MONEY Student Loans

6 Ways the New ‘Student Aid Bill Of Rights’ Will Help Borrowers

President Barack Obama speaks at Georgia Tech
David Goldman—AP

On Tuesday President Obama proposed some relief, but experts say more is needed.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday proposed a “student aid bill of rights” that offers about a half-dozen small but important improvements for the 40 million Americans who are dealing with student loans.

While congressional action would be needed to make significant changes in the student loan program, President Obama has ordered the Department of Education to take steps by 2016 to make things simpler and easier for student borrowers.

In a speech at Georgia Tech, the president said the federal government will now “require that the businesses that service your loans provide clear information about how much you owe, what your options are for repaying it, and if you’re falling behind, help you get back in good standing with reasonable fees on a reasonable timeline.” The reforms announced today will:

1. Create a centralized website that makes it easy to file complaints and to see all your student loans in one place. Jesse O’Connell, assistant director of federal relations for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said many students are confused by the government’s use of contractors to collect their loans. Some borrowers who receive letters from these anonymous-sounding private companies, such as Navient (a spinoff of Sallie Mae), throw the letters away, thinking they are identity theft scams. A simple centralized website where borrowers could see all their student debt information, payment amounts, and due dates is a “basic consumer-friendly protection,” O’Connell said.

2. Try having federal employees collecting debts instead of private contractors. The Department of Education is already working with the Department of the Treasury to test out having federal employees collect defaulted student loans. Deanne Loonin, of the National Consumer Law Center, called this a good first step, though only a first step. In a blog post about the proposals, she called the use of private debt collection agencies “a disaster” for financially distressed borrowers, and called for the Department of Education to stop using private debt collectors all together: “Debt collectors are not adequately trained to understand and administer the complex borrower rights available under the Higher Education Act, and the government does not provide sufficient oversight of their activities.”

3. Make it easier for borrowers who become disabled to get their student loans discharged. Currently, some borrowers who qualify as disabled through the Social Security system don’t know that they are eligible for a disability discharge, Loonin says. Making the disability discharge rules clear and consistent “is a critical change for some of the most vulnerable borrowers and should be implemented immediately,” she wrote.

4. Ensure that the private debt collectors hired by the Department of Education apply prepayments first to loans with the highest interest rates, unless the borrower requests a different allocation.

5. Make it easier for students to get IRS information to qualify for income-based student loan repayment.

6. Clarify the rules under which students who declare bankruptcy can get their student loans reduced or eliminated. Congress and the federal bankruptcy courts have imposed tough rules that make it far more difficult for student loan borrowers to get out from under their obligations than almost any other kind of debt. But the president asked the Department of Education to at least clarify the rules to collectors so they can be applied consistently.

What Government Can Do Next

While these steps would improve the lives of many people struggling with student debt, experts pointed to three bigger, but politically unlikely, changes that could make student loans far more affordable and fairer. First, simplify the government’s complicated, income-based repayment system into one option, and automatically sign all borrowers up for the program. University of Michigan economist Susan Dynarski, one of the nation’s leading researchers on financial aid, calls the current menu of “income-driven,” “income-contingent” and “income-based” options a “bewildering array” that requires students to jump through many bureaucratic hoops to qualify for the payment plans that will benefit them the most.

Second, stop charging fees on federal student and parent loans. O’Connell, of the association of financial aid administrators, says that the 4.292% fees on federal parent PLUS loans, for example, are not well explained to borrowers and add an unnecessary expense to families. Eliminating them, which would take congressional action, would save families more than $1 billion a year, he says.

And finally, make it easier for borrowers in dire financial straits to reduce or eliminate their loans in bankruptcy. Loonin, at the NCLC, notes that bankruptcy judges across the country apply varying levels of strictness to the rules, which say loans can only be discharged if repaying would cause an “undue hardship.” These variations make it unfair for borrowers seeking relief and force many to spend what little money they do have on lawyers. Since the strict bankruptcy rules were created by Congress, however, it’s up to Congress to change them.

Read next: The 100 Best Private Colleges for Student Borrowers

MONEY Student Loans

Help! The Government Seized My Tax Refund to Pay My Student Loan Debt

Tax Refund check on dark background
Getty Image

If you are in default on your federal student loans, the government can take your tax refund. Here's what you can do about it.

Many people have already filed their taxes this year — particularly those owed refunds. Because of rising taxpayer identity theft, it’s a smart idea for anyone to file quickly. However, some taxpayers are discovering the refund they thought was coming has instead has been taken to pay their student loan debt. Here’s a sample of questions recently sent to Credit.com:

  • From Amber: Is there anything i can do to stop my whole federal refund from going to my student loans? … I’ve just set up a payment plan, but I really need my refund this year.
  • From Peggy: I was looking forward to my tax refund as it will help with bills and much needed things for the baby. It was accepted and … now after digging around I found out they are sending it to the U.S. Dept. of Ed. for my student loans which I thought were in deferment. Now this is causing me and my kids a hardship but they refuse to send me the refund… What can I do to get my refund owed to me?
  • From Luis: I heard that if your student loan is in default and they are intercepting your taxes, It goes towards interest of the loan. Getting your loan out of default you can then get the intercepted (money) back. Is this true? Is there some info on this?

First, some background: If you are in default on your federal student loans (which by definition means you are behind by 270 days or more), the Department of Education can take your tax refund using the Treasury Offset Program. This program authorizes federal payments such as tax refunds or Social Security income to be intercepted in whole or in part to pay debts owed to other federal agencies. There are some limited consumer protections, but debtors aren’t always aware of them.

What Can You Do if Your Refund Was Seized?

We spoke with Jay Fleischman, a student loan and bankruptcy attorney, about what people can do. First, he said that by federal law, people who have student loans in default get a notice in advance warning that they are at risk of having any potential tax refund seized for student loan repayment. That notice contains instructions for a review of your loan information and how to avoid the offset.

If your refund is taken, you can still request a hearing. If it was taken in error, the money will be refunded. However, be aware that an error does not generally include not getting a notice; it typically would require that you be able to prove your student loan was not in default. (There is a case where you will likely get a refund; more about that in a moment.)

Fleischman said it’s a good idea to adjust your withholdings whether you’re subject to a tax refund offset of not. A large tax refund means you overpaid your taxes during the year, he notes. If you are in default on your federal student loans you probably need that money. But at this point, there is nothing you can do to change the overwithholding from last year. Still, revisiting how much you’re having withheld for taxes is a smart move for anyone who got a large refund.

The bigger problem is how you are going to deal with the default on your student loans from now on. You’ll want to get out of default and stay that way. Fortunately, there are many payment options; you should be able to make one work for you. In some cases, income-based repayment payments can be set as low as $0. And “if your circumstances are dire and expected to remain so,” bankruptcy and the discharge of student loans might be options, Fleischman said.

The one case in which you are likely to be able to recover the money is if you filed jointly with a spouse, and it was his or her student loan that was in default. “You may be able to make an injured spouse claim,” said Fleischman.

For most, what is done is done. The best thing you can do is to look ahead. And if you haven’t filed your tax return and expect a large refund, you may want to see what options you have to get out of default first. Being in default on a student loan can not only squeeze your budget, it can hurt your credit and cost you thousands of dollars in higher debt costs over a lifetime. You can get two of your credit scores for free, updated every month, on Credit.com to track your standing.

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

MONEY College

Graduates of These Colleges Make the Most Money (and It’s Not Just the Ivies)

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Lawrence Sawyer—Getty Images

Party schools do better than you'd think—but there's a twist.

Far and away, the nation’s science, math, technology, and Ivy League colleges produce the highest-earning graduates, according to PayScale.com salary data released today.

The average grad of math- and science-heavy colleges such as Harvey Mudd, CalTech, and the Georgia Institute of Technology out-earned grads of any other type of college, netting $677,000 more in earnings over 20 years than someone who didn’t attend college at all (minus the cost of attending the college).

Graduates of the Ivy League came in a close second, netting $650,000 in extra earnings over the first 20 years of their career. Both groups of schools report returns on investment that are at least 80% higher than any other type of school in PayScale’s analysis.

Hope if You’re Hopeless at Math

But what if you’re not a math genius, or lucky enough to get into an Ivy League college?

PayScale says the next-highest-earning group of colleges are so-called “party schools,” such as the University of Florida, Syracuse University, and Penn State, whose graduates’ salaries over 20 years added up to a net extra $354,000.

Graduates of research universities, such as large private universities and flagship public schools, and so-called “sober” schools, such as religious schools, commuter colleges, and military academies, earned just slightly less, on average, than party school alums.

Graduates of arts and liberal arts schools reported comparatively low salaries, notching a return on investment over 20 years of about $200,000. Music school graduates had the lowest average 20-year return of just $128,000 over their costs.

So Party On?

PayScale spokeswoman Lydia Frank says neither parents nor students should take the party school findings too seriously, however. “That was just a fun comparison and kind of surprising,” she says. “Apparently there is some studying happening in between partying.”

What’s more, the salaries reported on PayScale.com are only for college graduates whose education ended with a bachelor’s degree and who work full-time. All the students who couldn’t balance partying with class work and dropped out aren’t counted.

That could be a big number. There is plenty of research that shows that students whose partying involves lots of drinking flunk or drop out at a higher rate than those who have more moderate social habits. And federal earnings data show that college dropouts have a harder time finding jobs, and earn less, than college graduates do.

Meanwhile, other studies shows that the more time undergraduates spend intensely studying–especially studying alone–the better their odds of getting a good job after school.

Scott Carrell, an economist at UC Davis who has studied how alcohol use affects academic performance, says that the PayScale findings could reflect one important truth: Students who manage to graduate from a party school may have developed self-restraint, social skills, and networks of friends that help them find better paying jobs after graduation.

But Carrell also questioned the accuracy of Princeton Review’s labeling of selective universities such as the University of Florida and UC Santa Barbara as “party schools” over less selective and, perhaps, jollier schools such as Chico State University.

The bottom line, Carrell says, is that students shouldn’t conclude from the PayScale data that it pays to go to a “party” school because, he says, “you don’t know if you will be the one who drops out.”

The Top 10

These 10 colleges were ranked highest in PayScale’s latest return on investment analysis: the total average earnings for each school’s graduates over 20 years, minus the cost of attendance and the average pay of someone who didn’t attend college.

College 20-year ROI
Harvey Mudd College $985,300
California Institute of Technology (Caltech) $901,400
Stevens Institute of Technology $841,000
Colorado School of Mines (in-state) $831,000
Babson College $812,800
Stanford University $809,700
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) $798,500
Georgia Institute of Technology $796,300
Princeton University $795,700
Colorado School of Mines (out-of-state) $771,000

Money uses PayScale.com earnings data as a part of its college rankings, but balances that data with graduation rates, student loan repayment rates, educational quality indicators, and value-added measures. See which colleges Money judges offer the best value overall.

MONEY College

Some Small Private Colleges Are Facing a “Death Spiral”

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Courtesy of Sweet Brair College Virginia's Sweet Briar College, facing a "financially unsustainable" future, announced this week that it would be closing.

The closure of Sweet Briar College is an example of how winner-take-all economics is starting to hit colleges.

The announcement that Sweet Briar College, a private women’s college in rural Virginia, would shut down this summer—even as elite private colleges such as Harvard reported record numbers of applications—reflects a new reality for students and colleges, experts say.

While the elite colleges can keep raising prices and soliciting big donations, small private colleges that don’t offer what today’s students want – generous financial aid, access to urban activities and job markets, and a name that will impress employers – are facing potentially devastating financial pressures that can lead to a “death spiral” of declining admissions, tuition revenues, and contributions.

The pressures facing small private colleges are part of a larger financial squeeze on almost all kinds of colleges. Nearly all of the nation’s public universities, for example, suffered dramatic budget cuts after the 2008 recession. Some public college systems, such as those in Louisiana and Maine, have been so debilitated by cuts that schools have had layoffs, closed entire departments, and are facing the prospect of having to shut down campuses entirely.

Several for-profit colleges, like Anthem and Corinthian, have shut down in the last year, in part because of government crackdowns on schools with low graduation and student debt repayment rates.

Many traditional nonprofit private colleges are struggling for two other reasons: declines in the number of 18-year-olds in certain parts of the country (especially the Northeast and Midwest) and the worsening financial outlook for the middle-class families who, historically, have wanted to send their children to private institutions.

The Census Bureau says the total number of college-age Americans (18-24) is expected to decline slightly between now and 2020. from 30.9 million to 30.8 million. In addition, the median income for American families was around $52,000 last year—about 5% less, in real terms, than it was a decade ago.

The result, according to a December 2014 Moody’s analysis of the financial situation facing colleges, is a widening winner-take-all divide, in which wealthy institutions with global reputations that can attract high-paying international students will continue to thrive. Schools that aren’t attractive to a national or international market and don’t have a “demonstrated return on investment…will face increased competition from cheaper public higher education as well as distance learning options,” Moody’s warned.

(MORE: See if your college offers a good return on investment.)

The rich and famous colleges are certainly enjoying unprecedented success. Harvard, for example, reported a record 37,305 applications for its fall 2015 freshman class. And between donations and the booming investment market, its endowment rose by $3.5 billion to $35.9 billion in 2014.

Meanwhile, the median American college saw an endowment gain of just $15 million, to bring the typical endowment up to just $113 million. And the average private college has had to provide so much financial aid to attract students that its net revenue per student from tuition, fees, and room and board have remained flat, in real terms, over the last decade, according to the College Board.

An analysis of schools that have recently shut down, or are facing an imminent closure, shows that certain kinds of private colleges, such as small, rural colleges that serve comparatively small communities, appear to be facing the most difficult struggles to recruit enough students to stay afloat.

(MORE: See how to tell whether your college is in deep financial trouble.)

Sweet Briar, located in a small community 120 miles southwest of Richmond, has only 710 students and was having trouble recruiting new ones because fewer women seem to want to attend an all-women’s college these days, college president James F. Jones Jr. said in the closure announcement. “The declining number of students choosing to attend small, rural, private liberal arts colleges and even fewer young women willing to consider a single-sex education, and the increase in the tuition discount rate that we have to extend to enroll each new class is financially unsustainable,” he explained.

Mid-Continent University, of Mayfield, Ky., a Baptist college that shut down last June after the federal government found problems in the financial aid office, had about 2,200 students in a town about 150 miles northwest of Nashville. And Lebanon College, a two-year private college 75 miles northeast of Manchester, N.H., had fewer than 90 students when it closed last summer.

Tennessee Temple University, which The Chatanoogan reported recently is considering closure, is a Baptist school with about 1,000 students.

Richard Ekman, president of the Council of Independent Colleges, an association of small private schools, says predictions of a tsunami of private college closures are unfounded. “It is pretty hard to kill a college,” he notes. And in fact, while there is no official count of the number of college closures, a search of news reports for private, nonprofit colleges that have closed or considered closure in the last year turned up no more than about a dozen or so names out of the approximately 1,650 private nonprofit colleges operating today.

The vast majority of private colleges are responding to financial pressures by using technology and online materials to reduce their costs, raising more financial aid donations to be able to enroll more cash-strapped students, and developing new professional and online programs to attract new kinds of tuition-paying students such as working adults, Ekman says.

But Ekman acknowledges these strategies won’t save every college. There is growing competition among colleges for working adult students and online courses, for example, he notes. And most private colleges don’t have big endowments to allow them to ride out continuing economic stresses. “The colleges are doing what they should be doing,” he said. “The question whether they are doing it quickly enough.”

MONEY College

My Son Isn’t Going to College. Now What?

College savings seemed to go according to plan, but now the beneficiary has strayed from the script, and the parent is worried he'll get the funds.

Q. My son is turning 18 and I’ve saved more than $200,000 for him for college. He doesn’t want to go. Some of the money is in UTMAs, some in a 529 Plan and some in savings bonds. I don’t want him to live off the money and not get a job. Help!

A. Bet that threw you for a loop.

Each of the kinds of assets you saved for your son is treated a bit differently, so let’s take stock of what you have.

Custodial Accounts

The assets you saved in a custodial account — Uniform Transfer to Minor Act accounts, or UTMAs — will be his when he reaches the age of majority, said Bryan Smalley, a certified financial planner with RegentAtlantic Capital in Morristown.

In New Jersey, the age of majority is 21. That means that there are three more years before the assets officially become your son’s.

“A lot can happen in the next three years: your son could start a career and be self-sufficient — therefore not needing the money to support his lifestyle — he could start his own company and use the UTMA funds to help grow the business, or he could end up deciding to go the college,” Smalley said. “Who knows, a few years of earning minimum wage and seeing all of his friends move on with their lives may be all the motivation he needs to hit the books once again.”

The 529 Plan

The 529 account is different. As long as you’re the owner of the account, you retain control of the funds and there is no time limit on when you need to use them,” Smalley said.

If your son decides to go to college in a year or two, the funds will be there.

“If your son does not go to college, you can always use the funds for another of your children’s college education — if your son is not an only child — or hold onto the account and use it for a future grandchild’s college education,” Smalley said.

Savings Bonds Earmarked for College

If either of those options are not of interest to you, you can always withdraw the funds from the 529 account and use them elsewhere, Smalley said. But that move comes with a price. You’ll have to pay a 10% penalty plus taxes on the earnings in the account if you use the funds for anything other than qualified higher education expenses.

On your savings bonds — assuming they are either EE or I bonds — if they are owned in your name, your son does not have a right to them even though they were purchased with the intent to pay for his college education, Smalley said. You may continue to hold onto them or cash them in.

“Please note that if they are not used to pay for higher education expenses the interest on the bonds is not deductible on your tax return,” Smalley said.

If you purchased bonds in the name of your son, you can have them reissued in your name. The caveat here is that you cannot have them reissued if they were purchased with your son’s own money, such as with money from an UTMA.

“As you can see, not all is lost. While it must be disappointing that your son does not want to go to college now, it is not an irrevocable decision,” Smalley said. “He could always change his mind and go later or perhaps he finds his success on a path that does not travel through a college education.”

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 25

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. The U.S. wants to hack your phone because it doesn’t have the real spies it needs.

By Patrick G. Eddington at Reuters

2. Eight universities account for half of all history professors in the U.S. How did that happen?

By Joel Warner and Aaron Clauset in Slate

3. Bill Gates is investing in low-tech impact entrepreneurs in India.

By David Bank in Entrepreneur

4. “Liquid biopsy” can detect cancer from a few drops of blood.

By Michael Standaert in MIT Technology Review

5. Let’s build the infrastructure to make microfinance institutions into true innovation hubs.

By Jessica Collier in Medium

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 24

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. For some returning from war, a ‘G.I. bill for farming’ eases the transition home.

By Abby Wendle at Harvest Public Media

2. In Egypt, a class project to fight sexual harassment has grown into a campus-wide movement encouraging women to “Speak Up.”

By Ahmed Fouad in Al-Monitor

3. Your kid’s school is missing the tech revolution, and it’s all your fault.

By Jason Tanz in Wired

4. Community courts focus on rehabilitation and compassion for non-violent offenders.

By Henry Gass in the Christian Science Monitor

5. A new ‘Uber for packages’ service is partnering with Waffle House to build a network of delivery points around the south.

By Amar Toor in the Verge

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Ask the Expert

This Formula Can Help You Figure Out How Much to Save for College

Ask the Expert - Family Finance illustration
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: “My husband and I have been saving for our kids’ college since they were born. They are now 4 and 6. Our initial plan was to just throw what we could into a savings account, then we moved that money to a 529. We make small monthly contributions, and also contribute some money whenever we get a bonus or they get a birthday gift from grandparents. However, we still don’t have a number in mind for what we actually need by the time they start school. How much should we be saving for them each month?” —Ryan Phelan

A: Congratulations for starting the saving process early and taking full advantage of compounding in that 529 account. That’s less money you’ll have to borrow later.

Now for the bad news: By the time your eldest child enters college, four years at an in-state public school will cost an average $130,000 and a private-school education will run $235,000 if prices continue rising at the rate they have for the last five years.

Footing the full freight will be unrealistic for most folks, especially those like you who have more than one child to put through school. Besides, you should also be saving for your own retirement—since you can’t fund that stage of life with loans as you can your kid’s education.

Mark Kantrowitz, author of Filing the FAFSA and senior vice president of the Edvisors Network, offers a more reasonable goal: Try to save a third of your kids’ expected college costs by the time they’re on campus. The next third can come from income (plus grants and scholarships) at the time tuition needs to be paid, and the final third you or your kid can borrow.

The idea is to spread the cost out over time to make that staggering price tag more manageable, says Kantrowitz. You’re putting together past income (what you’ve saved), current income (while the child is in school), and future income (yours or your child’s to pay back the loans).

So in your situation, a good goal would be to put away at least $43,000 or $78,000 for your eldest child, depending on whether you’re aiming to pay for public or private school.

You can estimate a savings number for your younger child—and anyone else can figure it out for their own kid—by figuring out the full cost of an average college education the year the child was born, since college costs increase by about a factor of three over any 17-year period, says Kantrowitz.

For help translating the big number into what you need to save each month—based on your state, income, children’s ages, and current 529 savings—use this 529 college savings planner tool from Savingforcollege.com.

More from Money 101:

Where should I save for college?

How much should I save for college vs. retirement?

What’s the best 529 plan for me?

TIME Workplace & Careers

8 Things Millennials Should Do Before Their First Job Interview

Reminder for Job Interview
Getty Images

Truthful advice on how recent graduates can navigate today’s job market

Maybe it’s because we’re taught to find an older mentor. Or maybe it’s because people who are gray around the temples simply look wiser. Whatever the reason, when you’re fresh out of college, it’s tempting to seek career advice from the most accomplished people in the field you’re hoping to break into.

But in reality, those execs chalked up most of their accomplishments in an entirely different economic, technological and professional landscape. So Fortune talked to more recent college graduates—millennials who entered the workforce in the years after the economic crash and the invention of Twitter—about what they wish they’d known about getting a toehold in their career when they were 22.

Before you accept an internship, especially an unpaid internship, ask the employer this one question.

“Have you ever hired an intern?”

Internships have become a necessary inconvenience on the path to full-time, paid employment—even though they can sometimes seem more like a cruel prank to get recent graduates to fetch coffee and make copies for free.

Occasionally an unpaid internship turns into a solid job, but often it doesn’t. Before you gratefully accept someone’s offer to work for them for free, ask about the company’s track record of hiring from their intern pool, and weigh their answer before you accept. If they’ve only ever hired one intern, but have 60 working for them at any given time, it might be best to walk away.

“Sometimes it is worth it to wait and really vet these organizations. Expect better,” says Justine Dowden, who graduated in 2010 and has had six different internships or jobs since; she’s now pursuing a master’s in public health. “Try to work for a place that wants you to really grow from the experience of working for them, not just use you as expendable cheap labor. That will connect you to people. You really can’t wait around forever, but you can wait around for an internship that’s not just tweeting.”

Sometimes bigger—and more established—is better.

A creative startup with only five employees or a scrappy nonprofit looks cool from the outside—and it’s easy to think that you’ll be able to add a wide range of skills to your resume if everyone on staff is doing a little bit of everything. But it can also be maddening once you’ve been hired. Small upstarts often “don’t have the same HR structures as corporate places or law firms. All of the lines are blurred so it’s harder to know your position,” says Meg, a first-year associate at a law firm in Chicago, who watched many of her undergrad classmates unexpectedly struggle with the loose nature of their jobs at creative upstart companies. “Because the hierarchy wasn’t as clear, it was also harder for them to get mentors,” she adds. Beware of companies that lack a human resources department or won’t give you a concrete job description.

You don’t have to move to New York.

It might seem like all of your friends are moving to Bushwick, but take a wider view. There are good jobs everywhere. “Just try to look beyond NYC or Boston or SF,” says Dowden, who counts an internship in Amsterdam and a public-health job in Sacramento among her most valuable professional experiences.

Don’t wait for permission to put your ideas out into the world.

It’s never been easier to show employers that you have ideas worth listening to. Can’t get an informational interview with a company you’d love to work for? Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to publish your thoughts online about what the organization could be doing better.

“When I was a junior in college, I had some ideas I thought Google should work on, and I wrote this blog post,” says Ted Power, who graduated in 2007. “I mocked up this concept and put it out there, and got very lucky because someone at Google happened to see it, and said oh, you should apply for an internship here.” His internship turned into a full-time job at Google, which he later quit to instead work at a series of startups. Companies pay attention to what people say about them online, and if your tone is professional and your ideas are sound, you just might get lucky like Power did.

Meet as many people as you can. And keep in touch.

It might make you feel like a nag or a phony, but “all the bullshit you hear about networking is so true,” Meg says. When she first interviewed at her law firm, it went well. They told her they really liked her, but they wouldn’t be hiring any new associates that year—an all-too-common interview response in tough economic times. She kept in touch, calling them after she took the bar exam and again after she got the news that she’d passed. After her third or fourth call that ended with a polite decline, she got a call back from one of the partners, offering her a job. Meg’s pretty sure that never would have happened if she hadn’t gotten in touch with them after their initial “sorry, but we’re not hiring now.”

Also, don’t be afraid to work any personal connection you have—even if those connections aren’t people who are directly hiring right now. That fellow intern you befriended last summer? She might not be a hiring manager just yet, but she probably will know before outsiders do when her company is hiring. Don’t unfriend her on Facebook just because you’re annoyed she found a job right away and you didn’t. Stay in touch.

Put your Google-stalking skills to work.

Your talents are wasted on your ex. Instead, read up on the places you want to hire you and the people who work there. This is what LinkedIn is made for, but you can do better than that. Googling and combing social media can yield a surprising amount of information—so much that it’s almost like having a contact within the company. A lot of hiring managers are pretty public these days about what they look for in a new employee. Pay attention to what they’re saying.

It’s ok if you don’t know what your dream job is.

In fact, it might be better that way. The point of your first few jobs is just to try out different roles, responsibilities and different types of work environments.

“There’s a lot of pressure to find your dream job, or something that you absolutely love,” Power says. “That can almost be counterproductive because you have such high expectations. What’s more important is trying a bunch of stuff and figuring out what you like doing day to day. There are a lot of jobs that sound amazing, but the day to day is working in Excel or something.”

And if you do have a dream job, don’t write off an entry-level position just because it’s imperfect. After an internship at the White House, Meg landed a job at the Department of Justice, “which wasn’t my first choice,” she says. But in retrospect, it looks a lot better than the other political jobs she wished she’d gotten at the time. “I made $20,000 more at DOJ than you’d make at the White House,” she says. She also met a fantastic mentor at the Department of Justice, who convinced her to go to law school and ended up changing the course of her career.

Remember to have fun.

This is going to sound almost ridiculous, given that your first few jobs are likely to be less than ideal. But if you’re working super-long hours and finding yourself too busy to even see your friends, take a step back. You have plenty of time to work yourself to the bone later. “Young professional life is trying to figure out balance between trying to get ahead and enjoying your life,” Meg says.

Sure, you have loans to pay off. You want your next job to be a fantastic one. But you shouldn’t be more stressed than your boss who makes ten times as much. Your twenties are “the time you’re supposed to be going on disaster internet dates and going out and finding excellent hangover breakfast restaurants before work the next day,” Meg says. Make the most of them.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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A Fraternity Is Suing Wesleyan University Over an Order to Admit Women

Delta Kappa Epsilon accuses the university of “political correctness gone wrong”

A fraternity at Wesleyan University in Connecticut announced Thursday that it is filing a lawsuit against the institution accusing it of sexual discrimination.

Five months ago, the all-male fraternities at Wesleyan were ordered to admit women as both members and residents, or shut down, reports the New York Times.

But Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) and its alumni group, the Kent Literary Club, claim the organization is being targeted unfairly, saying the college’s “selective discrimination is an egregious example of political correctness gone wrong.”

Fraternities had three years to assimilate women into their organizations and housing, but DKE claims it was suddenly told it had to be coeducational in the next school year. The fraternity also said the university had rejected its proposal that women could live at the house but in the form of a sorority rather than join the fraternity.

DKE argues that the university allows other students to live in single-sex dorms or in housing that caters to various interests and cultural identities, such as the Women of Color House; the Turath House for Muslim, Arab and Middle Eastern students; or the Light House for Christian students.

Wesleyan said in a statement that DKE “failed to take any meaningful steps” toward coed living and argued that the fraternity “has historically operated very differently than other special-interest program houses at Wesleyan in many ways.”

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