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Professional Confessional

A blog providing tips and resources for life after college


Navigating Student Loan Repayment

Tom BenzaStudent Financial Aid Expert Contributor – Tom Benza, Associate Director

Student loans are an important factor to consider when creating and managing a budget. Knowledge is power. Find out how much you owe (and the monthly payment), when you need to start repaying the loans, and what options you have for repayment (e.g. IBR – Income Based Repayment).

Here are 5 steps to take when entering student loan repayment:

Step 1: Student Award History Report. Stop by the Student Financial Aid office located in Room 4 of Reynolda Hall and request a copy of your Student Award History Report from the front desk counselor. This report details each grant, scholarship, work-study, and loan awarded to you while at Wake Forest. The report also includes contact information for Federal Stafford and Perkins loans, WFU administered student loans like the Denmark, Wallace, and Hutchins loans, and the Need-Based Private loan. If you have any questions about your award history, you can schedule an appointment with a financial aid counselor.

Step 2: Log into NSLDS*.  The National Student Loan Data System, is the Department of Education’s central database for student aid.  NSLDS receives data from schools, guarantee agencies, the Direct Loan program, and the Department of ED programs. NSLDS Student Access provides a centralized, integrated view of Title IV loans and grants so that recipients of Title IV federal aid can access and inquire about their Title IV loans and/or grant data. This site will provide information on your federal loan balance, loan interest rates, and loan grace periods (grace periods vary from 1, 6, or 9 months after graduation depending on the loan).  

Step 3: Know your loan servicer. All federal Stafford loans are awarded through the Department of Education’s Direct Loan program, but when the loan enters repayment, Direct Loans uses loan servicers to administer repayment. Examples of loan servicers are Sallie Mae, Great Lakes, Fed Loan Services, etc. For more information on federal loan servicers, check out this site. For information on WFU administered loans such as Perkins, Denmark, Wallace, Hutchins, review your Student Award History report or contact Student Financial Aid: finaid@nullwfu.edu

Step 4: Understand Repayment Options: There are a myriad of repayment options available to federal student loan borrowers. This Federal Student Aid site on repayment gives a comprehensive breakdown of federal repayment plans as well as a good estimator to help calculate what your monthly repayments would be under different plans. If you’re interested in loan consolidation to take advantage of certain income based repayment plans or Public Service Loan Forgiveness, visit the Federal Direct Loan Consolidation site. 

Step 5: Communicate with your loan servicer. If you have a problem making your payments, do not ignore the problem. One of the biggest mistakes a student can make is not addressing repayment head on.  Federal student loans are flexible and there may be financial hardship programs that can help a student get through a rough patch. Ignoring mail or emails from your loan servicer is a recipe for disaster. The Student Financial Aid office can assist students with repayment questions after the student graduates. If you’re more comfortable speaking with a financial aid counselor you worked with while at Wake, reach out to the counselor with your questions.

Test your student loan knowledge and win “lunch on us” with Chiptole gift card!

How to participate: 

1. Register at http://www.cashcourse.org/. 

2. Participate in the quiz of the week. 

Quizzes are located at the bottom of the home page under Resources. 

Quiz schedule:  April 13-19: Test Your Student Loan IQ


*The National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) is the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED’s) central database for student aid. NSLDS receives data from schools, guaranty agencies, the Direct Loan program, and other Department of ED programs. NSLDS Student Access provides a centralized, integrated view of Title IV loans and grants so that recipients of Title IV Aid can access and inquire about their Title IV loans and/or grant data.

Budgeting Your Expenses

Once you track your spending habits, you’ll be prepared to create a budget. Also, it provides clarity on your needs versus your wants. It is important to distinguish the two categories. Needs are rent, meals, and electricity (e.g. utilities). Wants are luxuries such as lunch at Chipotle. Are you spending too much on the wants or got-to-haves?

Whether living at home or on your own, a budget will help you stay on track. First, you need to know your monthly net income (amount received after taxes and deductions), scholarship or stipend amount. Second, think about your expected monthly expenses. For example, rent…This is a fixed expense; it doesn’t vary from month to month. Some expenses fluctuate, like groceries. These are called variable expenses. Third, research areas where you can spend less such as having a roommate to share the cost of rent, and taking your lunch to work as opposed to eating out. Buying lunch everyday can quickly add up, so can a Starbucks latte in the morning.

Here are 4 budgeting resources to help you stay on track:

1. CashCourse—A free online financial resource for Wake Forest students. Learn to manage money and financial literacy through a variety of fun interactive tools such as videos, calculators, and worksheets. Manage your budget using the budget wizard by tracking your expenses. The information will help you make informed financial decisions throughout your college years and into your professional life. Available when you want to manage your money!

2. Mint—See all your balances and transactions together, on the web or your phone. Mint automatically pulls all your financial information into one place, so you can finally get the entire picture. Mint automatically updates and categorizes your information, and suggests ways to help you save. Mint sends automatic alerts—like bill reminders—to your mobile phone or email. Set a budget and create a plan to reach your personal financial goals. You can track your progress online or stay up-to-date with monthly emails.

3. Bank RateA comprehensive, objective financial literacy site providing information on financial news, money management and calculators for budgeting.

Personal Finance—Budgeting Calculator

Student Loans—Student Loan Calculator

4. Hands on BankingAccess free online financial courses that are self-paced with information and tools, such as calculators, glossary, worksheets, money management tips, and helpful links. The program provides the essentials of financial education, real-world skills, and knowledge through interactive lessons based on age appropriate groups.

*Many financial institutions provide their own mobile apps for banking-on-the-go for either checking your account or watching your monthly budget/spending plan.

Not sure how to plan or budget for student loan repayment after graduation?

Visit next week for expert advice from Tom Benza, Associate Director of Student Financial Aid.


Tracking Your Spending Habits

Tracking your spending habits may seem like a daunting task. However, it is the first step in knowing where and how much you are spending daily, weekly and monthly. I challenge you to experiment for a week. You will be surprised on what and how much you spend your money. It is important to track every purchase even the small ones such as a pack of gum.

Here are 3 simple steps to follow:

1.  Save it. Keep your receipts. They will help you remember what you purchased from day to day. They will be useful references when tracking your purchases. Place the receipts into a folder, envelope or shoebox.

2.  Track it. Write down your purchases in a journal or log. Do not include your fixed expenses such as rent. If you prefer, input your expenses into a spreadsheet or online worksheet. Try Wells Fargo’s My Money Journal as a guide. Create your own using Excel.

3.  Calculate it. You want to review what you have spent each day. It is important to calculate your expenses. Total your expenditures at the end of  each day and week for a 7-day total.

What next? Come back next week for budgeting tips.

Celebrating National Financial Literacy Month

Are you fiscally fit? Do you know how much money you spend each week or month? Are you aware of your budget? Do you have a budget? How are you going to repay student loans?

It is wise to start thinking about tracking spending, creating a budget, and preparing for student loan repayment now. You may be surprised by how you easily could save or pay off debt with the money you’re spending.

Be frugal. It doesn’t mean you have to be tight with your money. Be intentional with your spending. Do you really need that Venti Cinnamon Dolce Latte (my favorite) from Starbucks? Probably not.

Be creative. Can you recreate your favorite coffees or teas at home for a fraction of the cost? You will save approximately 80% of your money. Instead of spending >$5.00 for a beverage, save $4 and spend only $1. Small purchases add up to a lot saved.

Experiment for a week. Track everything you purchase. Yes, even write down the pack of gum bought at the convenience store. You will find that you may be spending money freely without giving it much thought. Once you start tracking, you’ll notice a shift in how you make decisions on purchases. You will start asking yourself, “Do I really need that pack of gum?”

Don’t know where to start? Luckily, WFU offers CashCourse, a free and unbiased reallife money guide. Get started now, register for a free account. Plus, participate in the weekly finacial literacy quizzes to test your knowledge and a chance to win “lunch on us” with a Chipotle gift card!  At the end of april you will be entered to win a $25 VISA gift card.

How to participate:

1. Register at http://www.cashcourse.org/. 

2. Participate in the quiz of the week.  Quizzes are located at the bottom of the home page under Resources.  Quiz schedule: 

April 6-12:  What’s Your Budgeting IQ? 

April 13-19: Test Your Student Loan IQ 

April 20-26:  Save or Splurge? 

April 27-May 5:  What’s Your Credit Score IQ?

Here’s what you get with CashCourse:

  • A Budget Wizard to build your own monthly budget with your real income and expenses
  • Videos offering quick lessons on financial basics
  • Calculators to help you demystify your debt or set a savings goal
  • Worksheets to help you organize your life, build a budget, and master your student aid
  • Articles on real issues you’re dealing with now, as well as topics to prepare for your future
  • A Financial Experts Wall, where you can submit questions to CashCourse experts
  • Quizzes and courses to test what you know and show you where to go for more information

Want more? Follow the blog for tips on how to become more fiscally fit and build your financial muscle.

Prepare for the Interview

Last week, you attended the career fair and connected with a few key employers. After the fair, you followed up (within 24-48 hours; I hope) by thanking them for their time and expertise, and sharing your interest in and qualifications for their company. You spoke with them by phone or during an information session. You discover they were impressed with you and your skill set. You receive an invitation to interview. You are excited, yet nervous. (Gulp) Now what do you do? How do you prepare for an interview?

Watch the video to find out how best to prepare for an interview.

For detailed information, read further…

Before the interview:

1) Research the company’s website. Knowing the employer thoroughly will help set you apart during the interview process. In addition to reviewing the employer’s website, useful information can be found by searching recent news and articles of the organization from one of our recommended Career Exploration Websites such as Glassdoor or Hoover’s Online and Business Source Complete, available through the ZSR Library’s online databases.

2) Prepare…

  • Responses to questions they may ask you during the interview. Employers will ask general questions and behavioral questions.
  • Questions you want to ask the company about the position and information not readily available on the company website or career exploration sites.

3) Practice interviewing…ask friends, OPCD counselors, and use mock interviews to practice. Gather feedback on your content and delivery. Another resource is interview stream – an online format for interview practice.

During the interview:

1) Be…

  • Early. Arrive 10-15 minutes before the scheduled interview time.
  • Professional. Appearance is important. It is best to be conservative than too casual. Offer a firm handshake when introducing yourself. An initial judgment to hire you will be made within the first 30 seconds of meeting you.
  • Confident and relaxed. You don’t want to appear fidgety and nervous.
  • Smile. Show interest and enthusiasm for the position and company.

2) Answer questions. Ask for clarification if needed. You can request a few seconds to gather your thoughts before answering a question.

3) Ask questions related to the position and company. Remember, don’t ask questions when answers can be found on their website unless you are seeking clarification.

After the interview:

1) Close the interview with a firm handshake.

2) Ask about the timeline for hiring a candidate.

3) Follow up. Send a thank you letter to everyone who interviewed you expressing interest in the position, connecting a few specifics of the conversation, and how you make a good fit and meet qualifications they seek in a candidate.

Follow Up with Your Connections

Send a thank you note to all employers whom you met at the career fair within 24-48 hours. It could be the difference between receiving a job or internship interview or not. If you don’t land an interview, you made an important connection…a bridge to life after college. These connections may become future references, networking connections, or a potential hiring manager. As a Wake Forest recruiter once stated, “It is an unbelievably small world and you never know when paths will cross again, so it is wise to build instead of overlook or burn bridges.”

Here are a few tips to writing a thank you note:

  1. Connect…to what you talked about during your conversation at the career fair. Reminding the employer of specific details from the conversation shows your interest in the position and your eagerness to learn. Reiterate your interest in the company and how your skills align with company goals. If you attended an employer info session, mention it and something you learned from attending.
  2. Proofread…your note. Employers have found spelling and grammatical errors which can hinder a candidate in the process.
  3. Forget something? Include your contact information and attach your resume. Be sure your resume is up-to-date and highlights skills aligned with what they are seeking.
  4. Timely…send the note within 24-48 hours. This will set you apart from the competition.

You want to be sure they remember you. You don’t want to be the candidate who didn’t follow up with a thank you note. You can send an e-mail thank you note to help meet the 24-48 hours deadline. However, follow it up with a more detailed handwritten or typed note (always sign the letter). Here are a few sample thank you notes.

Finally, this type of correspondence shows professionalism and maturity; it is not something everyone does, and you may be surprised at the responsiveness from employers. This helps build your brand and reputation.

Present Yourself with Poise

Before going to the career fair, prepare an elevator pitch for introducing yourself to company representatives. You have only minutes (if not seconds) to make a positive impression. You want to be able to answer the question (even if they don’t ask it; they will be thinking it) – Why should we hire you?

Here are five tips for developing and delivering your pitch:

1) Research – Learn more about the companies you want to meet at the fair. Search the companies and identify the following: Current initiatives (What is the company doing?); Industry (What is happening in the industry?); Business lines (What are some of their business lines?); Location (Be familiar with where the headquarters and other offices are located.); and Skills (Review current job postings for desired skills and qualifications. How do you align with whom they are seeking?) Also, you want to determine their values and how your values and skills align with the company.

2) Outline – Create an outline of key points you want to hit when delivering your pitch. Focus on your educational, professional, and personal accomplishments and how they align with the company’s goals. How are you going to help them reach their goals? Know your skills, interests, qualifications, and goals. Be able to articulate them in 1-2 minutes. Use this worksheet as a guide to develop your pitch.

3) Practice – Practice, practice, and practice some more. It will help you remember what you want to say; however, don’t memorize. You don’t want to sound like a robot spouting out data. You want to be natural. Deliver your pitch in a mirror and to a friend. Ask for feedback. Remember… Smile and make eye contact.

4) Prepare – Write down questions specific to the industry and the company’s work. Not only do you want to sell your skills and qualifications; you want to discover more about the company. Develop a list of questions to ask (if time allows). Don’t ask questions when you can find the answers on their website unless you need clarification. It will be apparent you have not done your homework. You want to demonstrate initiative, preparedness, and interest in their company.

5) Deliver – Approach the company’s table with a smile and exude confidence by making direct eye contact. Speak clearly. Introduce yourself with a firm handshake. Use the representative’s name during the conversation to build rapport. If the representative is speaking with another student, patiently wait to be acknowledged; speak with other students; or visit another employer and come back later. At the end of the conversation, always thank the representative, and shake his/her hand before exiting.

Make the Most of the Career Fair

Whether you are a student exploring possible career options, or looking for your next internship or full-time job, the career fair is a great opportunity for all students! It is only open to current students of the University, and you will get to: network with other career fair attendees, learn to answer the question, “Tell me about yourself,” learn about a myriad of career industries, and get comfortable attending career fairs and talking with recruiters.

Thinking about attending the career fair?

Check out this short video for tips to help you make the most of the career fair:

To learn more, read further for details and resources to help you prepare and make the most of your experience.

1. Dig for Info. Before you go, researching organizations of interest is a great way to strategize which representatives you may want to talk to, and you will have a point of reference for not only what the company does, but what values are of interest to them, and how your skill set may connect to a position there.

2. Meet & Greet. Arrive early, stay positive, and smile! The Career fair is an event that allows you to meet different company reps – many of which happen to be WFU alumni – and network. Remember, networking is not about whether or not that person can give you a job or lead on the spot, but about the information you can gather to build your knowledge! Check out the networking and resume pages for more information about how to effectively market yourself on paper and out loud. You can also stop by the office for resume review hours Monday – Thursday between 1:00 – 4:00 pm.

3. Dress the Part. First impressions are critical – and often begin with what you are wearing! Remember, you are marketing a product (you!) and at the career fair, you want to be memorable – in a good way. Your outfit should be wrinkle and stain free, and you don’t want to wear too many accessories. Bring a portfolio or folder to jot down notes and collect business cards. While we aren’t saying that you wear will get you the job, it will definitely give you a competitive edge. Here are a few examples of what to wear.

4. Say “Thank You.” For each employer that you meet, be sure to ask for a business card or jot down their contact information in your portfolio! Sending a follow-up thank you note (via email is fine) within 24-48 hours is clutch! This will not only show gratitude for them taking the time to talk with you, but will allow you to reference specific details from your conversation and further cement a lasting impression.

Wake on Break Tips – Part 2

Cheryl HicksOPCD Expert Contributor – Cheryl Hicks, Assistant Director of Career Education and Coaching

Can you see it? The “Final Exam” finish line! Soon you will be kicking back and enjoying the fruits of your fall semester labor. But don’t forget spring semester is approaching and with that comes deadlines for major declarations and internship/job applications. The following tips are a continuation of last week’s post on how to maximize your winter break restoration:

1. Digital Discovery. The OPCD home page houses a very comprehensive list of websites to aid your search for an internship or a full-time job.

a. For those seeking to explore a specific career field, occupation, or industry, I highly suggest researching the sites Vault and O*Net. Wake Forest has a subscription to Vault, therefore, students should accessing this site through the OPCD portal to create a login profile as a new user.

b. Researching companies will provide information on employers you are considering and contribute to your polished appearance when asked the standard interview question “What do you know about our company?” The Wake Forest ZSR Library website has databases for researching companies that can be as detailed or quick-fact giving as you like. Access these databases through the library site – Mergent Intellect and CareerSearch.

2. Networking. One of your best sources of networking is literally sitting around the dinner table with you. Have a conversation with Uncle Joe, Aunt Phyllis, Cousin Peter, Mom, Dad, and the list goes on of all the endless connections – do not negate the value of those conversations! Tap into those connections as you pass the stuffing, clear the dishes, or watch a traditional sporting event. Over 80% of jobs are not posted online. The power of meeting people, making connections, and opening your network will prove to be your best asset in obtaining a position.

a. LinkedIn is a great resource to connect with alumni and millions of professionals worldwide all in the interest of networking. Use this downtime to create or update your profile and begin making The OPCD created a model profile as an example that can be used as a guide to creating your own profile. Need a professional-looking photo of yourself? Please stop by the OPCD and take advantage of the LinkedIn photo booth – free, quick and easy!

b. Informational interviews and job shadowing are great opportunities during the break to make connections and explore different career paths. Ask your dad, grandmother, or anyone you know who can assist in creating an opportunity for you to receive a first-hand look into your career interest.

3. LAMP List*. Overwhelmed with which companies to begin contacting first? Make a list (“L”) of organizations for which you’d like to work and prioritize them according to alumni (“A”) that work there, your motivation (“M”) to pursue that company, and their priority (“P”) to hire. Having a better idea of where to begin will make starting this commitment less daunting. *The LAMP List concept is an excerpt from The 2-Hour Job Search by Steve Dalton.

Reflecting on the past two weeks of posted tips and resources, consider making a personal commitment to tackle at least two goals with regard to your career development. You will return to school with refreshed momentum in researching opportunities; and a step ahead of related tasks that lay before you. However, you are not alone. The OPCD is here to offer career search tools that transcend long after the holiday season.







Wake on Break Checklist – Part 1

Cheryl HicksOPCD Expert Contributor – Cheryl Hicks, Assistant Director of Career Education and Coaching

We get it. It’s your vacation – time to kick back, indulge in holiday celebrations and partake in uninterrupted snoozing. But, fortunately, opportunity never sleeps which means there are ongoing possibilities to land that internship or job in the “near” future. Wake On Break was a program recently presented by the Office of Personal & Career Development (OPCD) for students making a commitment over the winter break to utilize tools and resources in creating a self-development plan for career search preparation.

The following is a checklist of ways to be career prep productive in this time of loll and lounging:

  1. For those trying to decide which major to choose or which career path to consider, then taking a short assessment test may prove to be helpful. Assessment test results can give a depiction of where your interests lie, without giving a decision of exactly what to do. The results are more like “food for thought”, if you will.   Consider these two sites for quick, easy, and free assessment tests – O*Net and Authentic Happiness. The tests found on both sites give perspective to those agonizing questions surrounding “What would be a good fit for me?”!
  2. It is a far-gone conclusion that you cannot do much without a polished resume.   If you haven’t started one, now is a good time. If you do have a resume, now is a good time to ensure it is in pristine condition. The OPCD website has many resume templates created in Microsoft Word for easy manipulation. While you are home, ask someone to give you sound feedback after reviewing your resume. When you return to Wake Forest, visit the OPCD during resume review hours (Mon. – Thurs., 1:00pm – 4:00pm) for a quick, professional review of a document that will play an important role in opening doors.
  3. One of the most valuable resources for Wake Forest students is access to DeaconSource. Any company or organization actively recruiting Wake Forest students will most likely post their opportunities on DeaconSource – looking for any major, any year. Use this time to update your profile with recent career interests, which will help to ensure you receive e-mail notifications of those organizations recruiting on campus.

This should start you in the right direction. Check back next week for more tips on career and company exploration, networking, and how to attack your list of employers. Happy Holidays!