Be Aware of 2014 Tax Changes

January 19th, 2015 by
Dr. Daad Rizk

Dr. Daad Rizk

With 2014 behind us, it’s almost time for filing taxes. Making a point to understand how federal tax rules apply to your situation can help you file your taxes correctly and take advantage of any tax credits you may be able to claim. College students, and those who have dependent college students, should review rules and changes regarding education expenses and credits each year.

As a start, you may want to read IRS Publication 17, the annual tax guide for individuals. This guide covers the general rules for filing an income tax return and explains changes since the previous tax filing year.

Several notable changes may impact your 2014 taxes:

  • Health care individual responsibility requirements apply.
  • Several tax benefits have expired, including deductions for tuition and fees, educator expenses, state and local general sales taxes, and mortgage insurance premiums, among others.
  • The personal exemption amount has increased for certain taxpayers.
  • The number of tax refunds that can be directly deposited to a single account or prepaid debit card is now limited to three per year. Refunds beyond this limit will be sent via paper checks.
  • Especially important for students, you may choose to include tax-free grants and scholarships as income, which may increase an education credit and lower your total tax or increase your refund. Certain requirements must be met; find complete details online at the IRS’s Tax Benefits for Education Information Center.

This is not a complete list of changes, and it is important to familiarize yourself with the specific requirements that apply to your situation. You may want to consult your tax preparer or get help from the IRS for your specific questions.

Penn State’s Financial Literacy Coordinator, Dr. Daad Rizk, can provide more information and resources about educational expenses, taxes, and other financial literacy topics impacting students. You contact Dr. Rizk at dar39@psu.edu.

Career Change: Jobs Within Your Organization: Part 1

January 15th, 2015 by

When people talk about career changes, they often equate this idea with changing companies. However, many adults return to college to advance or change their career while planning to stay with their current employer. Here are some considerations when making such a change, starting with self-assessment. I will cover more considerations in a second blog post.

Self-assessment is the first step.

As you think about changing or advancing your career, it helps to know who you are, what you have been doing, and who you are in the process of becoming. There are aspects of you and the work you’ve done that can inform the direction that you will go in the future. It is important to be able to articulate who you are and what you offer an employer before you explore your options, because knowing yourself makes it easier to recognize a good job fit when you see one.

What do you enjoy?

It is useful to understand your interests, values, and skills, among other factors (e.g., personality, aptitude), when considering a change. For example, one way to think about interests is to consider what aspects of your current work you like the most. Most people are interested in some job responsibilities more than others. Suppose you are someone who spends your days with a computer working with numbers (data) but who really wants to manage co-workers (people). If you prefer to lead and mentor, but your job requires you to analyze or compile data, this may lead you to feel disinterested in your work. When you take the time to consider what you like and dislike about your current or past jobs, you can understand your work interests and act accordingly when selecting your next position.

In addition to interests, work values are often associated with what makes work satisfying. Is what you do for work important to you, and in what ways? As a few examples, some people find flexibility or autonomy to be most important; others find getting bonuses and attaining prestige imperative. You could ask yourself what you have accomplished in your work and how satisfying it is. Whatever your work values are, factor them in as you consider making a career change.

Checklist

Checklist Chalkboard on Flickr by Mufidah Kassalias.

What job skills do you have, or want to improve?

Every time that you work, you perform different skills. Whenever you look at a job, you consider the skills and abilities that are required. I find that people tend to underestimate themselves. Maybe this is because when you have skills that you use all the time, the skills are so familiar that it is easy to overlook them. Do you know what skills you use most frequently? You might be adept at skills that you only get to use a small percentage of your day, though you would prefer to use these skills more often. For instance, you might serve customers in a restaurant but the highlight of your day is the bookkeeping tasks that you do at the end of the day.

When we talk about skills, it is useful to think in terms of ones that we have and ones that we need. Knowing your skill gaps, you can plan how to acquire the ones you need for your career. There are different ways to learn about what kind of skills you may need, such as looking at sample job descriptions or talking to people who are in the field you aspire to work in. Again, this self-knowledge can be a clue that you can use as you move forward in your career path. It can also help you position yourself, because once you determine if there are prerequisite skills you need, you can start developing them before you make a change.

Do you know what qualities you bring to your job?

There are many qualities that make up a good employee, more than the skills of a given occupation. For example, there are communication, task completion, and organizational skills that employers value in their employees. As you hope to change or advance, it is important to take stock of your qualities. Even though most skills can be learned, you want to be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. Let me emphasize that you want to recognize your strengths, so please try not to focus solely on what you have to improve.

How will future employers see your current work experience?

It is difficult to determine how you will get from where you are now to where you want to be, without understanding your current circumstances and how you got there. As such, in addition to the interests, values, and skills that you have, it is also useful to examine the course your career has taken so far. You might consider if your career has stalled or headed in an unintended direction. Determine what it was  that stalled you. What happened when you took an undesired turn?

This leads me to a related topic—  how you made your career decisions. For example, you could think about your current position. Did you accept the job because you had no other choice or possibly because someone else suggested you would do well in the job? You can decide if you want to make your decision the same way as previously. For instance, if you put off a job decision and then ended up taking what was available out of necessity, you can decide if that is how you want to make your next choice. Often, students pick a career only to find out that it was not what they expected. There are ways to avoid such pitfalls; you can learn from your past and learn more about your options before making your next decision. Likewise, there are workplace factors, roles that you have during nonwork hours, and plans that you have for the future to consider as you strive to understand your career past and future.

Self-assessments can help you know where to focus your energy.

If you are unsure about your interests, values, or skills related to your career change, or what strengths you offer, there are some exercises that you can do in some career-focused publications, such as Changing Course, Changing Careers, available through an online career library, or WetFeet, found at http://studentaffairs.psu.edu/career/cic/. Alternately, you can talk to a career counselor who can help determine if career tests would increase your self-awareness, or work with you on clarifying factors such as interests, values, or skills.

The next segment of this blog will focus on other considerations when changing jobs within your organization.

How Can You Really Improve in 2015? Create Habits.

January 13th, 2015 by

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” -Aristotle

One of the most important things you could do for yourself this year is to realize the power of habit. New Year’s resolutions can fade quickly. Goals are great; however, they are one step behind the real focus. Humans are habitual in nature, and that is why we develop tendencies that make us unhappy. What if we found a way to adopt behaviors that made us happy? Though there are many outside influences that affect our habits every day, real change happens within us.

Many New Year’s resolutions center on weight loss. However, when you make it your “job,” the objective becomes strenuous, or even impossible, leading to lost motivation. This goes for anything we set our minds to accomplish, and a huge part of our existence is based on perception, from the Latin word percipio, meaning an immediate or intuitive recognition or appreciation, and a unified awareness. This year, try to think, “I want to do more yoga, because I really like it.” If you don’t like the gym, go hiking instead, or commit the next 30 days to trying out different sports and exercises until you find something you are really passionate about. Next month, start that one hour a week — which I promise — will not seem like work at all. Give yourself enough time so the habit is realistic, and is not thrown in your face.

The best part is, you don’t have to wait for a new year, and you can start harnessing the power of habit at any time. All you need is the willingness to try.

What do you want to accomplish in 2015?

Writing things down is a very powerful way to increase your success. There was a study conducted in 1979 at Harvard that followed up on students who wrote down their goals. It turns out that they were 10 times likelier to reach them, compared to those who did not write down their goals.

One approach is to make two lists: one for your main goals of the year, and one for daily tasks. Because it’s very easy to forget things that you must accomplish on a daily basis when you have other responsibilities and deadlines, this system allows you to focus on these items.

Here are some ideas that you can add to your list of habits and goals:

Read and memorize vocabulary words

Memorizing words and their definitions is more than broadening your vocabulary; it also helps improve your memory. On average, it takes about 7 to 25 seconds for your working memory to enter your long- term memory. Working memory is associated with immediate recollection of the day’s events, compared to long-term memory, which is information that you retain for your entire life. If you want to memorize a word (or anything, for that matter), repeating the word aloud, writing down the definition, and using it in a sentence will help you remember the word indefinitely. An easy way to incorporate this suggestion is to visit dictionary.com and sign up for their Word of the Day email. This will keep you on track, and save time on tracking down new vocabulary terms by delivering them right to your inbox.

Be active

During freezing temperatures in January, hiking in the cold can be extremely rewarding. Hiking is invigorating and can boost your immunity. During exercise and three hours afterward, your body releases white blood cells known as neutrophils, which are important for their immunity-boosting properties. Playing sports, doing yoga, and running have the same effect. I prefer sprinting over marathon running because your body naturally has a threshold; when it is compromised by overtraining, your immune system treats exercise as a stressor, which actually lowers immunity instead of boosting it.

Make a vision board

Vision Board

Vision Board via Flickr, Nanette Saylor

What is a vision board?  It’s a collection of pictures of things that you want to do and experience in the future  — a visual representation of your goals, hopes, and dreams. You simply pin up pictures on a board with thumbtacks, and look at these images on a daily basis. The pictures show the things you want and are passionate about. These can include places where you want to travel, houses you would like to visit in Indonesia, a light blue 1968 Mustang that you want to drive off into the sunset, or perhaps a degree from Penn State World Campus to further your career. One of my personal pictures at Penn State is about becoming a member of Psi Chi — the honor society in Psychology. (I also wanted to write for Penn State, and I made that happen!) Pinterest is a great way to visualize what you want while you are on the go. You can download the app to your phone and easily search millions of photos.

What would you put on your vision or Pinterest board? Let us know by commenting below!

Speaking Multiple Languages Can Change the Way You Think

January 12th, 2015 by

Hallo! Wie geht’s? That’s German for “Hello! What’s up?”

I studied the German language for three semesters at Penn State and decided to explore the language because of that country’s growing economy. Upon further investigation of languages, I stumbled across information pertaining to how learning a new language can affect the brain.

What Happens When You Learn a New Language?

When learning a new language, you activate portions of the brain that help you think more efficiently. A new study found that a bilingual speaker may process information quicker than people who speak only one language. Bilinguals expressed a stronger ability to suppress irrelevant language-information —  their brains simply won’t absorb unnecessary information that will not help them progress in learning. This ability stems from a bilingual’s approach to everyday language-use and association. Simply, information from the language not currently in use must be ignored. Thus, you can expect life-long cerebral cortex changes in people who speak more than one language, such as processing information faster and more efficiently. This also means that you are building a stronger network of neurons in the brain that communicate more effectively. If you are bilingual, you are more likely to become trilingual, and it becomes easier to learn new languages.

Language Immersion

While it is important to study the material given to you and learn words to ace exams, it’s safe to say that using Pareto analysis in learning a language — that is, applying 20% of your brain power to memorize new words — can result in 80% of comprehension (Pareto’s Principle of 80/20 dictates that 80% of the results in any endeavor come from 20% of the effort). In English, 300 words comprise 65% of all written material. We use these words a lot, and it’s important to note that this applies to all languages.

It is also important to note that you do not have to travel to a country to learn a language. Many people who live abroad don’t necessarily learn a language as fast as people who are submerged in daily activities through distance learning or media. Living in a different country and really learning a language can be two completely different things. Virtual immersion has made it possible for millions to learn a new language. For example, the Internet has been a savior for some people. In any language, we can search for the top 300 words in that language via the web and speak fluently just by learning the top 300 words in that language. Spotify, a leading music search engine that enables you to download an unlimited amount of music every day for a small monthly fee, also gives us access to learning new languages. This enhances our own abilities and increases our confidence by learning before we travel to the destination where our language of choice is being spoken. It is important to know which words are important to retain and learn. Click here for Top 300 Words in English and to get more information about the language you are most interested in learning. The British Counsel reports that by 2020, two billion people will be taking online courses to learn the English language.

What I Did to Learn a New Language

In 2013, I met with my friend Keith every Wednesday for two to three hours at an Israeli café in Brooklyn to practice speaking the German language. At that time I was in my third semester of German while Keith was in his second. We agreed we would speak only in German. We slowly learned we weren’t the only ones who spoke the language: our fellow language learners in the café included the cash attendant and bus boy. Keith also had a mutual friend who spoke German, and we invited her to join us a few times. This practice brought me a lot of success in my courses.

How David Bailey, CEO of Spotnight, Learned French in 17 Days

David Bailey posted an answer on Quora, a collection of questions and answers from everyday people. David had already become fluent in Spanish (in addition to English as his native language), so French was his third language of choice.

How did he do it?

  • He traveled to France and stayed with a friend in Beaujolais. Being a Penn Stater at World Campus enables you to live anywhere in the world and explore its culture.
  • He set a daily routine. Every day for two hours he wrote and rewrote irregular and regular verbs in French.
  • He listened to a live-classroom language scenario where he would hear the instructor and students exchanging proper word use, pronunciation and proper word-order. Hearing a live classroom setting helped David learn twice as fast.
  • He ran for 45 to 60 minutes every day and listened to French music. Music is a great way to learn a new language.
  • He had lunch with people who did not speak at a slower rate of understanding.
  • He read children’s books in French. They are easy enough to understand (especially if you know how the stories go), and you can guess more accurately what a word means without looking it up in a dictionary.
  • He wrote essays about himself in French. His friend would check it for errors and tell him what he should work on.
  • He learned filler words, such as the English filler words “of,” “and,” “but,” “then,” “in fact.”

List of Penn State’s Foreign Language Courses

Penn State offers a variety of languages to learn, and most degree programs  require students to learn a new language. The foreign languages available through Penn State World Campus include:

  • Spanish
  • German
  • Italian
  • French

What are some ways you have learned a new language?

Writing Help For Graduate Students

January 5th, 2015 by

For many Penn State World Campus graduate students, the upcoming semester is shaping up to be a semester full of assignments that may require intensive writing skills. Penn State World Campus offers many graduate courses that focus on intensive writing skills, so if the idea of participating in a course like this makes you nervous, consider seeking help from the Graduate Writing Center.

Writing

Photo by Jenn Vargas via Flickr

The Graduate Writing Center can assist you with access to peer support coordinated with the Penn State English Department. Staff members are PhD candidates and Postdoctoral Teaching Fellows who can provide one-on-one help  with writing, rhetoric, and composition.

Appointments are available throughout the week.

Schedule a free distance consultation via Skype today.

The Graduate Writing Center helps with the following types of materials:

  • writing assignments
  • résumé writing
  • cover letters
  • dissertation proposals
  • publication reviews
  • professional biographies
  • conference proposals
  • curriculum vitae
  • job applications
  • personal statements

For more information, contact the Graduate Writing Center at gwc.psu@gmail.com.

 

Student Aid and Spring: It’s All About Planning Ahead

December 4th, 2014 by

Spring semester is just around the corner, and now is a critical time to be proactive in managing your student aid. In the world of aid, spring is about planning ahead: for the next semester, the next academic year, and life after you graduate. Here are three actions you can take in the coming months to put yourself in the best position for what comes next:

1. Allocate some of your spring aid for the summer

Many students plan to attend the summer semester only to find that they have already used all of their aid for the year. The academic year at Penn State begins with the fall semester and ends with the summer semester. Students who attend in the fall and spring are automatically awarded half of the year’s loans in the fall and half in the spring; this means you will have nothing left to borrow for the summer unless you utilize your fall and/or spring semester refund(s) for summer semester charges.

The best way to set aside some of your spring aid is to decrease your loans on eLion by clicking “Financial,” and then “Loan Decrease.” The funds that you do not use will be available upon request in the summer, which will help you to stay on your academic plan.

2. Minimize your debt

You may also want to consider decreasing your loan amounts so that you add as little as possible to the debt you will have to pay back after you graduate. If you attended in the fall semester and received a refund, consider whether you can take a smaller amount this semester. This has the added benefit of slowing your approach to your lifetime borrowing limit.

Ideally, you should only borrow (at most) the amount that is left on your bill after any grants and scholarships are applied. Though you are allowed to receive a refund to pay for non-billable expenses such as books, housing, and food, student aid is not meant to be a source of income.

3. Apply for next year’s aid

The 2015–16 FAFSA will be available on the FAFSA website in January 2015. Since you will need your 2014 taxes to submit the FAFSA, the first step is to file your taxes as early as possible. Continuing students should then submit the FAFSA by April 15, 2015, to ensure that they are considered for the maximum number of aid sources.

Spring is also the time to apply for World Campus scholarships and most outside scholarships for the upcoming academic year. The World Campus scholarship application will be available in the first week of January. If you will be looking for outside scholarships, you can prepare now by searching for opportunities and noting early deadlines.

Questions?

If you would like to speak with an aid counselor about your individual situation, please contact the Office of Student Aid for World Campus and Continuing Education at 814-867-4244 or studentaid@outreach.psu.edu.

How To Reach Your Goals Using Mindfulness

November 21st, 2014 by
Photo by Michael Bolognesi via Flickr.

Photo by Michael Bolognesi via Flickr.

“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.” 
—Thomas Jefferson

If you are struggling with reaching your personal goals, you may want to read more about how mindfulness can play a huge part in helping you set and achieve goals.

Mindfulness is a state of awareness and attention of present events and experience. It is also the openness and acceptance of the present events and experiences in your life right now.

Here’s some research showing how mindfulness can improve your ability to achieve goals. A study published in the International Journal of Well-being found that mindfulness affected personal goals, gave people a greater degree of independence, and increased their well-being. Compared to people who rarely practice mindfulness, those who practice it frequently report feeling less stressed, anxious, depressed, or impulsive. They also report being more positive and optimistic in life.

Beyond this study, I’ve found mindfulness to help me be present, happy, and relaxed, which in turn helps me be productive. And I believe it can also help you.

Why Living Mindfully Helps with Productivity

Being present can actually help you think about and work toward what you need to achieve now. For example, being present will enable you to get the resources you need now in order to build what you eventually would like to achieve in the future. If you are constantly in a “past tense” mindset, this may alter how you handle “present” situations, and you could miss an opportunity. This could mean an email, a phone conversation, or even an Instagram photo that could lead to success. If you are passionate about a specific goal, start putting energy toward it, no matter what it is.

When we think about our current thoughts and feelings, we are fully in our bodies and our minds. For example, when practicing yoga, we are present with each move we make — and when we are out of our body, we may be in an unpleasant experience, or an ongoing one — such as a bad day at work. We tend to “avoid” things that make us less present and less happy — thereby avoiding the present moment. Attending life in the present moment helps us to experience the presence of everything around us and directly connects us to ourselves where we can focus on what we need to do right now.

Accomplish Tasks by Living Life With Purpose & Acceptance

A full 40% of Americans feel that they live life without purpose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And without purpose, you may feel ungrounded, similar to a ship without an anchor. You are carried in whatever direction the wind blows, without taking full control of your life and the decisions you make in your life.

Acceptance — of all things in your life right now as it is — means to experience the present moment, even if it’s something we dislike or have not chosen. It means accepting your life experiences and history. This acceptance enables you to change what you do in your life now. Choices make us feel powerful, research shows, which is important to humans. Choice also gives us a sense of more control of our lives, which adds to our sense of purpose.

Stress: The Ultimate Goal Breaker

Stress can affect our brain in negative ways — especially our pre-frontal cortex, which is responsible for our highest cognitive abilities such as behavior, planning, decision making, problem-solving abilities, and concentration. Even the littlest bit of stress can completely alter the way you think. Prolonged stress can affect the brain cells (known as dendrites) that help us to form cohesive thoughts.

Stress can come from negative thoughts. Negative thoughts can destroy any idea, goal, or inspirational thought we have and completely halt us from taking action. For example, a part of our brain that uses the fear response to dangerous situations, such as a lion chasing us, is also used when we are stressed and are thinking negative thoughts. This part of our brain is called the amygdala. Our mind becomes completely narrow and focused on the negative thought and the emotion behind it.

How can we think of anything else when our brain is focused on a lion? We fail to look up at the sky and admire the sunset, a person who is there to help, or an opportunity that may arise, which we overlook. It’s all in your mindset — being open to your surroundings or getting stuck in a negative spiral (creating a limited number of options that you see).

Negative thoughts can do the opposite of a positive thought and completely distract us from the present moment. This is because we are automatically living in the past when we have a negative thought. You can practice mindfulness more easily when you are in touch with positive thoughts — ones that are bright and full of color — instead of unnecessary thoughts.

Now…What Do You Want To Accomplish?

Knowing what you want to achieve is the first step to success. This is similar to the ancient Greek aphorism “Know thyself,” which comes from the Delphic Maxims, said to be given by Greek god Apollo. (I am studying Greek mythology this semester!) Examining one’s own thoughts and actions puts a person outside his or her body as an observer. You are, essentially, the observer of yourself. For example, you are looking at yourself “from within.” This is beautifully stated by the philosopher Lao Tzu, who said, “He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.”

Albert Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

If you judge your abilities before you have experienced mindfulness and presence, you are not giving yourself a chance.

I will end with the origin of the light bulb. It took Edison thousands of errors before he used the right amount of concentrations and materials to produce the light bulb. It may take some error before succeeding. Although, as we can see, the rewards are truly abundant! Perseverance in the face of obstacles and hardship will help you reach your goals. Negative thoughts will appear in your mind from time to time — it happens to the best of us. But if you are determined to live in the present moment, it will become easier and easier. I can say so — I’ve been practicing it for years.

What are some goals you would like to achieve, using mindfulness?

Novel Idea: What Reading Does For the Mind

November 5th, 2014 by

Do you have friends or family members who cannot put a book down, no matter what? Well, all I have to say is: Good. The Pew Research Center reported earlier this year that close to a quarter of American adults had not read a single book in the past year. This number has tripled since 1978. And all I have to say to that is: Well, should you be reading? Yes.

A novel can do a lot for you; it can relieve stress, increase brain power, help you improve emotional intelligence, and maybe even help you sleep better.

Reduce Stress After 6 Minutes of Turning Pages

Reading is one of the most effective ways to combat stress. Reading can reduce stress levels by 68%, according to Dr. David Lewis of the University of Sussex. It doesn’t necessarily matter what book you are reading, as long as you immerse yourself in it. This is because you are escaping reality for a little bit and going into the author’s reality. You enter an altered state of consciousness.

Boost Your Brain

You can become more positive by reading a good-spirited novel. Why? Well, as research suggests, reading a book can greatly benefit the cognitive processes in your brain. The Journal of Neurology reported that mentally stimulating activities such as reading help to slow memory loss as you get older, and people who read are capable of processing things 48% faster than those who did not read or were not involved with activities that promoted mental stimulation.

Get More Sleep

I am sure we have all experienced the “head to book” feeling and trying to stop ourselves from falling asleep. It is better to read with dim light at night, since it signals the brain that we are approaching sleep. The Mayo Clinic suggests creating a low-light environment and reading a book to help transition yourself to sleep. Dim lighting helps balance the circadian rhythms or our “internal clocks” that promote proper sleep and wake cycles.

Understand and Improve Emotions

In a study published in Plos One, researchers found that reading fiction helps us to be more aware of people’s feelings, thereby increasing empathy. This means you can gain more of the ability to understand and “feel” what others may be “feeling.”

Besides the pure excitement that comes with using your imagination while reading fiction, reading nonfiction has its benefits, too. Learning means expanding the mind, which means creating new neural pathways. Also, self-help books have been linked with reducing depression. The more we learn and remember, the easier it will be to ace exams and remember content under pressure. In addition, studies have shown that if you read aloud, you are able to retain information easier than reading silently. You may choose to incorporate both at different times for different levels of stimulation.

What are you waiting for? Pull out a book and start reading!

If you’re looking for suggestions, I recommend the The New York Times’ Best Sellers list.

Know What You’re Paying in Student Loan Fees

October 30th, 2014 by

If you borrow Federal Direct Stafford or PLUS Loans on the way to your degree, a portion of the loans will be taken off the top as an “origination fee.”  Using federal loans means you’ll be paying these fees — so it’s good to know the basics of how they work and how recent changes affect your costs.

What Is an Origination Fee?

Origination fees are collected by the federal government to help pay for the administration of the Federal Direct Student Loan Program. Each semester, origination fees will be removed from the total loan amount (gross amount) that you borrow. As a result, the amount of loan money that reaches your bill (the net amount) will be less than the amount that you actually borrow and pay back over time.

Current Fees

On October 1, 2014, the fees increased slightly as result of the continuing effects of the Budget Control Act of 2011, the law that caused budget cuts known as “the sequester.” The law effectively maintains a cut to student loan funding, in part by adjusting loan fees. The increased fees apply to new loans disbursed on or after October 1, 2014, through September 30, 2015.

The chart below shows the old Direct Loan origination fee rates, the new rates, and some examples of how those rates translate into dollars.

Direct Loan Fees

Loan Type

Impacted Loans

Loan Fee Percent

Fee Example

Stafford (Subsidized and Unsubsidized)

First disbursed on or after
December 1, 2013, and
before October 1, 2014

1.072

$58.96 on a
$5,500 loan

First disbursed on or after
October 1, 2014 and before
October 1, 2015

1.073

$59.01 on a
$5,500 loan

PLUS (Parent and Grad/Prof Student)

First disbursed on or after
December 1, 2013, and
before October 1, 2014

4.288

$428.80 on a
$10,000 loan

First disbursed on or after
October 1, 2014, and
before October 1, 2015

4.292

$429.20 on a
$10,000 loan

For more information, see the Office of Student Aid website.

The Big Picture

Origination fees can add up over time, especially if you borrow large amounts. For example, if you were to borrow $37,000 in Stafford Loans at the current origination fee rate, you would pay $397.01 in fees over the course of your degree.

The fees have increased for the past four years and may increase again next year.

Monitoring Your Loan Fees

If you are a Penn State student and would like to learn how much you have paid and will pay for origination fees, you can take the following steps:

  1. View your cumulative debt in eLion by selecting Financial > Loan Debt Summary. High debt means that you have paid more in fees and will pay more in interest.
  2. Check how much you are paying in origination fees this semester. View the gross amount of your loans in eLion by selecting Financial > Student Aid Summary > Academic Year > Continue > View Aid. Then compare this to the net amounts on your semester bill by selecting Financial > Bursar Tuition Bills > This Semester > View/Pay Bill or View Previous Bills.

If you’re not a Penn State student, contact your college’s office of student aid to learn how you can monitor your fees.

How to Minimize Your Loan Fees

The only way to decrease the amount you pay in Direct Loan origination fees is to borrow less. If you’re a Penn State student, you can decrease your loans to the minimum you need by visiting eLion and selecting Financial > Loan Decrease. If you’re a student at a different university, contact your student aid office for assistance with decreasing loans. And if you are concerned about these fees or other aspects of student aid policy and want to enact change, you can always contact your local congressional representatives.

Questions?

If you would like to speak with an aid counselor about your individual situation, please contact us at 814-867-4244 or studentaid@outreach.psu.edu.

Advice on Conquering the Personal Statement

October 20th, 2014 by
Rebecca Marcum, admissions counselor and graduate student

Rebecca Marcum, admissions counselor and graduate student

By Rebecca Marcum, Penn State World Campus admissions counselor and graduate student

Writing a personal statement is a very important part of the graduate program application process, but it can be the most intimidating part as well.

Trust me — I know.

I’ve been there, too.

Before applying to Penn State World Campus’s higher education master’s degree program (where I’m slowly but surely making progress toward my M.Ed.), I took a year to write my personal statement.

I won’t shower you with details, but that year was littered with personal upheavals and professional transitions. I wrote in fits and bursts, often stopping and walking away for weeks or months at a time. I had to re-think my priorities, my goals, and my future.

With all of these changes occurring, I found many reasons to procrastinate. “I’m just going to wait until things quiet down,” I kept telling myself, breathing a sigh of relief that I had managed to push the personal statement off a little further.

But then the morning came when I realized that I couldn’t let myself keep making excuses. In the months and months that I had been working on my personal statement, it had somehow mutated into this big, hulking monster, constantly looming in the back of my mind. It was time to sit down and confront the beast – all 2 double-spaced pages of it.

I am now here to tell you that it is possible to face the personal statement and emerge victorious! Here are a few tips that I discovered can help to ease the stress of writing a personal statement; I now also use these tips when I speak with prospective World Campus graduate students in my position as an admissions counselor:

Take a deep breath

Remember that personal statements center on you: your academic, professional, and personal background and aspirations. Think about your career goals and be prepared to explain not only why you wish to enter or advance in this field of work, but also what you hope to contribute to the field. With these thoughts in mind, ask yourself these questions and let them guide your writing: Why are you applying to this program? What will you bring to this program? Where do you want this program to take you? These questions might seem daunting, but don’t be afraid! After all, who’s a bigger expert on you than you are?

Be clear, relevant, concise, and precise

Make sure you answer all the questions the prompt asks in succinct, to-the-point language. Most statements of purpose limit you to 1 to 2 typed pages or 500 words. This doesn’t allow much room for lengthy reflections about your educational philosophy, nor does it give you time to discuss your love of French cooking or how you were the captain of your college’s ultimate Frisbee team. Each word you write must be essential and serve to aid your argument and give your statement a feeling of cohesion. Lastly – and most importantly — make sure you proofread everything!

Don’t forget to be yourself

You are your biggest advocate, so don’t sell yourself short by trying to be someone you’re not. Your personality, your experiences, and your thoughts (yes, including your doubts!) make you a unique person and an intriguing applicant. Being succinct doesn’t mean erasing your personality from the statement.

Ask for help

Have a question about the prompt or about the program? Don’t be afraid to contact the academic department to ask for clarification. Doing this will show the program that you have put time and thought into what you are preparing to say, and that you are interested and invested enough to do some additional digging.

Find a second opinion

Ask someone you trust and respect to read over your statement, once you have a working rough draft. Not only will this person catch any typos or grammatical errors you might have made, he or she will also give you a new perspective. Are you really answering the program’s questions to the best of your ability? Is your statement well written and well argued, or is there room for improvement?

Just remember that, in the end, this is your statement; don’t let it become someone else’s words written in your name!

Proofread once more…or twice more…or…

Just as you wouldn’t want to submit a cover letter or résumé to your dream job only to discover you misspelled the hiring manager’s name, you shouldn’t submit a personal statement that contains careless mistakes. This is a time to slow down, turn on spellcheck, pull out your dictionary and thesaurus, uncap your red pen, call in a second pair of eyes (if you haven’t already). Be prepared to look over your essay multiple times with a critical eye and a fine-toothed comb before you hit “Submit”!

In the end, don’t forget that each program is different and so each statement of purpose is different as well. And if you transform the personal statement into a fearsome, loathsome beast (like I did), remember this: you are more scared of it than it is of you. If you follow the tips above, however, you should be well equipped to face the personal statement – and win!

Happy writing!

Now it’s your turn. What comments or questions do you have? And for those of you who have successfully written your own statements of purpose, what other tips can you provide to eager grad-students-to-be?