young black man sitting at a desk with a cup of coffee in front of him looking at paperwork

Student Loan Payment Tracker

Updated January 1, 1 . AmFam Team

Overwhelmed by student debt? This visual, printable payment tracker will help you break it down to reasonable payments, plus it’ll keep you motivated!

Going to college is an experience well worthwhile — especially if you use your education to launch your dream career, explore potential passions or even make connections. But it comes at a hefty price, leaving many of us feeling a little overwhelmed by student debt. But don’t stress — you’ve got this! You just need to take it one step at a time.

By visually displaying your payment plan, you’ll feel more motivated to work your way through your debt. And this printable student loan payment tracker can help! It allows you to divide your loan balance up into 100 reasonable payment amounts, prompting you to fill in a bubble for each one you make. Plus, it encourages you to reward yourself as you go! Because the milestones count, too.

Print this plan and hang it up on your fridge or next to your desk to encourage yourself to keep hacking away at that debt. Remember, each payment you make gets you closer to financial freedom!


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  • Man interviewing a woman
    How to Answer Tell Me About Yourself

    Being asked to talk about yourself seems simple enough, right? After all, no one knows you like you! But if it’s that easy, why do so many job seekers stumble in their response to this common interview question? The truth is, it’s trickier than you might think.

    No matter what stage of the interview process you’re in or what position you’re applying for, the meeting will probably kick off with some version of the “tell me about yourself” question. Why? Because it can give the interviewer a straight look at you and your values and direct the course of the rest of the interview. The question can also reveal clues about how you communicate and whether you’ll be a good fit for the role and the company.

    While there isn’t one ideal strategy for how to answer the “tell me about yourself” question, we’ve put together tips and examples to help you get one step closer to nailing your interview.

    How to Answer the Tell Me About Yourself Question

    Answering the “tell me about yourself” question may feel daunting because it’s a broad, open-ended invitation. It may also cause confusion because it’s sometimes asked in different ways, such as “Describe yourself” or “What brings you here today?” Yet with a little preparation you can develop a confident, concise response that could work to your advantage as you position yourself as the best candidate for the job.

    Many career coaches suggest using a three-part, past-present-future outline to structure a solid response to "tell me about yourself.” But remember, this isn’t a hard-fast rule — you can tweak the order depending on the extent and relevance of your experiences.

    For example, if you have been working for decades, it may make more sense to begin with the recent past, when you started to focus on a specific direction along your career path. Or, if something in your present situation is particularly significant considering the job description, you might choose to speak to that first and then briefly summarize how your past led you to this point.

    No matter how you decide to organize the parts of your answer, what’s most important is to make sure everything you say relates to the job at hand and assures the interviewer you have the right background and qualifications to be a strong candidate.

    Mention Past Experience

    When reflecting on what to share from your past, remember it’s okay to cherry pick — especially if you’re a seasoned professional with an extensive work history. Interviewers don’t want to sit through a laundry list of your previous jobs; they want to hear about the past experiences in which you gained skills or key responsibilities that closely relate to their current opening.

    If you’re a recent graduate, you won’t have to par down a lengthy career story, but you will have the challenge of sharing what led to your interest in this field without getting too bogged down in personal information. Feel free to mention previous volunteer work or other transferrable experiences, but again, be mindful that the interviewer’s priority is to find a capable candidate with qualities that fit the job description.

    State How Your Present Role Relates to the Job You’re Applying For

    If you had a job until recently or are currently employed, briefly describe the scope of your work, zeroing in on (and here’s the kicker!) the responsibilities that are relevant to the job you’re seeking. This is also the perfect time to mention an award you won, a leadership role you took on, or any other significant accomplishment that might underscore the relevance of your most recent work experience.

    If you’re back in the job market after a significant lapse of time, briefly note the gap without diving into the details. For example, you might say you took a break to start a family, get another degree or pursue other interests. Then seamlessly turn your focus to why you’re there today.

    And if you’re a new graduate, think creatively! Were you involved in an academic organization or extracurricular club? Did you study abroad? Play sports? It’s worth noting anything that provided opportunities to gain skills and experiences that you could connect to the job description.

    Highlight What You’re Looking for in Your Next Role

    Whether you started your career story by talking about your past experiences or the present, you’ll conclude your answer by talking about your future goals. This is where you tie a bow on your answer by clearly showing the interviewers how your professional aspirations align with the company mission as well as the role you are pursuing. role you are pursuing.

    When you finish your answer to the “tell me about yourself” interview question, there should be no mistake as to why you are there. You’ve shown how your previous positions make you a qualified candidate, and now you’ll cap off your response by describing where you see yourself headed.

    Pro tip:

    By framing your discussion of future goals in light of the job description and company objectives, you’ll prove you’ve done your research and reinforce why you are a great fit for this opportunity!

    Tell Me About Yourself: Tips

    Even with a solid understanding of the three-part formula above, there are still some aspects to consider before creating your own. Here are a few tips that can give your response to “tell me about yourself” a polished finish.

    Focus on strengths that you can quantify

    When talking about your earlier roles, try to spotlight strengths or accomplishments you can support with concrete examples and measurable data. Even if you don’t have exact percentages or numbers, you could estimate or give anecdotal evidence of the effectiveness of your work. Think about it — who would you rather hire, the candidate who says, “I helped with patient in-take” or the one who reports, “I helped with patient in-take and worked with a cross-functional team to increase efficiency by roughly 25%?”

    Use your personality to your advantage

    While you’ll want to avoid topics like politics and religion, you can still give glimpses of your personality and interests — as long as you tie them back to the position and maintain a professional tone. For instance, if the job description says it’s a fast-paced role that requires a lot of focus and stamina, you might weave in how you’ve leveraged your fitness hobby to stay mentally disciplined for the demands of your career.

    Tailor the answer to the role you’re applying for

    If there’s one thing hiring managers can spot instantly, it’s a candidate who uses the same generic response to this question, no matter what position they’re interviewing for or who they’re talking to. Make no mistake — what you’re really being asked to do is clearly and succinctly identify those aspects of your career journey that qualify you for this job. So be sure to adapt your answer to show you understand the job’s specific requirements.

    Know your audience

    Equally important is remembering who you’re speaking with and adjusting your response to address their priorities. You might focus on a high-level view of your professional background with a recruiter but shift to highlighting specific responsibilities and qualifications when interviewing with a potential manager.

    It would also be a good idea to find out what you can about the person interviewing you. If you have their name, do a little research online to learn about their background, experience or interests — anything you might be able to use in your response to establish common ground. For example, maybe you discover that the hiring manager went to the same college as you. This would be a great opportunity to make a memorable connection.

    Avoid summarizing your resume word for word

    Since it’s likely your interviewer will have already read your resume, you can skip the chronological replay of your work history. Instead, key in on those experiences, skills and accomplishments that will make them think, “Wow, this is just the person we’re looking for!” Remember, this is your elevator pitch, and a long-winded response won’t set the stage for a dynamic, engaging interview.

    Rehearse, don’t memorize

    As you prepare for the “tell me about yourself” interview question, it will help to rehearse at home. Think of the pieces you want to include and keep a basic structure in mind so you don’t ramble. Then, practice — but don’t memorize your answer. You’ll run the risk of sounding overly scripted.

    Pro tip:

    Rehearse your response to this question aloud, in front of a friend or family member, and ask for their feedback. If you prefer to practice alone, consider recording yourself and play it back to see if it sounds natural and sincere.

    On the day of the interview, remember to sound conversational and personable. You are, after all, talking about you!

    While this may seem like a lot of information for just one interview question, keep in mind the entire answer should take a maximum of about two minutes. Keep it short, sweet and, yes, strategic.

    Tell Me About Yourself Sample Responses

    Now it’s time to put theory into practice and write your own response. But first, let’s look at “tell me about yourself” examples representing three different levels of experience within three different industries.

    Example #1: Education, new graduate seeking entry-level position

    “I just graduated with honors from XYZ University with my Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education. I’ve always had a passion for learning and have wanted to be a teacher from the time I used to gather all the neighborhood kids at our backyard picnic table to ‘play school’ over summer break. While at university, I was a proud member of the International Club, completed a study abroad semester in Spain and developed a strong interest in the relationship between culture and education. I’m very excited to apply for the K-6 opening in your district because I am aware that your schools are very culturally and linguistically diverse which aligns closely with my professional passion and training.”

    Example #2: Healthcare, mid-level professional seeking lateral position

    “After receiving my RN, I got a job as a floor nurse at Research Medical Center, and that is where I have been for the past four years. This was a wonderful place to start my career in nursing because I immediately had the chance to apply all that I’d learned in nursing school and acquire hands-on experience with all kinds of illnesses, injuries, treatment plans and patients. It could be a bit overwhelming at times, but I worked hard to increase my efficiency. I even volunteered to be part of a test group on my unit to implement new software that enabled us to manage patients and complete documentation about 30 percent faster. I believe my ability to be productive, along with my collaborative skills and medical-surgical experience, make me a strong candidate for the OR surgical team at your clinic.”

    Example #3: Technology, senior-level professional seeking management position

    “I’m currently the lead software developer at 123 Tech Systems, where I’ve spent more than seven years designing, testing and launching new applications. Prior to this role, I spent five years on a cross-functional team of developers at ABC Technologies. Throughout my journey, I have not only broadened the scope of my project contributions, but I’ve also assumed increasing responsibility for directing and inspiring the work of others. Last year, I led a team of software engineers to complete multiple projects on time and under budget. We were later recognized at our year-end conference for achieving a client satisfaction rating of 98%. I believe the skills I’ve cultivated and the successes I’ve achieved have prepared me for the challenges of the Director of Engineering position at your firm."

    Practice Makes Perfect!

    Using the tips above, you’ll be able to develop a successful response to the “tell me about yourself” interview question and lay the groundwork for a winning interview. Remember the dos and don’ts:


    • Rely on your three-part outline
    • Align your response to the role
    • Include measurable supportive data when possible


    • Get too personal
    • Recite your resume
    • Memorize your response

    With that covered, there’s just one step left ... practice, practice, practice, practice! The more thought, time and effort you put into practicing your response, the more confident you’ll feel and the easier it will be for your true self to shine through. Always remember, skills can be learned, and tools can be mastered. What a hiring manager is really looking for are the unique dreams and perspectives you’ll bring to the table. Want more tips like this to help build your career? Whether you’re new to the job market, changing careers or considering starting your own business, our professional development resources offer practical tips to guide you on the path to your dream job.

    This article is for informational purposes only and includes information widely available through different sources.

  • a woman writing on a piece of paper
    a person holding a pen
    Follow-Up Email After an Interview

    Your job search is moving right on track! Your application caught a potential employer’s attention, and you just aced the interview. Now, you’re feeling confident, energized and ready to move forward toward your dream job.

    But wait! While the interview finished well, it’s not quite over. Keep the good vibes going by taking the next, sometimes underestimated, step in the interview process — sending an interview thank you email. This is your opportunity to express your gratitude for the interviewers’ time, remind them of what makes you a great fit for the position, and invite them to contact you for further information that would assist in their hiring decision.

    Not quite sure how to write a follow-up email after an interview? Use these tips to quickly get your message in the hiring manager’s inbox and keep your name top of mind!

    How to Write a Follow-Up Email After an Interview

    Follow-up emails should always be concise, but the specifics of what to include depend on the kind of message you want to send. There are three different types of follow-up emails:

    • Thank you email — sent within 24 hours of your interview
    • Checking-in email — sent about a week later if you haven’t heard anything
    • Staying-in-touch email — sent if at least two weeks have passed since your interview with no contact from the potential employer

    For this article, we’ll focus on the first type — the interview thank you email. These tips can help you create the ideal follow-up email immediately after an interview.

  • a person writing on a book
    a person writing on a book
    How to Write a Cover Letter for a Job

    It’s true what they say — looking for a job is a lot of work! From scanning job boards to tweaking your resume to preparing for interviews, it can feel like a job to look for a job!

    But did you know one of the most important steps in the application process — writing a great cover letter — can set you apart early on the path to your dream job? In fact, a recent article shows 53% of employers still want them, and 49% of Human Resource managers think a cover letter is one of the best ways to boost your resume.

    Let’s take a look at what a cover letter is and some tips for how to craft one that sets your resume apart from the crowd.

    What Is a Cover Letter?

    Think of a cover letter as your personal introduction — like sharing a little about yourself to begin a face-to-face conversation with someone you’ve just met. It’s your opportunity to briefly highlight who you are and what you’ve done and inspire further interest. Plus, it can help you connect with the recruiter or hiring manager, give insight into your communication style, and demonstrate your willingness to go the extra mile to show you’re a strong candidate.

    You’ll want to keep the tone conversational yet professional and include three core components:

    • a captivating and memorable introduction
    • a shortlist of work experiences that reveal transferrable skills and provide context to illustrate how you could bring value to the company
    • a conclusion that thanks the reviewer for their consideration and invites them to follow up with you (be sure to include your contact information)

    While not all job listings request a cover letter, it’s highly recommended that you include one anyway. If there isn’t a place to attach it when responding to an online post, you can pair it with your resume in a single PDF document.

    Ready to write a great cover letter? With the following cover letter tips, you’ll be on your way!

    Tips for Writing a Cover Letter: What to Include

    In today’s competitive job market, knowing how to write a cover letter for a job you really want could set you apart from other applicants. After all, first impressions matter, and since a cover letter may be the first part of your application a potential employer sees, you want to be sure it’s engaging, well-crafted and convincing.

    Keep in mind, you have a small amount of space to accomplish a big task. You must be strategic. You’ll want to choose examples that uniquely capture your suitability for the role and accent the reasons you want to work there.

    With these tips for writing a great cover letter, you can feel confident you’re taking an important step toward creating an attention-grabbing application.

    1. Create a strong opening
    2. This is a classic you-had-me-at-hello challenge! Hiring managers receive mountains of cover letters and resumes, so to put yours on top you’ll need an opening that quickly captures interest and makes them want to read more. Rather than a ho-hum “this is my name, and I have X years of experience,” think about more enticing ways to draw in your reader. For example, you might immediately state what you think the company will gain by hiring you. Or you could impress them by sharing something you learned about the company that makes you excited to join their mission.

    3. Tell a compelling story
    4. Your career is composed of defining moments you’ll want to weave into your cover letter narrative. Again, you must be selective. The goal is to identify a few highlights from your experience and use them to craft a story that resonates with the qualifications noted in the position description. By using these “snippets” to reflect your individual journey, you’ll give insight into your personality and work style.

    5. Research the company/division and know about its current work
    6. Your school days may be behind you, but there’s still homework! Take the time to investigate and gain a clear understanding of what the company does and its goals and priorities. A little bit of knowledge goes a long way in convincing a potential employer you see the position as more than “just a job” — it’s a career opportunity in which you’re willing to invest.

    7. Address the recruiter or hiring manager by name
    8. One of the best ways to establish a connection and underscore your interest in the position is to personalize your cover letter. Think about it — when you receive a letter or email addressing you by name, aren’t you more likely to pay attention? With a simple internet search, you may be able to find out who you should address the letter to and make an impression by using their name. If you can’t discover the recipient’s name, consider addressing the letter to the division or the department that’s hiring for the role, such as “Dear (Company Name) Product Engineering team.” Whatever you do, don’t use “To whom it may concern.”

    9. Include job-related experiences and skills
    10. You can spark a hiring manager’s attention by tailoring your application to demonstrate how you’d be an asset to the company. First, brainstorm and jot down highlights from your career path. Then put your list side-by-side with the job description and choose two or three experiences that shine a light on the characteristics or competencies they’re seeking. To successfully prove you’re a good match for the role, you have to first show you’ve got the skills and background to match the job requirements. Pro tip: Use specific keywords from the posted job requirements so, if the company uses filtering technology to scan for qualified candidates, your application will be flagged for closer review.

    11. Keep it short
    12. A well-designed, easy-to-read cover letter is succinct. Since space and time are at a premium, keep it concise — no more than three to four paragraphs fit onto one well-organized page. If your cover letter goes beyond one page or isn’t visually appealing, a busy hiring manager may not take the time to sift through it. They will appreciate your ability to edit and leverage your words wisely.

    13. Customize each cover letter
    14. Here’s the rub: Tailoring your cover letter to each position you apply for takes time and effort. But here’s the payoff: A customized letter could motivate a recruiter to take a closer look at your application and, ultimately, schedule an interview. Use the company name, and reference how your background and abilities are well-matched to their specific needs — whatever it takes to communicate you’re already invested in them and motivated to prove your value to the team.

    15. Focus on the future
    16. A company that launches a thorough candidate search will be more inclined to pursue someone who expresses a desire to grow with them. Share an accomplishment or skill that shows how you can contribute as the company works to solve current and future business challenges. It’s great to talk about your past experiences but put them in the context of what you can bring to the table to strengthen the company now and in the future.

    17. Proofread
    18. Nothing says “hire me” like an error-free cover letter and resume. It’s one thing to make a generic statement about your efficiency and attention to detail — it’s quite another to demonstrate those qualities by proofreading your application materials before you hit submit. Scan your cover letter several times and ask a friend or family member to review it to be sure you have resolved any spelling, grammar or punctuation mistakes.

    19. Consider using a template
    20. A cover letter template is a useful tool to help you get started. It can keep your letter focused and make it visually attractive. If you used a template for your resume, there may even be a matching template for an accompanying cover letter. (If you combine the two documents into one pdf file, this will really give it a unified look.)

    What Does a Cover Letter Look Like?

    The templates for cover letters are as varied as those for resumes, so you’ll have choices. From college students to executive-level professionals, job seekers of all types can find an appropriate cover letter template through a quick internet search. Simply type “cover letter examples” or “cover letter templates” into your favorite search engine and you’ll discover a plethora of options to get you started.

    Cover Letter Ready to Go? Take the Next Step

    Now you know how to write an excellent cover letter! By following these tips for writing a cover letter, you’ll not only gain an edge on the competition, but you’ll be one step closer to your next dream job.

    Once your cover letter and resume are submitted, you’ll be ready to prepare for and practice answers to common interview questions and nail your next interview!

    And remember, we have career growth resources to support you along your professional journey — no matter if you’re looking for your first internship, changing careers or planning to start a new business. Visit us and be inspired!

  • Tips to Writing Professional Emails

    Let’s face it — writing professional emails is a skill that must be practiced and honed, much like writing prose on parchment with a feather dipped in ink during the Renaissance. Whether you type multiple emails a day or do it once in a blue moon, writing effective business emails can help you and your work stand out.

    How? Well-written emails can show great project management, leadership and communication skills. Once you’re known as an email-writing pro, you could be perceived as a trustworthy contributor who can handle larger, more complex projects. Plus, you’ll always be a pleasure to work with, making messages and objectives clearly understood and managed.

    Ready to get started? Here are five of the top professional email writing tips.

    1. Know Your Audience

    While you may have background info and passion behind your project, your audience likely does not. If that's the case, try to keep jargon to a minimum and provide meaningful info that helps your audience follow along and stay engaged.

    As you craft your email message, ask yourself:

    • How could I explain this so a friend who works in an entirely different field would understand it?
    • What is the most important thing the reader needs to know? (Pro tip: Put that info near the top!)
    • Is there a due date the reader needs to keep in mind? (Pro tip: Highlight the date to make it stand out.)

    2. Create an Attention-Grabbing Subject Line

    Information overload is real. The subject line of your email could be the deciding factor in whether your email gets read, skimmed — or deleted without being opened. A subject line that speaks to your audience can help. Which of the headlines below would get you to open an email?

    Headline 1: Five 401(k) changes that could impact your retirement?

    Headline 2:Third-party vendor releases annual retirement plan updates?

    Hopefully, you picked the first one!

    3. Keep It Short

    Attention spans are short and schedules are busy — making it more important than ever to keep your email short and to the point. How, exactly, do you do that? Keep these tips in mind:

    • Tailor your message to your audience.
    • Delete all unessential information.
    • Link to background information instead of typing it into your main text.
    • Take out fancy words or jargon.
    • Say it once, say it clearly and move on.
    • Use text formatting such as bold type and bulleted lists to draw attention to due dates and key points.
    • Include only the details that matter to your audience. (People will reply to your message if they want more information or have questions.)