Back to School Shopping: How to Make Educated Choices

Posted by Ne[x]t on 08.03.15

If you’ve got school-age kids, you’ll likely be doing a bit of shopping in these next few weeks – and not just for inexpensive notebooks and pencils, but big-ticket items such as computers and other electronics. How much will it cost to prepare your kids for their first day? The average family spends roughly $550 on back-to-school items – no small sum, particularly if you’re also paying down debt and saving for the future. Before spending a penny, know what you need and how to get the best deal.

Personal computers, laptops, printers, cell phones, and many other electronic devices are quickly becoming “required” school items. Be discerning though – your child may think a $300 music player is a necessary classroom item, but do you? List what you believe your child really needs, then log onto individual retailer’s websites or online superstores to compare prices and features. After you’ve located the best deal on exactly what you want, either purchase from the site (downside: paying for shipping) or go to the store and pick it up (downside: paying for gas).

  • Tip: Avoid being dazzled by fancy features. Many people overpay for extras they never use.

Clothes and accessories
While you may be content with discount brands, your kids may be yearning for designer labels, especially if they’re teenagers. If you can afford to splurge on trendy jeans or shoes to make your child happy, go ahead and indulge – but also discuss advertising, peer pressure, and the value of the dollar. This is a terrific learning opportunity.

  • Tip: If your kids insist on luxury, consider buying the basics and have them contribute their summer income or allowance for the more extravagant items.

School supplies
Many schools, especially at the elementary and middle school level, expect parents to purchase classroom supplies. In fact, your child’s teacher may have already sent you a long and detailed shopping list. Before you buy it all, however, contact the school to make sure it has been updated for the most current curriculum.

  • Tip: Buying things like binders, glue, and erasers in bulk can save you a lot of money. If you don’t have multiple children, consider going in on these purchases with another family.

Don’t forget that you can earn DOUBLE ScoreCard Reward points on back to school items through August 31*.

Saving money now – and throughout the school year – couldn’t be smarter!

Source: BALANCE Financial Fitness

Unveiling the New JA Discovery Center

Posted by Ne[x]t on 10.03.13

On August 20th, Junior Achievement of Georgia officially unveiled the new Chick-fil-A Foundation Discovery Center on the mezzanine level of the Georgia World Congress Center’s Building C. In partnership with Atlanta Public Schools, DeKalb County Schools, Fulton County Schools and Marietta City Schools, the experience will serve more than 30,000 middle school students annually. The new facility includes two interactive venues, JA BizTown and JA Finance Park. We recently had a chance to speak with Junior Achievement of Georgia President, Jack Harris, as well as Executive Director of the Chick-fil-A Foundation, Rodney Bullard, about the new center.

i[x] When and how did the idea of building a Discovery Center in Georgia come about?

JH Concepts similar to JA BizTown and JA Finance Park started about 15 years ago and currently exist in 20 other cities through the Junior Achievement program, so we knew that we wanted to bring something like this to Georgia. Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A President and COO, had seen these programs over the years and was drawn to the idea of bringing it to Georgia. Through our work with him, we talked about the idea and about 18 months ago, plans were put together, a location was picked and we began talking to school systems in the area about their possible interest in the center.

i[x]How is the Discovery Center different from similar centers across the country?

JH The level of technology that is being used today is a major difference from other centers across the country. Technology has advanced so much in the 15 years since these centers started to open. We’re really trying to make it an interactive experience for the students.

i[x]What is the goal of JA BizTown/JA Finance Park?

JH To provide a dynamic learning experience designed to enhance metro Atlanta students’ financial literacy and build skills for personal and professional success, and to help them understand why education is important. We really want to see graduation rates and college enrollment increase in the state. We also hope to help students build basic financial and career skills. One other goal we believe will be achieved is creating exposure to high growth industries and sectors.

i[x] What is JA BizTown?

JH JA BizTown creates a unique opportunity where students are able to interact within a simulated macro-economy, and take on the role of employee, tax payer and consumer. During the visit to JA BizTown, students receive unique job assignments and work in teams at their assigned business. By the end of the simulation each student completes a day’s work, develops a personal budget, deposits a paycheck and makes purchasing decisions.

i[x] What is JA Finance Park?

JH JA Finance Park gives students the rare opportunity to experience their personal financial futures first-hand. Upon entering the center, students receive a ‘life situation’ complete with job, income, education, and family scenarios. Based on their adult persona, students visit businesses in the simulation to gather information and make financial decisions, such as managing a household budget, using banking services, and making purchasing and investment decisions.

i[x] Where will the curriculum be taught?

JH The learning begins in the classroom with four weeks of JA-provided curriculum that culminates with a full day at either JA BizTown or JA Finance Park; both simulations will be housed inside of the Discovery Center located in Building C of the Georgia World Congress Center.

i[x] Are these programs required for Atlanta-area students?

JH Atlanta Public Schools, DeKalb County Schools, Fulton County Schools and Marietta City Schools have signed agreements to integrate Junior Achievement’s programming into the curriculum for middle grade students beginning fall of 2013. The goal is to provide every child, no matter their background, the opportunity to develop skills to become financially independent and responsible.

i[x] How can JA of Georgia ensure that this meets Georgia education standards?

JH The curriculums were designed to be in accordance with the national education standards; ergo they align with Common Core Georgia Performance Standards and have been reviewed by Atlanta Public Schools, DeKalb County Schools, Fulton County Schools and Marietta City Schools to become a part of their core curriculum for middle school students.

i[x] Who is funding the JA Discovery Center?

JH An undertaking of this magnitude would not be possible without the catalyzing $5.1 million investment from the Chick-fil-A Foundation and support from Junior Achievement of Georgia’s Board of Directors. The initial funding supports the pre-planning and lease expense of the Discovery Center, allowing us to create a facility that contains cutting-edge interactive technology and realistic simulation stations.

i[x] With the innovation of the Discovery Center, what do you hope this will accomplish for JA of Georgia?

JH We really want it to strengthen the current JA structure and help be a catalyst for the overall program. We intend to develop the next generation of these simulation centers, with the ultimate vision to take them statewide.

i[x] Why did the institute select this particular age group to work with, and how do you think this experience will benefit them going forward?

JH The middle school years are some of a student’s most important years. You learn life concepts and decision making which will only benefit you in the years to come.

i[x] also had the opportunity to interview an important representative of The Chick-fil-A Foundation, Rodney Bullard. As Vice President of Community Affairs at Chick-fil-A, Inc. and Executive Director of the Chick-fil-A Foundation, Rodney had inspiring feedback.

i[x] Why has the Chick-fil-A Foundation decided to invest in the Discovery Center and how do you think it will benefit the youth in Georgia?

RB The Chick-fil-A Foundation’s investment in the Discovery Center was inspired by Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy’s unwavering commitment to investing in entrepreneurship and financial literacy for young people. Truett grew up in a financially poor family during the Great Depression and credits much of his business success to lessons he learned as a young boy selling Coca-Cola and newspapers to neighbors. We want to create similar opportunities within the walls of the Discovery Center for young people to gain real-world experience that can inspire them to be financially responsible and excite them about their future careers.  

i[x] How do you see this impacting the Atlanta/Georgia economy, as this generation emerges with real-life business experience obtained from the Discovery Center?

RB The simulated city within the Discovery Center is evidence of the leadership within our real city. Business leaders and educators have created a unique partnership to create a hands-on, experiential learning center that transforms education from abstract to practical. This has enormous potential to excite children about their studies and inspire them to excel in all they do beyond the classroom for years to come as they enter the workforce.     

How to Write (Right!)

Posted by Ne[x]t on 09.30.13

The Harry Potter series, fantasy football advice columns, text messages, this article: there are few things in modern life as pervasive as the written word. Chances are, you may have to utilize the elusive craft of writing some time in the near future to further your academic or professional goals. Whether you’re constructing the foreboding college essay, an overwhelming term paper, or an imperative cover letter, i[x] is here to offer you tips from a variety of experts.

College Essay
Thought of by many to be a source of tremendous stress, the college application essay can actually be a fun, introspective exercise in personal analysis. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, it’s more important to avoid a “common” essay than a poor one. Writing to impress a stranger often leads to stale, overdone content. In order to create a unique, engaging piece, you need to find subject matter that is specific to your life’s experience. Have you overcome a significant obstacle in you life? Has your perspective evolved during your years as a high school student? Do you have a specific goal in mind that the college to which you’re applying can help you accomplish? Remember, the more unique and true the topic is to you personally, the more likely it is to stand out to an admissions officer.

According to the Professors’ Guide (, another key component to a good essay is likability: “Colleges see themselves as communities, where people have to get along with others, in dorms, classes, etc. Are you someone they would like to have dinner with, hang out with, have in a discussion section?” This is not to say your essay has to be an exercise in sycophancy. Simply incorporate tact and civility into your prose.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, seek an editor, preferably a teacher, advisor, or counselor. Remember, even professional writers (journalists, novelists, playwrights, screenwriters, etc.) have editors – either as their boss or as someone they pay to improve their work. So if people who write for a living receive second opinions, you probably should too.

Term Paper
Hopefully you’re reading this article in October rather than December, because, Professors’ Guide, and all insist that the key to a good term paper is starting well ahead of the deadline. If you begin your work two months (as opposed to two weeks, or heaven forbid, two days) before the due date, you give yourself ample opportunity to gain advantages that would not be available had you waited until the last minute. For instance, you may know your topic well in advance, but only in a general way. After only a little research, you can easily come up with a thesis (an argument that encompasses your literature review, analysis, etc.) for your paper and present it to your professor (or at least your Teaching Assistant). Getting your thesis approved can keep you from wasting time on a paper doomed from its inception. Also, a solid thesis can narrow your subject material, helping you research more effectively and efficiently.

While this may seem old-fashioned, all the aforementioned websites recommend researching your topic in your school library. Anyone with a keyboard and an Internet connection can post something online. Publishing companies are far more discriminant, subsequently anything you find in a book, anthology, newspaper or magazine is going to have a much higher standard of accuracy and an elevated degree of intelligence. Also, books cite other books, which yields lots of easy, diverse research as opposed to a search engine that results in ten webpages making the same simple point.

Finally, the burden of term papers typically is their length. In order to maintain an intelligible, succinct flow throughout the entirety of your work, it is important to both outline and proofread. Outlining helps you organize your approach to your paper beforehand, cutting down on off-tangent ramblings and clunky segues. Proofreading, in addition to catching typos, can also identify segments that are awkward, verbose or unnecessary. After doing your own proofreading, take advantage of your school’s writing center if they have one. Again, starting early will give you flexibility to get on the writing center’s schedule instead of being at the mercy of chance at the end of the semester when everyone is seeking help.

Cover Letter
You’ve worked for years to earn enough experience and accolades to compile a decent resume only to discover this: your resume is not enough. A huge component to getting hired at a position of any level is your cover letter- a short, but significant piece that both addresses your potential employer and sheds additional light on you as a potential employee.

The First thing you need to do is identify who your potential employer is. By using either the computer or the phone, find out who is the company’s human resources rep or hiring manager. Address your cover letter accordingly.

Additional research will need to be conducted so you can adequately speak to what aspects of the company appeal to you and how you could coincide with their goals and business approach.

Once you’ve done your research, it’s time to begin composing the actual text of the letter. Forbes recommends including the name of a mutual contact (if you have one) in the first sentence. This way you’re immediately distinguished from your competition by establishing a relationship with your potential employer.

Don’t repeat your resume. The HR rep/hiring manager you’re dealing with is a professional who gets paid to peruse cover letters and resumes. Don’t waste their time by being redundant. Instead, utilize information obtained in your research of the company as well as positive aspects about yourself that fit specifically to the position you’re applying for that aren’t explicitly enumerated in your resume.

Again, you’re trying to make yourself stand out amongst your competition, so be specific in your prose and avoid banal phrases (i.e. “My name is _____ and I’m applying for ____.”). Finally, save your cover letter (and resume) as either a “doc” or a “pdf” to avoid complications that can arise with other formats resulting in your submissions becoming compromised or unreadable.

Hopefully, with some hard work, several drafts, and these tips from i[x], no matter what you’re next writing project is, you’ll be proud of your final product. Good luck, and check out the i[x] blog ( for more helpful information regarding your academic and professional endeavors.

Tips for Test Takers

Posted by Ne[x]t on 01.03.13

SAT, ACT, GRE, LSAT, GMAT – they look like a collection of letters you might find in a spoonful of alphabet soup, but they all spell the same thing: 4 grueling hours of furious bubble filling, No.2 pencils, and what feels like a minor case of carpal tunnel.  While there’s no escaping the inconvenience and irritants of standardized tests, i[x] is here to give you  few tips on how to maximize your performance and boost your scores.

If you’ve ever played a sport or an instrument, you already know how much practice precedes game day or a recital.  The same applies to standardized tests.  Weeks, even months of preparation are necessary to achieve your potential.  If you’re disciplined, then the purchase of a prep book and a few diligent hours of practice a week might be all you need.  Some books come with a CD-ROM that will link you to a webpage with additional practice tests, getting you the most bang for your test-prep buck.  If you struggle to make yourself sit down and bury your head in monotonous problem solving, then one of the many classes and private tutors offered throughout the state of Georgia might be worth considering.

Due to the length and intensity of a standardized test, one of your greatest enemies is fatigue. This can be avoided by spreading your preparation efforts over a long period of weeks or months before test day, rather than cramming a few days before, leaving you not only poorly prepared, but exhausted as well.  Getting a good night’s rest the night before, as well as waking up plenty early, with time to eat breakfast and really become lucid and focused before you show up at the testing site, can all aid in keeping you spry and sharp throughout the exam.   Avoiding drinks with high sugar and caffeine content can prevent crashes and distracting bladder pressure.

Being aware of the test’s scoring methods can help you craft your strategy.  For example, the ACT does not penalize for wrong answers, so you should never turn in an answer sheet with blanks, if you’re running out of time, it can’t hurt to fill in randomly in hopes you can get a couple extra points with no risk of hurting your current score.  The SAT, however, deducts 1/4th of a point for incorrect guesses, but this only means that you need to eliminate one possible answer for the odds to be in your favor of scoring higher, so any educated guess is better than an omission.  Also, avoid getting hung up on questions, you wouldn’t want to spend too much time on one difficult question and not get a chance to get some easy points from some simpler questions at the end of the test.  If you finish early, you can always go back and check some answers you weren’t confident about.  Finally, if you’re really hung up between a couple choices, author Mark Kantrowitz of Secrets to Winning a Scholarship states, “Answers that are positive are more likely to be correct than answers that are negative. Answers that are more informative are more likely to be correct.”

Lastly, good homework routines and regular reading habits have been shown to boost scores. Homework improves your problem solving ability and keeps your mind sharp on a daily basis, as well as committing what you’re learning in school to your long-term understanding part of your mind instead of just your short-term memory. Reading can expand your vocabulary as well increase your reading speed, giving you more time to contemplate your answers and double-check your guesses.  

Remember, you can take standardized tests more than once, and stress doesn’t help your performance, so try not to worry too much.  Test scores are just one of many aspects that schools consider when reviewing your application.  Solid GPAs, employment records, and personal recommendations can all greatly aid your chances of acceptance, so just do your best on test day and let the rest of your application speak for itself.  Good luck!

Be Your Own Boss!

Posted by Ne[x]t on 11.16.12

Having discussed earlier some of the best college part time jobs, it’s important to note we left one major option off the list: student entrepreneurship. While certainly riskier and more challenging than conventional employment, becoming an entrepreneur not only gives you the opportunity to pick your own field and be your own boss, it provides some invaluable lessons you can’t learn anywhere else.

While most student businesses won’t turn out to be billion dollar conglomerates like Facebook or Under Armor, there are still hefty profits to be had. According to, a number of Stanford students sold their group “app” projects developed in a software writing class, some for as much as six figures. One of these students, Joachim De Lombaert, earned around $1 million in advertising revenue.

But you don’t have to be tech wiz to cash in on your ideas. At San Diego State university, 21-year-old Kevin Gelfand opened up a smoothie stand on campus to offer an alternative to the warm, chalky, mixing ball water bottle protein shakes he saw his fellow students consuming after workouts. Now, his company Shake Smart is opening its third location in the greater San Diego area, and is projected to earn nearly ¾ of a million dollars. At the University of Washington, Riley Goodman pulled in six figures of profit from his company Strideline. Selling crew socks featuring various city skylines and colorways, Goodman’s products are not only available in numerous Seattle retail stores, but also from the company webpage.

Profits aren’t the only thing to be gained from entrepreneurship. 20-year-old Georgetown student James Li founded REaction Strategy Group and consults non-profit organizations with the aim to improve their donor relations through digital and social media. After redesigning the webpage for Pathways Volunteer Hospice, Li has established himself and his company as professionally credible.

“I think there’s a strong case for the idea that you can learn more spending a summer working at your own start-up than you ever could at an internship,” says Li, who had to present a convincing pitch to his initially weary clients.

After being sold by Li’s proposal, “board members aren’t afraid to give out our web address,” says Pathways’ operations manager. “[It] was one of the [many] ways [Li] helped us.”

So whether your passion is computers, clothes, or helping others, there’s a way to translate your interests into a business idea that can lead to a rewarding experience, as well as a hard-earned paycheck. For more student entrepreneurial success stories, check these articles at Forbes and The Washington Post. For help getting your business idea off the ground, talk to your advisor or a faculty member of your school’s business department.

Tuesday's Tip: Tailgate on the Cheap

Posted by Ne[x]t on 09.11.12

Tailgate on the cheap this football season.  If you decide to setup a tailgate for a game this year, remember that it is in fact a game and not some fancy party.  Try some of these tips to ensure you have a enjoyable yet affordable tailgate:


1.        Instead of buying the $15/pound steaks, buy the $4/pound ones and buy more of them.  It’s more likely that your company will care more about the quantity than about the quality.

2.       Tailgate with a group.  Divide up the menu and have everyone bring a specific food or beverage for the day.  Save money on parking too by riding together.

3.       Park wisely.  Instead of trying to get right next to the stadium, you can save some money by parking a little further away.  You may be walking further, but the plus is you don’t have to fight as much traffic when leaving and you can get little exercise in to work off all of that delicious food.

4.       Avoid novelty items.  Napkins and plates with logos may look awesome, but stick to the generic team color stuff from the local grocery store.


What do you do to save at your tailgate?

Maximizing Your Financial Aid

Posted by Ne[x]t on 06.04.12

Congratulations. You’ve done it!  You were accepted into college and begin in the fall.  Now comes the fun stuff: How will you pay for school?  Scholarships, grants, savings and loans are all great options for you, but maybe that scholarship you were hoping for fell through.  There is no denying that college is expensive and without scholarships or assistance from your parents.  The good thing for you however, is there are other options available such as student loans.  Millions of students rely on student loans to pay for some or all of college, so you won’t be alone.
When searching for financial assistance, you should always start with scholarships and grants, which cost you nothing and do not have to be repaid (Free money!).   These can be in the form of need-based (those who can’t afford to go to college through their family’s financial means alone), merit-based (awarded because of a specific achievement, talent, skill or characteristic), or gift-aid. Check with your guidance counselor, ask the schools you want to attend and even do a little internet research on your own to find out how to apply.  Most likely any money received through scholarships and grants will not be enough to fully fund your education.  However, the more free money you receive, the less you have to pay back later. 
Once you have minimized how much you’ll have to borrow through scholarships, grants, and savings, you can begin applying for student loans.  It’s important to know that there are two different types of student loans: Federal (those backed by the federal government) and Private (ones by credit unions, banks and other private lenders).  Federal loans have lower fixed interest rates and are more easily available.  A fixed interest rate means that the rate at which you are quoted will not change throughout the life of the loan.  In contrast, interest rates on private loans vary, depending on the lender and the borrower’s credit rating.
The first thing you should do when applying for Federal financial aid is complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  This application automatically applies you for monies awarded from most federal and state agencies and will be processed and sent to the institutions you list on the form.  If you are eligible for loans, your school will provide you with an Award Letter explaining the types of aid you are eligible to receive.  If the Financial Aid Office has determined you need a loan, you will need to contact the appropriate parties to apply. 
Once you have thoroughly exhausted all sources of free and low-cost financial aid, you might find you still have a need of financial assistance.  Private student loans are meant to fill this gap that is left between the Cost of Attendance (COA) and the Federal loans/aid you’ve received. Private loans are not offered through the federal government, so it’s important to look for a loan program from an institution you trust, such as Georgia’s Own Credit Union. These loans are in the name of the student but often require a co-signer and are not guaranteed or subsidized by the government. Instead, they are based on the credit score of the student and/or the credit score of any co-signer they have on the loan.  They also allow flexible repayment options so that you will have lower initial payments after graduation.  More information on Georgia’s Own student lending program can be found at
There are numerous options and places to get information these days.  Get smart, plan ahead and put your plan into action.  While the process of funding your continuing education may seem daunting, planning carefully and researching all of your options can save you thousands!  Remember, college is an investment, not an expense.

Co-Opting Out of Student Loan Debt

Posted by Ne[x]t on 05.16.12

Anyone who has watched television late at night is aware of the plethora of “Get out of Credit Debt” companies with their sappily sentimental infomercials and catchy 1-800 phone numbers.  But credit card debt isn’t even America’s leading form of financial crisis.  Student loan debt has not only surpassed credit card debt for the first time in history, it has also eclipsed the trillion-dollar mark. Yet there don’t seem to be scads of non-profit organizations offering “x” number of “easy” steps to get out from under tens of thousands of dollars in outstanding student loans.  Luckily, i[x] is here to help keep you from getting into that position in the first place.
In addition to grants and scholarships, a great way to help pay for the ever-rising cost of higher education is through Cooperative Education Programs (co-ops).  Co-ops incorporate internships into the academic curriculum.  Whether it is full-time work for one or two semesters, or part-time work over the course of several semesters, a co-op program can leave a student with over $10,000 for just six months’ work.  Not only can these earnings immediately be applied to paying off loans, but connections made during these work experiences often lead directly to employment opportunities, helping graduates avoid the dreaded “underemployed” status that leads to loan deferments and much more money to make up in the long run.
Co-op programs exist at Georgia Tech, Georgia State, Georgia Southern, as well as scores of other schools throughout the nation.  While they are primarily offered in engineering and mathematical fields of study, co-op programs are expanding to a wider range of studies regularly.  Contact your school’s (or schools’ of interest) academic office for information about what co-op opportunities they offer, and take another step toward a debt-free college graduate existence.        

Great News for Graduate Students

Posted by Ne[x]t on 01.05.12

Hola guys and gals! I wanted to let you all know about some exciting news regarding student loans from Georgia’s Own. GOCU is pleased to announce it has extended it’s partnership with Credit Union Student Choice with the introduction of a Graduate Line of Credit. So if you are looking help for financing graduate school, look no further than Georgia’s Own! If you want to learn more about our Graduate Business Line of Credit, click here.

Don’t forget we also have options for undergraduate students!

i[x] Happenings/Student Lending Changes

Posted by Ne[x]t on 12.22.11

Hey guys! Hope everyone is enjoying Christmas break! I wanted to let you know about a few things going on right now with i[x] and Georgia’s Own…

-Join the i[x] College Bowl Pick’em Contest for a chance to win a $50 gift card! We are also giving away prizes for 2nd and 3rd places. So submit your picks by Dec. 25 to be entered!

-We are still accepting applications for the Georgia’s Own Credit Union Youth Advisory Board. Applications are being accepted until Dec. 31. This a great opportunity for you guys to make a difference in the lives of your peers around Georgia.

-Want to be in an upcoming Georgia’s Own commercial? Tell us what makes you one of Georgia’s Own and you could be featured. For more info and submit your story, visit

-Lastly, I ran across this article recently about changes in student lending and wanted to share it with everyone. Just a reminder, we offer a great alternative to other higher priced, private student loans with Credit Union Student Choice. To find out more info or apply, click here.

Have a Happy Holidays!

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