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.

Completing the FAFSA

Completing the FAFSA is as easy as 1, 2, 3… 4, 5!

  1. Gather Materials – You’ll need your social security card, current bank statements and, if you’re a dependent student, your parent(s)’ information. For the 2018-2019 FAFSA, you’ll also need your 2016 W2s and tax returns.
  2. Create an FSA ID – This username and password is used to electronically sign your FAFSA and other important financial aid paperwork. Visit fsaid.ed.gov to sign up.
  3. Fill It Out – The FAFSA is available at FAFSA.gov after Oct. 1 each year. Check out the Help and Hints box on the right side of the screen for assistance on answering each question.
  4. Sign & Submit – Enter your FSA ID to serve as your electronic signature. Don’t forget to click Submit at the bottom of the screen.
  5. Follow Up – Watch your email for a Student Aid Report (SAR) and information from the schools who’ve received your FAFSA results. Be sure to follow up with the financial aid office at your school if you have additional questions.

For more details, check out Finish the FAFSA in Five Steps or watch the Finish the FAFSA in Five videos, available in English and Spanish.

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT THE FAFSA?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an application submitted to the federal government. It’s basically a snapshot of your financial situation. The information you submit on your FAFSA is used to determine how much federal and state financial aid you may be able to receive to help you pay for college.

Even if you don’t think you’ll qualify for financial aid, submit your FAFSA anyway. It’s not uncommon for students to assume they won’t qualify, only to be pleasantly surprised to find that they are eligible to receive one or more types of aid. Keep in mind that many scholarship applications now require a copy of your Student Aid Report (SAR), which is the report you receive after you submit your FAFSA.

By submitting the FAFSA, you’re not automatically signing up for student loans or committing to any colleges. You’re simply giving the college(s) you’re interested in attending an opportunity to discuss your financial aid options with you. So be sure to fill out the 2018-19 FAFSA as soon as possible after Oct. 1 this year. Visit FAFSA.gov for more information.

COMPLETING THE 2018-19 FAFSA

If you’re completing a FAFSA for the 2018-19 school year, there are some requirements you should be aware of. One of them is the FAFSA release date. This form becomes available on Oct. 1 annually, which allows you to fill out the FAFSA earlier than in past years and possibly learn your financial aid eligibility a little earlier, too.

Another change to the FAFSA that happened last year allows students and families to complete this form using tax information that should already be completed, eliminating the need to update your tax information on your application once your taxes have been filed. Since the 2018-19 FAFSA, released on Oct. 1, requires you to use your 2016 tax information, you can pull out your 2016 return and complete your application at FAFSA.gov right away! The sooner you apply after Oct. 1, the better!

If you’re unsure when to complete the FAFSA or about the correct tax information to be used, check out the chart below.

Information on which tax year's information should be used, which may also be found at https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa/filling-out#financial-info .

Also, to complete and submit the FAFSA online, students and parents will both need to create an FSA ID (Federal Student Aid ID) at FSAID.ed.gov. This username/password serves as your signature on the FAFSA and student loan applications and allows you to access other federal aid websites. It is beneficial for families to create their FSA IDs before starting the FAFSA in order to speed up the application process. Once the FAFSA is available, it can be completed online at fafsa.gov.

DON’T BE FOOLED: F IS FOR FREE!

NEVER pay to complete the FAFSA; the FAFSA is always free. As a matter of fact, that’s what the first F stands for:


Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

If you plan to submit the form online, be sure to file at FAFSA.gov, and avoid sites that offer to file your FAFSA for a hefty fee. Always check for the “.gov” to make sure you’re in the right place!