need to fill out the CSS Profile? 

Since the CSS Profile and FAFSA application are similar, they will require a lot of the same documents. It’s wise to go ahead and get the following items together:  

  • Your College Board login, if you took the SAT, PSAT, or AP exams, you should already have this. 
  • Federal tax returns (your guardians’ and yours if you file taxes) 
  • Your SSN and guardians’ (if applicable) 
  • Record of any untaxed income 
  • Bank statements 
  • Mortgage information 
  • Investment records 
  • Your debit or credit card. 

The initial cost of the application is $25. To send reports to additional schools, it is $16. If you qualify for a free SAT waiver, your application fee will be waived, and you will have the ability to send your CSS Profile to up to 8 schools for free.  

If you ever run into any questions while filling out your CSS Profile, take advantage of the email support, live chat, and phone support that College Board offers! 

Learn the Lingo: Financial Aid Vocabulary

When you’re new to the financial aid process, some terms may sound like a different language. Here we define a list of terms to help you through this process. The terms listed below are universal among colleges in the USA, but there may be terms specific to each college. Don’t be afraid to ask your admissions counselor or financial aid counselor to explain certain terms to you:  

Award Letter: The document you receive from a college that outlines the term of the financial aid being awarded to you. The letter includes the types and amounts of financial aid offered, what you’re expected to do to keep the award and a deadline for accepting the award.  

Cost of Attendance (COA): COA is more than just your tuition. It includes the cost of tuition, room and board, books, laptop, transportation, and other personal costs.  

CSS Profile: Some schools require a CSS (College Scholarship Service) Profile for scholarship consideration. Check your schools of interest to see if they require a CSS Profile from you.  

Expected Family Contribution (EFC): The EFC is the total out-of-pocket amount that your family can contribute towards your college expenses. This amount considers factors such as your family size, the number of family members already enrolled in college (if any), and taxable and non-taxable family income or assets. The EFC uses the information you include on your FAFSA. 

Financial Aid: Money given or loaned to you to help pay for college. Financial aid can come from federal and state governments, colleges, and other organizations.  

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA): Each year in college you will fill out the FAFSA for need-based aid. You will also need fill out the FAFSA if you wish to take out federal student loans to fund your education. The FAFSA typically opens October 1st for the following school year. If you’re unmarried and under the age of 24, be sure to have your and your parents’ tax info from two years ago. More about the FAFSA here. 

Grant: A kind of “gift aid” – financial aid that doesn’t have to be paid back. Grants are typically awarded based on financial need.  

Loan: Money you borrow from the government, a bank, or another source. Loans needs to be paid back, typically over an agreed period.  

Merit Aid: Financial aid given to students based on their personal achievements. Most scholarships are considered merit aid and can be awarded for success in a variety of areas including the arts, athletics, or academics.  

Need-Blind Admission: The practice of making college admission decisions without looking at students’ financial circumstances.  

Need-Based Financial Aid: Need aware is the opposite of need-blind. Colleges that are need-aware will take students’ ability to pay tuition into consideration when they are making admissions decisions. 

Net Price: Net price is the actual amount a student will pay for college. Typically, this means the published full cost of attendance (tuition, fees, room and board, supplies, and other expenses that are billed by the college/university) minus the amount of gift aid a student receives.  

Net Price Calculator: An online tool that gives you a personalized estimate of what it will cost to attend a specific college. Most colleges are required by law to post a net price calculator on their websites.  

Pell Grants: Pell Grants are federally funded, need-based grants for students who submit their FAFSA application. You do not need to pay back Pell Grants.  

Parent Loans for Undergraduate Study (PLUS Loans): Parents can apply for a PLUS loan up to the Cost of Attendance minus any other aid. To qualify for this loan, parents must have a positive credit history. PLUS loans begin accruing interest and require repayment as soon as they disburse. 

Scholarship: Another kind of “gift aid” – financial aid that doesn’t have to be paid back. Scholarships can be awarded by private organizations, governments, and colleges or universities. They are often based on academic merit, talent, particular areas of study, athletic ability, or other criteria.  

Student Aid Report (SAR): You’ll receive this report via email after submitting the FAFSA that details your expected family contribution (EFC). The SAR is your opportunity to review the information you have submitted and make sure it is accurate. 

Subsidized Loans: Subsidized loans are offered by the federal government and DO NOT accrue interest while you are still enrolled in college. Repayment begins 6 months after either graduation or dropping below half-time status. 

Unsubsidized Loans: Unsubsidized student loans from the government begin accruing interest immediately upon disbursement. Repayment will begin 6 months after graduation or after dropping below half-time status. If you have the ability, consider making interest-only payments while you are in school so that interest won’t capitalize.  

Work-Study: Work-study provides the opportunity to earn money for school by applying for on-campus jobs. Your work-study program will provide you with a certain amount that you are eligible to earn, and you will receive those funds in the form of a paycheck as you would with any other type of job. You can use these funds to help you pay for other costs associated with attending college, like transportation, food, social activities, and other living expenses. 

We hope that familiarizing with financial aid vocabulary will ease any anxieties you may feel about the process. Good luck! 

Your Guide to the FAFSA as a First-Time Applicant

The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is an important part of the college application process. Once you submit the application, you’ll be considered for financial aid from federal and state governments and many colleges and universities. The FAFSA opens on October 1 each year for the following school year. It’s a good idea to complete the FAFSA as early as possible to ensure you’re considered for the maximum amount of financial aid. 

The FAFSA application process can feel intimidating, so we’ve created a simple guide that will help make the application process as easy as possible.

Step 1: Create Your FSA ID 

Your FSA ID is the username and password that will grant you access to certain Department of Education websites. It will also help verify your identity and serve as your digital signature for your FAFSA. If you are a dependent, your parent/guardian must create an FSA ID, too.

Step 2: Gather Important Documents 

You may need to dig deep for some of this information. Ask your parent or guardian to help you find the following documents. 

  • Your Social Security Number 
  • Parents’ or Guardians’ Social Security Numbers (if you’re a dependent student) 
  • Driver’s License Number (if applicable) 
  • Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. Citizen) 
  • Federal Tax Information, including W-2 information for you (and your spouse, if you are married) and your parents/guardians (if you’re a dependent) from two years prior (ie. 2023-2024 school year will use 2021 tax info).
  • Records of your untaxed income, such as child support received, interest income, and veterans noneducation benefits, for you and your parents/guardians if you are a dependent student.  
  • Information on cash, savings, and checking account balances; investments, including stocks and bonds; and real estate (not including the home in which you live). Also, include any business and farm assets for you and your parents/guardians if you are a dependent student.

Once you’ve input the information above, keep these documents in a safe but accessible location in case you need them again. 

Step 3: Start the FAFSA 

You created your FSA ID, collected your documents, and October 1 is here! It’s time to start your FAFSA. Head on over to fafsa.gov and click “Start Here.” Be sure to ONLY use fafsa.gov. From there, you can also use the myStudentAid mobile app. Unfortunately, some websites look similar to the real FAFSA website, except they charge for filing your FAFSA. You should NEVER pay to file your FAFSA! 

Once you start a new application, you can create a save key. Then you can save your work if you don’t complete your application in one sitting and return to where you left off. Don’t skip this step!

Step 4: Are You a Dependent?  

The FAFSA will ask you several questions to determine your dependency status. In general, you are considered a dependent for FAFSA purposes if:

  • You are under the age of 24, 
  • Unmarried,  
  • And not a member of the military.  

If you are classified as a dependent and feel you have an extenuating circumstance, we recommend connecting with your college financial aid office regarding your situation. 

Step 5: Input Financial Information 

This section is where you input your tax and financial information. If you are considered a dependent, input your parents’ tax and financial information too. Pro tip: If you have the option to use the IRS data retrieval tool, do it! It will automatically sync your tax return with your FAFSA.

Step 6: Select FAFSA Recipients 

Colleges need your FAFSA information to be able to award financial aid. You must list one school, but you can add up to 10. Some states have specific requirements for how you list schools on your FAFSA to be considered for state grant aid, and you can review those guidelines on the Federal Student Aid website. The colleges on your list will use your FAFSA to determine the type and amount of aid they’ll offer you upon acceptance. 

Step 7: Sign and Submit the FAFSA 

You must sign your FAFSA application using your FSA ID. Once you’ve signed it, press submit! You’ll know you’ve successfully submitted your FAFSA when you see the confirmation page. You will also get an email confirmation of your submission. If you have a sibling in college who is also a dependent, this confirmation page will allow you to transfer your parents’ info to their FAFSA. Be sure that your parent(s) sign your FAFSA, too!  

If you’re ever stuck on anything FAFSA-related, you can always ask your high school counselor, college admissions counselor, or your prospective college’s financial aid office for help. Good luck!

4 Reasons Why Volunteering is Good for You

While hectic schedules, classes, jobs, and extracurriculars might make it hard to find time to volunteer, there are plenty of advantages to offering your time, energy, and talents to service work. Here are a few reasons to do good and feel good:

1. Give Back to the Community & Make an Impact 

You don’t have to go far to make an impact. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities in your community. Not sure of where to start? Check out the local animal shelters, food pantries, libraries, art museums, retirement homes, and hospitals. Choose a place that interests you, and go for it! There’s always room for helping hands. 

2. Gain Valuable Experience 

Volunteering helps you build valuable skills that will help you as you prepare for college and your future career. Public speaking, project management, and teamwork are skills you’ll use throughout your life. Volunteering requires passion and positivity, so when you include it on your college applications or resume, you give colleges and potential employers a glimpse into a more personal side of you.

3. Meet New People 

Whether you volunteer at an animal shelter or help at a food bank, you’ll find people who share your interests and values—and want to help others too! When you volunteer, you’ll make new friends, network, and expand your support system.

4. Improve Your Health 

Researchers have found that helping others brings us great joy. Volunteering gives you a greater sense of meaning and purpose and can even lower your stress and anxiety. You’ll build your self-esteem and develop more self-confidence. It may even improve the mental health of people who suffer from addiction and various mental illnesses. 

Before you choose a volunteer position, ask about time commitments, training, and the volunteer team. If one opportunity doesn’t work out, don’t be afraid to explore other options. There are plenty of people and organizations that need your help! Volunteering is a fun and rewarding way to help your community and be part of something bigger than yourself.

Everything You Need to Know Before Your First College Visit

Visiting colleges is a great way to get a feel for what college is like, and help you decide if a particular college is the right fit for you.  

We’ve developed this guide to help you make the most of your college visits:  

Arrange Your Visit 

All colleges and universities have admission offices that can help you plan your visit. Your school may even organize group visits to campuses nearby. To get some tours on your schedule:  

  • Visit the websites of colleges you are interested in to see if they publish a calendar of their scheduled group tours. If you can’t find the calendar, you can always contact the admission office by email or phone to schedule a visit.  
  • Check with your school counselor to see if there are any organized campus tours you can take part in.  

If visiting a campus in-person isn’t an option, virtual visits and tours have become popular. Check in with the admission offices at colleges you are interested in to see if they offer visit events or tours for future students, like you. The good news is that these virtual resources can give you a sense of life on-campus through webinars, virtual panels, and video presentations.  

What to Expect During Your Visit 

Campus tours can range from a quick hour-long tour, webinar, or overnight immersive experience. Most in-person campus visits include the following:  

  • Information Sessions: These are typically led by admission representatives and cover the admission process of the specific college prior to the actual campus tour.  
  • Campus Tours: These are typically led by current students and showcase the highlight the main features of campus.  

At many colleges, you can also arrange the following to enhance your visit experience:  

  • Classroom visits 
  • Special information sessions hosted by different academic areas 
  • Meet with a financial aid officer 
  • Meet with your admission counselor 
  • Eat in the dining hall 
  • Spend a night in a dorm 

Whether you are visiting a campus in-person or participating in a virtual event, this is a great time to ask questions and interact with college staff and students. Stuck on what questions to ask? Here are some suggestions:  

  • What is your biggest piece of advice for a new student at XYZ University? 
  • Do all first-year students live on-campus? If so, are students guaranteed housing? 
  • What do most students do during the summer? 
  • What kind of hands-on experiences are built into my major? 
  • Are study abroad programs offered? 
  • What kind of on-campus jobs are available? Where do students work near campus? 
  • Is there tutoring I can access? 
  • Most popular majors/minors? 
  • What kind of services does the career center offer? 
  • Who will my advisor be? 
  • What kind of campus safety resources exist? 
  • What is there do on the weekends? Do a lot of students stay on campus on the weekend? 
  • Best tradition on campus? 
  • What do you wish you knew about the school before you came as a freshman?  

After Your Visit 

Take notes 

Right after your college visits, jot down some first impressions and thoughts about the school. This is especially useful if you’re using the same trip to visit multiple schools. You may find that a lot of the colleges blend after a few tours. Having notes to review later will be useful when it comes time to compare your options.  

Notice the weather 

If the weather is not ideal during your visit, think about how it might impact your opinion of that campus. You want to make sure you choose a college that is ideal for you, so don’t rule out a school too quickly if the weather left you with a bad impression. 

Collect contact information 

When learning about a school, it’s easier to reach out to people you’ve already met. That way, you can continue a conversation and show demonstrated interest. When on your campus tour, ask for your guide’s name and email. You may also want to ask for the card of your admissions counselor, so you can have their contact information as well.