Homeless Students and the 2018-19 FAFSA

Are you in a situation that has made you become homeless or at risk of being homeless? The U.S. Department of Education has provided a way to help students in these difficult situations.

In order to determine your dependency status on the 2018-19 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you will have to answer three questions related to homelessness. The first question is: “At any time on or after July 1, 2017, did your high school or school district homeless liaison determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?” The next two questions related to this subject are similar, but they ask if the determination came from a director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program.

According to FAFSA guidelines, homeless means lacking fixed, regular and adequate housing. Also, if you are living in this situation and fleeing an abusive parent you may still be considered homeless even if your parent would otherwise provide a place to live. “Unaccompanied” means you’re not living in the physical custody of your parent or guardian.

Answering Yes to one of these questions can give you an independent status on your FAFSA, meaning you wouldn’t have to report your parent’s income information when applying for financial aid for college. If you do answer yes, be prepared to provide a copy of the determination that was made by one of the three people listed above in case the financial aid office at your college should ask you for one. If you haven’t been previously determined to be homeless or at risk of being homeless but believe you meet the qualifications, you should answer “No” and contact the financial aid office at the college, university or career technology center you plan to attend to explain your situation. The financial aid administrator will make a determination and advise you on how to proceed.

Contact your financial aid office if you have questions about homelessness or any other special circumstance that you believe justifies changing your status from dependent to an independent student.

Federal Student Loans: Pros and Cons

The FAFSA is one application for a variety of federal and state financial aid programs. The William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program is one. Before accepting loans, be sure you understand how they work. Student loans are in investment in your future, and the following information can help you be a smart investor.

Pros

  • Student loans are disbursed at a fixed rate, meaning the interest rate for the loan will never change. This is often considerably lower than private student loan sources. The interest rate for federal student loans disbursed during the 2017-18 school year is 4.45%.
  • No credit check is required. Federal student loans are available to you because you’re pursuing education beyond high school.
  • For students who qualify for subsidized student loans, the federal government pays the interest on your loan while you’re still in school, saving you money in the long run.
  • When it’s time to repay your student loans, you’ll have several repayment plan choices designed to fit your specific needs.

Cons

  • Not all students qualify for subsidized student loans. The information you provide on your FAFSA determines eligibility.
  • Student loans must be repaid, and debt adds up quickly. Keep track of your student loan debt while you’re in school by visiting the National Student Loan Data System.
  • There is a cap to how much you can borrow, so be sure you’re seeking other types of financial aid as well.

To learn more about how to be a smart borrower, check out ReadySetRepay.org. You’ll find information about borrowing smart from the start, estimating your loan payments, and repayment options.

Apply Now

During your Thanksgiving break, be sure to carve out some time to submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the 2018-19 academic year. It may sound like Fall, 2018 is a long time away, but consider these reasons to apply now:

  • Some forms of financial aid are first-come, first-served. When this type of aid is gone, you may have to wait for the next school year to apply for it again.
  • More and more colleges are setting early enrollment and institutional scholarship deadlines in November and December. During the application process, they’ll want to know if you’ve submitted your FAFSA.
  • It’s not uncommon for a scholarship committee to ask for a copy of your Student Aid Report (SAR) that you receive after you submit your FAFSA. Completing your FAFSA early ensures that you won’t miss important deadlines.

For more information about completing the FAFSA, visit StudentAid.ed.gov.

What is Federal Work-Study?

Federal Work-Study provides part-time jobs for students to earn money to help pay for school. Work-Study positions exist in various departments across campus (and sometimes off campus).

There are several perks to Work-Study positions. First, they’re flexible. Schools know a student’s classes are their number one priority, and they know class schedules change each semester, so they work with students to build work schedules around class schedules. They are also often flexible if students need time off to study for a test or work on a class project.

Second, Work-Study jobs exist all across campus. Students can work in the bookstore, with the grounds or maintenance crews, in an academic department or in a variety of other areas. Some schools even have Work-Study positions off campus. This allows students to find a job that fits their interests.

Finally, Work-Study positions offer competitive pay. Students will earn at least minimum wage. At some schools, pay starts above minimum wage or increases with length of employment.

Work-Study funds are limited, so students should complete the FAFSA early and begin applying for Work-Study jobs as soon as possible.

To learn more about the Federal Work-Study program, visit the Federal Student Aid website or ask the financial aid off at your college.

Scholarships and Grants: Free Money!

Ever wonder what the difference is between scholarships and grants? Both categories are considered “free money” since they generally don’t have to be paid back, but that’s about all they have in common.

Scholarships are often called “merit based” aid, since they’re given based on a student’s talents, abilities, skills or participation in extra-curricular activities. They can also be given because of a student’s ancestry or religious affiliation, or for a variety of other reasons. There are numerous ways to search for scholarships. We suggest starting your search at UCanGo2.org and okcollegestart.org, where you will find hundreds of scholarship opportunities. Also, be sure to check out UCanGo2’s Scholarship Success Guide, where you’ll find many more websites that you can use to investigate scholarships of all types.

Grants are commonly called “need based” aid because those who qualify for grants have demonstrated a financial need based on their family income. The most well-known grants come from the federal and state governments. To apply for government grants, you simply need to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible after Oct. 1 during your senior year of high school and then again each year that you you need financial aid for college.

For more information about the types of financial aid that are available, be sure to check out UCanGo2’s booklet entitled Are You Looking for Money?

I Submitted the FAFSA. Now What?

The 2018-2019 FAFSA opened on October 1, and students are encouraged to complete the application as soon as possible. After submitting the FAFSA online, you may be wondering what your next steps are. Here’s what to expect.

Upon submitting the FAFSA, you will see a confirmation page on the screen. You will also receive a confirmation email, sent to the address listed on your FAFSA. This lets you know your FAFSA was submitted and is being processed.

After a few days, you’ll receive your Student Aid Report, or SAR, by email as well. The SAR is a summary of the information you listed on your FAFSA. Be sure to review your SAR and correct any errors.

When your FAFSA is processed, it is sent to the schools you listed on the application. Watch for communication from the financial aid offices at those schools. They will let you know if any additional documentation is needed. Financial aid offices at those schools will also send you an award letter after you’ve been accepted. Award letters explain what financial aid is available to you. Read this letter carefully as there may be additional steps you need to take to accept or decline certain types of aid.

Watch this short video from Federal Student Aid to learn more!

Can I apply for the Oklahoma Tuition Aid Grant if I don’t have a Social Security Number?

The Oklahoma Tuition Aid Grant (OTAG) is available to students who meet certain qualifications as they are applying for financial aid for college. Students without social security numbers often assume they won’t be eligible to receive an OTAG award, but if you meet certain conditions you may qualify.

Here are four questions that will be asked of you to determine whether you are eligible for OTAG at the time you enter college:

  • Did you graduate from a public or private high school in Oklahoma?
  • Did you live in Oklahoma with a parent or guardian while attending an Oklahoma high school for at least two years before you graduated?
  • Have you satisfied all of the admission standards for the institution you plan to attend?
  • Have you provided the institution a copy of a true and correct application or petition filed with United Sates Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to legalize your immigration status?

If you are able answer yes to all four questions, you should apply for OTAG as soon as possible after October 1. Since OTAG receives more eligible applications than can be awarded each year, it’s important to apply early. If you are a U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen, you do not have to submit a separate OTAG application; you simply have to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). However, if you are a qualified undocumented immigrant, you must use the Application for Undocumented Immigrants form to apply for OTAG. Remember to apply as soon as you can!

HELPFUL FAFSA RESOURCES

Completing the Free application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can be stressful, especially for students who are already weighing the options of various universities or career techs, applying for scholarships and studying for the ACT or SAT—and all while still trying to be regular high school students! That’s why the Oklahoma College Assistance Program (OCAP) offers various resources to help families understand and navigate their way through the FAFSA.

StartWithFAFSA.org offers a number of articles and links to help you as you complete your FAFSA application. Check out these great posts and resources:

Don’t forget: the 2018-19 FAFSA became available on Oct. 1, so high school seniors should complete this form as soon as possible. Visit FAFSA.gov to start the process today!

The What and Why of the IRS DRT

The 2018-2019 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opened on Oct. 1, and the IRS DRT is available for students once again. What is the IRS DRT, you ask? The Internal Revenue Service Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) is a feature located inside the FAFSA. It allows students and parents to transfer 2016 tax information directly from the IRS into the FAFSA. There are several benefits to using the IRS DRT.

First, it saves time as you’re completing the FAFSA. Instead of hunting for the correct numbers on your tax forms and running the risk of making an error, you’ll simply type a few words, click a few buttons, and the bulk of the tax questions on your FAFSA will be complete!

Second, using the IRS DRT reduces your chances of being selected for verification. Verification is the process your school uses to confirm the information provided on the FAFSA is accurate. During the verification process, your school may request various documents to verify the information provided on your FAFSA. Errors that occur when entering tax information manually can cause a student to be selected for verification.

Finally, if you do happen to be selected for verification, having used the IRS DRT will simplify the process. If you use the IRS DRT and are selected for verification, you will not have to provide any documentation to verify tax data. Your school will know it is accurate since it was transferred directly from the IRS into your FAFSA.

If you’ve used the IRS DRT in previous years, you’ll notice that it looks a little different this year. The DRT no longer shows any dollar amounts to the student or parent. This change was made to increase the security of your information during the transfer process.

While using the IRS DRT is optional, students and parents are encouraged to use the tool to create a smoother and more accurate application process.