How do I pay for College?

“What Having 8 Children Has Taught Me About College Financial Aid” – By Kirk Ashburn

As a financial professional I deal with hard economic realities every day. That starts at home with the potential million-dollar plus cost to provide a college education to my own 8 children. As a result I have become extensively educated in all the intricacies of financial aid and subsequently have made it one of the core services I provide for my clients with children… Here’s some of what I’ve learned.

The points that follow may seem counter-intuitive. As a result, year after year, billions of dollars go unclaimed by parents and students who could profit from them because they didn’t understand the rules that would allow them to qualify. So keep an open mind…

Here are just 3 of the many critical issues you must understand and address:

The most important decision is the first. To make the first decision the question you must ask, (and the one that guides everything else) is; should my child be going to school now?
I know that sounds like heresy, but hear me out. Many of our country’s greatest successes either delayed their education till they were ready, or never got a degree. A couple examples would be Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, so let’s not pooh-pooh the validity of the question.
To make an informed choice you must begin with the end in mind, which is, what does your child see him/herself doing as a career. Once that path has been identified, all the other choices such as timing and major can fall into place, with due consideration for financial concerns. But the question must be asked and considered…
Research on colleges can provide statistics on the best schools for each vocation. Then you just look for the schools with the most financial aid and the best chance for a successful job search after graduation. This will lead to more acceptance letters and, happily, too more potential aid sources.

Private schools are expensive and public universities will save you money… OR NOT. Assumption: All schools are created equal and will give you the same amounts of money.
Reality: All schools are NOT created equal and will not be able to give you the same financial aid packages. Some private schools have huge endowments and get vast sums from alumni and corporations. These schools have more money to give out and are generally able to meet most or all of a student’s financial need while they are in attendance.
Other schools, like state universities, get no private funds and rely solely on state and federal funds to help fill a student’s need at their school. It can actually end up costing you more to send your child to a “cheaper” school if they don’t have the money to meet your need.
It is very important that you know each school’s history of giving money before you ever apply so you’re not blown away when you get a bad financial aid package from your child’s top choice. With this knowledge you can actually negotiate for the aid your student should be getting. (This is an area where having professional assistance can really pay off)

The big lie. Most middle and upper-middle class parents assume they won’t be eligible for financial aid because they own a home and make of $100,000 per year. This practically qualifies as an urban myth…
There are over 130 billion dollars available each year from the Federal Government, the states, colleges, universities, private foundations and other organizations. Much of it never gets used, but you have to know how to get your “fair share”. Unfortunately, most parents give up before they even start, which is sort of by design.
Don’t believe the lie! If you fall into this category, make sure you apply; you’ll probably be eligible for some money.

There are several other key points that guide this process to a successful outcome. Most of them affect students on an individual basis, and make very dull reading, but they’re definitely things you must know.

Get all the answers.

Because we’ve helped thousands of students and parents with their financial aid packages we have developed a 20-minute process to determine what kind of assistance, if any, we can offer.
Once you have completed this call, you will have all the information you need to decide whether you will benefit from individualized professional assistance or if you can successfully go it alone.

The one thing that I want for every student (including my eight) is that they dream big!

About the author:

Kirk Ashburn has developed a separate and specialized body of knowledge on what makes for success in college planning, retirement planning, tax-free income planning and wealth accumulation. Kirk lives with his lovely wife Priscilla and his eight children in the Chicago area. When he’s not obsessing over the outrageous cost of higher education he likes to go fishing, boating and hiking with his army.


Bigger, Better College Tax Credit

Updated for Tax Year 2014


A key tax credit that helps families pay for college got a major boost in the 2009 stimulus bill. The credit is bigger, covers more years of college, and helps more taxpayers.

The American Opportunity tax credit, previously called the Hope College credit, is valued at $2,500 for 2014, up from $1800 in 2008.

Because a tax credit reduces your tax bill dollar for dollar, this basically means Uncle Sam will give you up to $2,500 per year for each qualifying college student in your family.

And, unlike the old Hope credit, which was available only for a student’s first two years of college, the American Opportunity credit can be claimed for all four years of post-high-school education. You get the maximum credit if you spend at least $4,000 in qualifying expenses, which now include the cost of books as well as tuition and fees.

More credit for lower- and higher-income taxpayers

If you’re a lower-income taxpayer and the credit is worth more than your tax bill for the year, up to 40 percent of the credit (as much as $1,000) will be returned to you as a tax refund. The old Hope credit could wipe out your tax bill but never gave you cash back.

There’s also good news for some higher-income taxpayers: The new rules greatly expanded the number of families who qualify for the credit. The old Hope credit was phased out for single taxpayers with Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) of more than $50,000 and it disappeared altogether at $60,000. For couples filing jointly, the credit phased out between $100,000 and $120,000 of AGI. (AGI is basically taxable income before subtracting personal and dependent exemptions and standard or itemized deductions.)

Now the credit starts to decrease at $80,000 for single taxpayers and disappears at $90,000. For married taxpayers filing jointly, those thresholds are now $160,000 and $180,000.

What if you already used the Hope credit for the first two years of a child’s college bills? If your child is a junior or senior in 2014, you can use the American Opportunity credit for these expenses.

Who qualifies?

The other rules for qualifying for the American Opportunity credit are the same as for the Hope credit.

The student must be enrolled at least half-time in a program pursuing an undergraduate degree or other recognized educational credential. You can claim the credit for expenses paid for yourself, your spouse, or a child who is claimed as a dependent on your tax return. If the student is claimed as a dependent on a parent’s tax return, the parent gets the credit, regardless of who actually pays the qualifying expenses.

The changes in the Hope credit do not affect the Lifetime Learning credit (which applies to higher education not covered by the Hope or American Opportunity credit) for education after the first two or four years, or for classes taken (1) less than half-time or (2 ) not in pursuit of a degree.

The Lifetime Learning credit, which can be claimed for graduate school, for example, or a single post-high-school class, is worth up to $2,000. (The credit is actually 20 percent of the first $10,000 of qualifying costs.) The income phase-out zone is lower than for the new American Opportunity credit. For 2014, the Lifetime Learning credit gradually disappears as AGI rises from $50,000 to $60,000 on single returns and from $100,000 to $120,000 on joint returns.

IRS publication 970 has more information about the American Opportunity, Hope and Lifetime Learning tax credits.

Reference: Tax Credit


What is Form 1098-E: Student Loan Interest Statement?

Updated for Tax Year 2014


If you paid interest on a qualified student loan, you may be able to deduct some or even all of that interest on your federal income tax return. Student loan companies use IRS Form 1098-E to report how much you paid in interest. Borrowers get a copy of this form, and so does the IRS.

Who sends Form 1098-E?

The 1098-E is sent out by loan “servicers” — companies that collect loan payments. Some lenders service their own loans; others hire an outside company to handle it. Loan servicers must send a 1098-E to anyone who pays at least $600 in student loan interest, and they generally must send the forms out by the end of January. If you have outstanding loans with more than one servicer, you may receive multiple 1098-E forms.

If you don’t receive the 1098-E

If you paid less than $600 in interest, you might not get a 1098-E form. If you don’t receive a form, the U.S. Department of Education says you should contact your loan servicer to find out how much you paid in interest.

Check for a phone number on statements sent to you by the servicer. The home page of the servicer’s website should also have information about getting a 1098-E, advises the Education Department. If you have an online account with your student loan servicer, you may be able to login and download an interest statement as well.

What you use it for

You use the 1098-E to figure your student loan interest deduction. You can deduct up to $2,500 worth of student loan interest from your taxable income as long as you meet certain conditions:
• The interest was your legal obligation to pay, not someone else’s
• Your filing status is not married filing separately
• Neither you nor your spouse, if you’re filing a joint return, is claimed as a dependent on anyone else’s tax return
• Your income is below the annual limit

You don’t have to itemize your deductions to claim the student loan interest deduction, but you do have to file your tax return using either Form 1040 or Form 1040A. The deduction isn’t available to those who file the 1040EZ.

Income requirements

Eligibility for the student loan interest deduction is based on your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). This is a number you calculate when you fill out your tax return. Your deduction is reduced or eliminated at higher income brackets. As of the 2014 tax year:
• For single taxpayers, the deduction is reduced once you have $65,000 of modified AGI and eliminated at $80,000
• For married taxpayers, the deduction is reduced at $130,000 of modified AGI and eliminated at $160,000

Reference: Tax Guides


How much financial support should you provide for your college student?


It is estimated that by the time a single child reaches the age of 18, his parents will have spent approximately $300,000, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (which releases annual reports on family spending). And that doesn’t include the cost of college. Of course, this report factors in housing, childcare, food, transportation, healthcare, and a number of other elements. But it comes out to about $13,000-14,000+ per year in expenses for a child in a median-income household (earning roughly $60,000-100,000 annually in taxable income). Unfortunately, your costs don’t end when your kids head off to college. In fact, they could increase significantly. You’ll still have to pay for your own home, car, food, and more, but you’ll also be on the hook for additional living expenses for your kids since they are no longer at home, not to mention tuition, books, fees, and other costs associated with college – unless of course you decide not to pay.

In truth, you have no onus to pay for your kids’ college education. However, most parents feel that it is their duty to ensure that their children attend college so they can start a career and realize their full potential on a professional level rather than toiling away at the dead-end jobs that high-school grads are often relegated to. In short, many parents want to set their kids up for the best chances in life, and that often includes the advanced education and expanded job prospects that college can provide. But you might not have the money to pay for it all, especially if you have a limited income and a large family, and the truth is that you don’t have to. The only question is how much you should pay.

This figure can be difficult to determine. The government has some guidelines in place, which is why you’re required to submit financial information via the FAFSA(based on previous year’s tax returns) when your kids apply for federal financial aid. They expect parents to take responsibility for at least a portion of the expenses associated with sending their kids to college. However, you can always provide more or less, depending on the needs of your children and your own financial situation. A good rule of thumb, in general, is to offer what you can afford while still keeping your own budget in order. There are a couple of good reasons to do this.

For one thing, it’s important to teach your kids to live within their means, and you can set a good example by doing so yourself. This could mean that your kids end up attending a less expensive institution or living at home so that they can save on living expenses and put that money towards higher tuition costs at their school of choice. Or they might be forced to work a part-time job to pay a portion of their own expenses so that they can attend their dream school. Either way, you avoid financial ruin and your kids learn some very adult lessons. Whether you are able to send them overseas to attend Oxford or they stay home and attend colleges like the University of Cincinnati, the most important thing is that you be honest about what you are willing and able to offer in terms of financial support so that your kids can make an informed decision about their future.


Financing College No Matter What Your Income Level


If you have kids, then chances are you’ve already thought about college affordability and how or if you’ll be able meet the expenses associated with higher education.

But you shouldn’t allow the worry of college costs to consume your life.  There are many practical and successful ways to pay for college (without drowning in debt) no matter what your income level may be.

Many families labor financially to make ends meet and they feel like it will be impossible for their children to attend a 4-year university.  This simply isn’t the case.  I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but there are ways to send your children to college on just about any level of income.

Saving For College – Reduce Your Debt

Anyone can save money for college; all you need is to remove the excuses from your life.  Starting with financial basics, the best way to begin saving for college is to pay off all your debt (or at least live within your means and be actively involved in a debt payoff plan).  Sound too difficult you say?  That sounds like an excuse to me.

Living with debilitating debt and allowing bills to circle your life like a vulture is a surefire way to live paycheck to paycheck and never have the available funds to save for college.  What I’m trying to say is this:  paying for college isn’t some magical happenstance that you uncover on some random day.  It’s going to take hard work, and in some cases, a change in your financial landscape.

Regardless of your current income level, you have the ability to save for your children’s college fund. You might have to trim your expenses, adjust your spending habits, and redirect your lifestyle in order to free up money for the college fund.  But if you want to send your kids to college without financing 100% of their education with borrowed money, then you’ll have to decide what’s more important.

Think of it like this; if you can scrounge up even $100 a month to save for your child’s college when they’re born, you’ll end up with $21,600 (and that’s without interest or anything).  Sure, that might not pay for 4 years of tuition, room, and board, but it’s definitely a great start.

Saving For College – 529 Plans and Educational Savings Accounts

A 529 Plan is a tax advantaged college savings account designed to encourage families of any income level to save for their children’s education.  529 Plans are “qualified tuition plans” sponsored by states, state agencies, and educational institutions and are authorized by section 529 of the IRS (hence the name 529 Plan).

The encouragement to save for college within a 529 Plan comes in two forms: the ability to save money free from Federal taxes and the ability to receive a deduction on State taxes.  One benefit to a 529 Plan is that anyone, upon creation of the account, can be named the account’s beneficiary, regardless of age.

The 529 Plan is a lot like a Roth IRA for your college savings fund. The savings will grow tax-deferred and any withdrawal is tax-free as long as you use the money withdrawn for qualifying educational expenses.

A Coverdell Educational Savings Account (ESA) is another tax advantaged college savings account which is meant to inspire families to save for future educational expenses.  The difference between an ESA and a 592 Plan is that an ESA’s beneficiary must be a student under the age of 18.

An ESA also has a maximum annual contribution limit of $2000 and the owner of the account has the freedom to choose what types of securities they would like to invest in (stocks, bonds, ETFs, mutual funds, etc.).

With both types of college savings accounts, you’ll incur a hefty 10% tax if you withdraw any amount of money from either account and use it for non-education related expenses.

Paying For College – Grants and Scholarships

No matter how much or how little you’re able to save for your child’s college education, you’ll always want to be aware of and informed about college grants and scholarships.  After all, this is free money we’re talking about.

Scholarships are offered by high schools, colleges, and other organizations usually recognizing some sort of educational, athletic, or humanitarian achievement.  Scholarships vary by amount and length. Some are one-time gifts and others are recurring payments made as long as grades and other collegiate performances are maintained.

Information about college scholarships is usually available from your high school, your hometown city hall, and the university you wish to attend.  You can also search for scholarships on the web.  Some of these scholarships may be smaller than a say a university’s alumni scholarship, but $500 here and $1000 there really starts to add up.

Grants are another “free money” option.  The government offers need-based grants to families with a low income.  Other organizations are free to offer grants to students that show academic promise or that meet other requirements.

Paying for College – Financial Aid Student Loans

There are numerous kinds of financial aid and student loan programs available, but these loans should be your last resort when it comes to financing college.  I’m not saying student loans are bad, but financially responsible parents won’t rely solely on borrowed money to fund their children’s college.  As I mentioned earlier, if you save even $100 a month, you can drastically cut the amount of money you need to borrow to send your child to college.

There are Federal Stafford Loans, Perkins Loans, Plus Loans, and numerous other student loans available from private institutions.  If you qualify, you can apply for subsidized student loans that are basically interest free until you graduate and begin loan repayment.  FAFSA is your Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Final Comments

Jamie Scott from CreditDonkey also reminds you that while “student credit cards are a convenient option to help students pay for short-term small expenses such as groceries,” there are other options available for long-term larger expenses such as tuition.

The bottom line is that you’ll probably use two or three different sources to fund your child’s college expenses.  Don’t give up just because of your low income and don’t think that your high salary will always be there for you.  No matter where your income level is at, research, preparation, and responsibility will go a long way when it comes to saving and paying for college.


Today’s guest post is from Jamie Scott, social media advocate with CreditDonkey. Jamie helps parents and students prepare for college by evaluating student credit offers. As a parent herself, she knows all too well the concerns most families have about responsible credit usage.


Scholarships: Military dependents


Are you or your spouse in the military? Do you have a family member that was a veteran of a foreign war? If so, there are scholarships available in these specific categories.

State Provided Education Benefits

Educational benefits for families, particularly the children of deceased, MIA, POW, and disabled veterans, may be available in some states. has developed an on-line general summary of educational benefits for veterans, surviving spouses and their dependents.

Click here to learn more about State Education Benefits.

Private Scholarships and Grants

While looking for money for school many surviving spouses and their families overlook the over $300 million of military – and veteran – related scholarships and grants. These scholarships often go unclaimed.

Visit’s Scholarship Finder today and get started.

Local Scholarships

Also, don’t neglect to search in your military community. Many service aid organizations and associations, like the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society, offer scholarships, grants, and low interest loans to help cover education expenses.


How to raise $15,000 for college


A few weeks ago I attended a virtual college event at College Week Live. I was impressed with the simplicity of the information and wanted to pass it along to all my readers who might not have had the opportunity to attend. This particular session was conducted by Kim Clark, staff writer for U.S. News and World Reports. She outlined some simple steps to raise $15,000 for college:

  1. Up to $2500 from Uncle Sam–via tax credits (Hope and Lifetime Learning Credit)
  2. Child labor–put your teen to work at a summer job ($8 an hour x 40 hours a week for 9 weeks=$2880)
  3. Student loans–Stafford Loan ($5500 max per year at 7%); after student leaves college can sign up for payments based on their income (less than 15%)
  4. Family savings–cut teen to occassional driver and save $; food bills will decline; stop subsidizing entertainment (food and insurance can =$300-$400 a month)
  5. Scholarships and grants–leverage grades, test scores, athletics, arts for merit-based grants; apply for local scholarships
  6. Friends and relatives–ask for college fund contributions instead of presents
  7. Corporate sponsorship–some employers subsidize education for employees and families; UPromise
  8. Reduce college expenses–reduce dorm costs (share with other students); watch meal plans; buy used textbooks or rent; earn cheaper credits at community college, AP classes or dual credit classes; sell student’s car (won’t need one at college)

The bottom line: $15,000 or MORE! Here’s how it all adds up:

  1. Tax break-$2500 per year
  2. Student loan-$5500 per year
  3. Student job-$3000 per year
  4. Parent savings-$4000 per year
  5. Relatives-_____ (fill in blank)
  6. Scholarships-____(fill in blank)
  7. Corporate sponsorship-____(fill in blank)
  8. Reduction in college expenses-_____(fill in blank)

By piecing together all these separate components, there is no limit on how much you can raise for college costs. At the very least you can raise $15,000, at the very most, the sky is the limit!

You can check out U.S. News and World Reports education section: Paying For College for more information and tips.


The 8 traits shared by the most successful entrepreneurs

By Entrepreneur


What separates the successful entrepreneur from the one who fails?
There may not be just one answer. However, the common theme among successful entrepreneurs is they have the right mentality to embark on the entrepreneurial journey.

What specific mentalities do successful entrepreneurs possess? Here are eight of them.

1. No respect for the status quo.

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – Apple, Inc.

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 the famous, ‘Think Different,’ campaign was launched. This was no coincidence. Jobs was known for not following the status quo, which is why most entrepreneurs turn to his career for inspiration. Most successful entrepreneurs strive for the freedom to do what they want and not be told that, “this is how things are done.”

2. Abundant thinker.

“Over the years, I have noticed that there are two kinds of thinking. One kind leads to success, joy, and fulfillment. The other leads to failure, fear, and discontent.” – Michael Hyatt

Best-selling author Michael Hyatt believes that for people to be successful they need to be abundant thinkers. Characteristics of abundant thinkers include:

  • There is more where that came from.
  • Want to share ideas, knowledge, contacts, etc.
  • Can easily build relationships through trust.
  • Embrace competition.
  • Deliver more than expected.
  • Are optimistic.
  • Think big and take risks.
  • Are confident and appreciative.

So, would you rather be generous, confident and able to make meaningful connections or stingy, pessimistic and fearful?

3. Learn as you go.

“He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand, and walk, and run, and climb, and dance; one cannot fly into flying.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

As any entrepreneur will inform you, there’s a lot of trial and error involved with starting and maintaining your own business. No matter how knowledgeable you are regarding your industry, how many college degrees you have, or how much money you’ve made or lost along the way, entrepreneurs face their fair share of success and failures. That’s a part of the journey. Being able to learn, however, increases your chances of success since it will help you adapt to changes, as well as discovering what works for you and your business.

4. Live a frugal life.

I think frugality drives innovation, just like other constraints do. One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out. – Jeff Bezos

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos may believe that being frugal can help with innovation, but living a frugal life is championed by many other entrepreneurs and business leaders. For example, Warren Buffett, despite having the money to purchase anything he wants, lives a modest lifestyle. Instead of toys and mansions, Buffett’s riches come from loving what he does and doing it well. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg famously drove an entry-level Acura even though he was worth more than $7 billion.

Being frugal doesn’t mean that you have to be cheap. It means not being careless with your money. Instead of taking loans out to purchase a luxury vehicle, save that money so that you can expand your business.

5. Problem solver.

“The happiest and most successful people I know don’t just love what they do, they’re obsessed with solving an important problem, something that matters to them.” – Drew Houston

Don’t just start a business for the sake of starting a business. Successful entrepreneurs start a business because they see a real-world problem and have the drive and desire to solve that problem. Remember, as Martin Zwilling puts it perfectly in Entrepreneur, “Entrepreneurs see problems as milestones to success, not barriers.”

6. Hustler.

“Good things happen to those who hustle.” – Chuck Noll

Entrepreneurs are go-getters. They never stop. In fact, that’s how Gary Vaynerchuk launched Wine Library. According to Gary, “I was walking into any business that might be relevant to my community and passing out flyers and coupons one-by-one to gain more exposure. Nobody gave a crap or knew who we were, but I knocked on doors and made sure we got the exposure we needed.”

If you want to succeed, you have to hustle. You have to put in long hours, build a quality  product, and do whatever it takes to get your name out there.

7. Listen to others but decide for yourself.

“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.” – Bernard Baruch

While entrepreneurs are free-spirits and make their own decisions, it’s also important that you listen to what others have to say. If you aren’t listening to your customers, how do you know if they’re satisfied with you products or services? Maybe this entire time they haven’t enjoyed what you’re providing, which is why sales have been sluggish.

Whether it’s from customers, team members, colleagues or mentors, always take the time to listen to advice. However, it’s you who ultimately has to make the final decision.

8. Think like an athlete.

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twentysix times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

Athletes are some of the most passionate and driven individuals on the planet. How often do you hear about the insane training regiments that athletes subject themselves to in order to play the game? How about the Olympic star who was told that they’ll never compete again, only to win a medal the next time around?

Athletes regularly defy the impossible. And so do entrepreneurs. Evan Spiegel, for example, was told that Snapchat was a “terrible idea” by a venture capitalist. Did Spiegel listen? Of course not. He marched forward and made Snapchat a hit.

As an entrepreneur, you’re going to face failure and opposition, but you’re passion and obsession with your idea will be the drive you need to find success.


21 things you should do on your first day of work

Business Insider

(BurnAway/flickr) Say “Hi” to everyone.

The first day at your new job may be among the most memorable — and perhaps stressful — of your career.

“Most of us remember our first days at every job because of the heightened pressure to impress,” says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant; How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job.” “But you can reduce your anxiety by being as meticulous in planning your first day as you were in securing your new position.”

David Parnell, a legal consultant, communication coach, and author, says it’s easy, even tempting, to passively ride along with the “human resources tour that usually sets off the first day of employment.” There will be forms to fill out, videos to watch, people to meet, “and generally speaking, no real position-specific responsibilities,” he says. “But taking a passive versus proactive response would be a mistake. The first day sets the tone for the rest of your career with those who you’ll be interacting with.”

Here are 21 things you should do on the first day of your new job:

1. Prepare and ask questions. Mark Strong, a life, career, and executive coach based in New York, says although you should spend much of your first day listening, you can and should ask questions when necessary. “Generally, you’re trying to demonstrate your curiosity and desire to learn,” he says.

Taylor says it’s a good idea to prepare by writing down both practical and general questions about how you can be most successful in the role. “By now you have enough background on the company to integrate more in-depth questions at your orientation meetings,” she says. “Have a list of questions handy for managers you think you might meet. Make sure you also have a contact in HR in case you have very basic inquiries before you start or on your first day.”

2. Prepare an elevator pitch. Get ready to give a 30-second explainer of who you are and where you were before, as many new colleagues will likely ask about your previous place of employment, Taylor says. Be prepared to also describe what you’ll be doing in this new position, since there may be people who have a vague understanding of your role or simply want to strike up a conversation.

(MKTGInsider/YouTube) Know your “pitch.”

3. Show up early, but enter the building on time. Get there at least 15 minutes early, suggests Teri Hockett, chief executive of What’s For Work?, a career site for women. “If you haven’t done the commute before, practice it a couple of times during rush hour a week before so that you’re at least somewhat prepared for the unknown.” But wait at a nearby coffee shop until the time your new boss or HR asked you to arrive.

4. Figure out the social landscape. Two of the more important factors in succeeding at a job are to not only get along with your co-workers, but also to associate with the right ones, Parnell explains. “In any sizeable work environment you will find cliques, and some mesh better with management than others. If you want to eventually move up in the ranks with your new employer, you’ll need to associate with the right crowd.”

He says it’s also essential that you begin to determine the office politics on day one. “Power is an interesting, quite important, and sometimes elusive thing in the work environment,” he says. “Certainly it is vital to understand the articulated positional hierarchy in your organization — who answers to who. This should be as easy as reading your co-worker’s titles. However, because power can manifest in so many different ways, it is imperative to understand who actually answers to who.”

5. Relax. While you’re being strategic, also remember to relax on your first day so that you can optimize your productivity. “Make sure you’re well rested, prepared, and have every reason to be on time. This is a visible milestone, and you want to be at your best,” Taylor says.

6. Smile. “It may have taken awhile to reach this point, after searching, interviewing, and landing the job, so don’t forget to be happy and enjoy the moment,” Hockett says.

Strong agrees, saying: “We all know that first impressions matter. Smile when you meet new people, and shake their hands. Introduce yourself to everyone, and make it clear how happy and eager you are to be there. Your co-workers will remember.”

7. Look and play the part. When in doubt, take the conservative approach in how you dress and what you say and do. Be as professional as you were in the interview process.

Hockett suggests you determine the dress code in advance so that you don’t look out of place on your first day. “This is important because sometimes the way we dress can turn people off to approaching us, or it sends the wrong message.” Ideally, you want to blend in and make others and yourself comfortable. If you’re not sure what the dress code is, call the HR department and ask.

(Flickr / Dave Collier) Dress the part.

8. Don’t be shy. Say “Hi” and introduce yourself to everyone you can.

9. Talk to as many people as possible. One of the most invaluable insights you can get in the beginning is how the department operates from the perspective of your peers. If you establish that you’re friendly and approachable early on, you will start on the right foot in establishing trust.

10. Befriend at least one colleague. Go a step further and try to make a friend on Day 1. “Beyond generally talking to peers and getting the lay of the land, it’s always a good to connect with a fellow team member or two on your first day, even if it’s just for 10 minutes,” says Taylor. “Beginning a new job can be stressful at any level, and this practice can be very grounding, accelerating your ability to get up to speed faster in a foreign atmosphere.”

Let your colleague(s) know that you’re available to lend a helping hand. A little goodwill goes a long way. The positive energy and team spirit you exude will be contagious, and the best time to share that is early on, versus later, when you need people.

11. Don’t try too hard. The urge to impress can take you off-track, so remember that you’re already hired — you don’t have to wow your new colleagues, Taylor says. It’s every new employee’s dream to hear that people noted how brilliant and personable they are, or how they seem to “get” the company so quickly. But that can be a lot of wasted energy; you’ll impress naturally — and more so once you understand the ropes.

12. Don’t turn down lunch. “If you’re offered to go have lunch with your new boss and coworkers, go,” Hockett says. “It’s important to show that you’re ready to mingle with your new team — so save the packed lunch for another day.”

(Gareth Williams/flickr) Enjoy lunch with your new boss.

13. Listen and observe. The best thing anyone can do in the first few days of a new job is “listen, listen, and listen,” Strong says. “It’s not time to have a strong opinion. Be friendly, meet people, smile, and listen.”

This is a prime opportunity to hear about the goals your boss and others have for the company, the department, and top projects. It’s your chance to grasp the big picture, as well as the priorities. “Be prepared to take lots of notes,” Taylor suggests.

14. Project high energy. You will be observed more in your early days from an external standpoint, Taylor says. Your attitude and work ethic are most visible now, as no one has had a chance to evaluate your work skills just yet. Everyone wants to work with enthusiastic, upbeat people — so let them know that this is exactly what they can expect.

15. Learn the professional rules. On your first day, your employer will have a description of your responsibilities — either written or verbal. This is what you should do to be successful at your job. “With that being said, there is usually a gap between what you should do, and what actually happens,” Parnell says. “This is important because while you shouldn’t neglect any articulated duties, there may be more that are implicitly expected of you. It is usually best to find this out sooner rather than later.”

16. Put your cell phone on silent. You need to be 100% present at work, especially on the first day.

17. Show interest in everyone, and the company. You’ll likely be introduced to many people, and while they may make the first attempt to learn a little about you, make an effort to find out about them and their role. It’s not just flattering, it will help you do your job better, Taylor says.

(Flickr/VFS Digital Design) Learn what everyone does.

18. Pay attention to your body language. Your body language makes up the majority of your communication in the workplace. Assess what you’re communicating to better understand how others may perceive you, and make any necessary adjustments.

19. Be available to your boss. “This might sound obvious at face value, but on your first day of work, you’ll likely be pulled in a thousand directions,” says Taylor. You want to make sure you’re accessible to your new boss first and foremost on your this day, despite all the administrative distractions.

“This is an important first impression you don’t want to discount,” she adds. “Companies are not always as organized as they’d like when onboarding staff. You can easily get caught up with an HR professional, various managers or coworkers — or with a special assignment that keeps you from being available to the person who matters most.” On your first day of work, check in with your manager throughout the day.

20. Be yourself. “Think of ways to be relaxed and project yourself as who you are,” Taylor says. “It’s stressful to try to be someone else, so why bother? You want some consistency in who you are on day one and day 31. If you have the jitters, pretend you’re meeting people at a business mixer or in the comfort of your own home, and that these are all friends getting to know each other. That’s not far from the truth; you’ll be working closely with them and enjoy building the relationship, so why not start now?”

21. Leave with a good attitude. The last thing to remember is that while the first day at a new job is very important, you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself if it doesn’t go flawlessly. “You might look back on your performance on day one and second-guess yourself,” Taylor says. “Yes, you should prepare and try to do your best, but remember that if you try to accomplish too much, you may get overwhelmed. Know that there’s always tomorrow.”