College applications. Financial aid deadlines. Changing rules and information. It can definitely be overwhelming at times for any Iowa student looking to prepare for college. But with Virtual College Coaching, students and families can receive fast, easy assistance for their tough questions about college readiness and stay on track for important timelines and next steps.

Virtual College Coaching is an innovative practice that provides Iowa students and parents with text messaging and one-on-one assistance with important college preparation topics, such as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), scholarships, upcoming deadlines, among others.

Department of Education team member, Liz Yaddof, who is the Virtual College Coaching coordinator in the Bureau of Iowa College Aid, shares how the program helps students prepare for postsecondary success.

With significant changes to the 2024-25 Free Application for Federal Student Aid, students and families may have a lot of questions about applying for financial aid. How can Virtual College Coaching help and who is eligible to sign up for coaching assistance?

Virtual College Coaching is a great resource for students and families as they navigate their way through the college-going process. The main component of Virtual College Coaching is a texting campaign that provides individualized messages for Iowa high school students in grades 9-12, college students and parents. Through Virtual College Coaching, we can send out alerts on FAFSA, upcoming scholarships, important deadlines, next steps and how we can help with the process.

We know that the rollout of the updated FAFSA application has brought in more questions, and we’re here to help guide students and families with the process. Data show that completing the FAFSA is one of the key indicators of enrollment at the postsecondary level, so it remains a top priority for our college coaches to assist in this process.  

Through Virtual College Coaching, our text messages and alerts are tailored for each of our audiences. Students will receive alerts based on their grade level, and parents will receive messages that are slightly different from what students receive. Through this customization, we can ensure that students and their families are receiving important and relevant information on financial aid for college.

As you mentioned, Virtual College Coaching isn’t just for high school students. How does it assist students attending college and other postsecondary programs?

Yes! Iowa college students can also benefit from the Virtual College Coaching and can receive assistance throughout their entire college career. Anyone can sign up to receive assistance, but many participants are recipients of the Last Dollar Scholarship program.

Along with help with completing the FAFSA and scholarship applications, they receive helpful tips on how to navigate college in general, what student resources are available on their campuses and where to find things like mental health counseling or tutoring assistance.

Virtual College Coaching was launched in 2019 and has seen growth each year. How many Iowa students are participating in the program?

Currently, we have 365 Iowa high school students signed up for the texting program. Approximately 16,500 college students are participating in Virtual College Coaching. Additionally, a movement to include middle school students is also starting to slowly grow through our GEAR UP Iowa program.

Our goal is to help set up Iowa students for success at the postsecondary level. With timely text messages and assistance, we can ensure students are staying on top of important information.

Sometimes, a student or parent may need one-on-one assistance when applying for financial aid. How does Virtual College Coaching address specific, individualized questions?

Our texting program isn’t run by AI or a bot, and it isn’t just about the Department sending out blanket messages. Students and families can also text in their specific questions on FAFSA, scholarships and deadlines, among other things, to prepare for college. We have three virtual college coaches who are monitoring incoming messages and aim to respond to students and parents within 24-48 hours.

Additionally, our coaches are available for virtual appointments to assist with questions about college. Students and families who have questions on the college-going process, including applying for college and financial aid, are welcome to set up an appointment with a college coach. The coaches can assist students statewide and typically have some night and weekend availability to fit the needs of working families.

Our coaches also attend several FAFSA completion events at schools across the state and provide in-person assistance during those events.

How can students and families sign up for Virtual College Coaching?

It’s easy to sign up for Virtual College Coaching! Visit the Department’s website and answer a few questions to sign up. We would love to see even more students and families join in our texting and virtual coaching program.