Summer Prep for Incoming College Freshmen

Preparing for college can be an exciting, yet nerve-wracking time. Now that you’ve made your final decision on the best college for you, what should you do next? Instead of hitting cruise control, take this time to ensure you’ll be ready for the first day higher education.

Follow up with your high school counselor to make sure your final transcript has been sent to the right college or university. Also, speak with the financial aid office at your college to confirm that you’ve completed and submitted all the required paperwork. Be sure to keep track of your FSA ID (Federal Student Aid ID) and all other critical financial documents in case you need them later.

Talk with your family about your school’s financial aid offer, as well. Ask if they’re willing to help with additional college expenses that may arise. Another good option for covering school expenses is taking on a summer job. It’s never too late to save for your education. Scholarships can also assist with the cost of college, so apply for as many scholarships as possible during the summer. The more you apply for, the more likely your chances are of receiving one.

You should also plan to attend Freshmen Orientation. During this exciting event, you’ll learn more about your college and get a chance to register for classes. Constantly check your college-issued email account to receive updates about campus activities or programs. Follow your friends and your new roommate on social media to start making some great connections. This can make the transition to college easier. Additionally, consider using this time to brush up on your reading and writing skills.

While you have some free time, schedule a visit to your doctor and dentist for a regular check-up. Get a copy of your health insurance card from your parents to use in case of an emergency. Finally, enjoy this time with your friends and family. Talk with your parents about their expectations of you in college and agree to check-in with each other at least once a week. You’ve worked hard to get into college so make the most of this summer. Soon you’ll be on your way to a great freshman year!

What’s the Difference Between a Scholarship and a Tuition Waiver?

When you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you’re giving the college(s) of your choice a snapshot of your family’s current financial situation, enabling them to develop a plan for your financial aid ‘package’. That package may contain aid from one or more of these sources:
• The federal government – grants, work-study program, student loans
• The state of Oklahoma – grants and scholarships
• The institution you wish to attend – scholarships and tuition waivers
• Tribal, non-profit and private organizations – grants and scholarships

Your higher education institution may offer you a scholarship, tuition waiver, or both. You may wonder what the differences are between the two and whether you would qualify to receive them.
• A scholarship is usually ‘free money’ that doesn’t have to be paid back, and is used to pay various college expenses. It can be awarded to you by the school you plan to attend, by the state of Oklahoma, or by various private and tribal organizations. A scholarship is often awarded for above-average grades or other achievements, talents and/or community involvement.
• A tuition waiver is granted by your chosen school and reduces the amount the college charges you. The waiver will eliminate the cost of tuition for a designated number of credit hours, but it can’t be used for any other educational expense. While there can be many reasons a school might grant a waiver, here are some of the most common:
• Your family income demonstrates a high financial need.
• You’re of Native American descent.
• You’ve overcome a significant hardship.
• You were adopted, or you were a foster child.

It’s possible that you’d be able to use a scholarship and a tuition waiver simultaneously. Each college has its own policy regarding who meets the qualifications for one or the other. Call your institution’s financial aid office to see how to qualify for any scholarships and waivers they may offer.

Selective Service and the FAFSA

The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) currently has over 100 questions. One of those questions is about Selective Service and it’s often answered incorrectly. So, what is Selective Service and why do you need to be registered?

The Selective Service system is an independent agency of the U.S. government tasked with providing manpower to the Department of Defense should there be a national emergency. Federal law requires all male U.S. citizens, regardless of where they live, and male immigrants, whether documented or undocumented, residing in the U.S. to register with Selective Service. If you’re a male student completing the FAFSA, you must register with Selective Service to be eligible to receive federal student aid. Female applicants aren’t required to register and won’t see this question on their digital FAFSA.

Registration with Selective Service must be completed between the ages of 18 through 25. If you’re not yet 18, no worries! By checking ‘Register Me’ on your FAFSA, you’ll automatically be signed up for Selective Service once you reach 18. In either case, all males are required to register within 30 days of their 18th birthday. You also have the option to pre-register when you’re at least 17 years and 3 months old. If you’re 26 or older and didn’t register for Selective Service, you should contact your school’s financial aid office. They will provide you with instructions on the next steps to take.

Males may visit SSS.gov to find more information about the Selective Service requirement.

Do You Know Where Your Tax Returns Are?

That’s an important question if you’re submitting a FAFSA soon. The FAFSA will always require income information from two years prior to the year that you’ll be attending college. That means if you’re submitting the 2019-2020 FAFSA, you’ll need your 2017 tax return to complete the application. For those who earned income in 2017, but not enough to require filing a return, the income still needs to be reported on the FAFSA. Always keep your W2’s, especially for any year that you didn’t file a return.

If you’re a dependent student, your parents will also need to report their 2017 tax information.* Parents who filed a joint return in 2017 should have their W2’s handy, too, because the FAFSA will ask about the income of ‘Parent 1’ and ‘Parent 2’.

Because you must complete the FAFSA each year you need student aid, it’s best to keep all relevant documentation together in a safe location, including your FSA ID (username and password). This will help you quickly and accurately finish all future FAFSAs.

*To determine whether you’re a Dependent or Independent student on the FAFSA, fill out the Dependency Questionnaire at UCanGo2.org.

Oklahoma’s Promise Day

Oklahoma’s Promise Day at the State Capitol is today, April 9! On Oklahoma’s Promise Day many students, faculty and supporters of Oklahoma’s Promise gather at the Capitol to show their appreciation for the Governor and legislature’s ongoing support of this program. The Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship pays tuition at Oklahoma public colleges or universities and pays a portion of tuition at Oklahoma’s private colleges and for certain programs at Oklahoma public technology centers. Approximately 17,000 college students are currently benefiting from the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship, allowing more students to have a better chance of reaching their educational goals in our state.

If you’re an Oklahoma’s Promise student, you must complete a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) every year you’re in college. The information from the FAFSA will be used to determine whether or not your parent’s federal adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds $100,000.  For any year that the income exceeds $100,000, you will not be eligible to receive the program benefits. Students must also remain in good academic standing based on the guidelines set by your institution. As the financial aid office reviews your FAFSA, they will determine your eligibility for financial aid such as  Oklahoma’s Promise,   grants, federal work-study and student loans. Submit your FAFSA as soon as possible after Oct. 1 each year and contact the financial aid office if you have questions about your Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship.  Also, take some time to celebrate today by thanking your state legislators and encouraging them to keep the promise!

To learn more about Oklahoma’s Promise and its requirements, visit okpromise.org.

We are OK Promise round logo

Resources for Students Experiencing Homelessness & Other Special Circumstances

Going to college is a great step in the right direction for financial self-sufficiency, but it can be a tough path if you’re a homeless student or have a special circumstance. According to Federal Student Aid, a homeless student is someone who lacks “fixed, regular and adequate housing.” This may be anyone who is sleeping on a teacher’s couch or staying with a different friend each night. Your situation doesn’t have to stop you from pursuing your dreams, however. Applying for financial aid to help pay college expenses should be one of the first things you do. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is the form that students and their families must complete annually to apply for federal and some state financial assistance for college. When completing the FAFSA, you will be asked a series of questions to determine if you will or will not have to provide parental information. Students who qualify as homeless will not have to report their parent’s data, but will need to contact their college’s financial aid office with documentation of their living arrangements. Talk with your high school counselor about your situation. Counselors can work with a campus homeless student liaison to provide the appropriate documentation.

Other students who are not homeless, but are also unable to provide parental information, will need to indicate they have a special circumstance on their FAFSA. This step will allow those students to skip the parent demographic portion of the application and proceed to the student section. A special circumstance may include escaping an abusive home environment, inability to contact parents, incarcerated parents, or parents who refuse to provide their information. When students indicate they have a special circumstance, they may only be eligible to receive unsubsidized student loans. An unsubsidized student loan is one that accrues interest while the student is in school. Once repayment begins, the student will repay the principal and the interest that has accumulated. In contrast, the interest on a subsidized student loan is paid by the government while the student is in school at least half-time. Students are encouraged to contact their campus financial aid office to explain their situation. The financial aid office will notify you if additional information is required.

As you move to the next level of education, there are resources available to help you succeed in college. Below are a few programs that may be helpful to you.

National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY): This program connects students with resources that will help them be successful throughout every year of school. Learn more about the program at NAEHCY.org.

National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE): NCHE offers an educational helpline for students experiencing homelessness. See how their helpline can guide you at NCHE.ed.gov.

Local Family and Youth Services offices: Family and Youth Services agencies provide living arrangement resources for homeless students. Find your local Family and Youth Service office at https://www.acf.hhs.gov/fysb.

Campus resources: Many college campuses have resources to help students’ access year-round housing, food banks and academic support groups. Check with the Office of Resident Life on your campus to discover available resources.

Call 2-1-1: This hotline helps students locate assistance with shelters and food and other support groups.

Free Money First!

It’s award letter season! An award letter is an electronic or paper notification sent by a college, university or career tech after you’ve completed a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and applied for financial assistance. These award letters indicate the amount of financial aid you may receive for your education for the 2019-2020 academic year. After reviewing your letter(s), you might find that the amount of aid awarded to you in the form of federal and/or state grants, known as free money, won’t cover the total cost of college. Before opting for federal student loans to help with expenses, start (or keep) researching available scholarships. A scholarship is another form of free money for college that doesn’t have to be paid back. Scholarships are often competitive, but by putting in the work, you may be able to shrink your remaining school balance and limit – or eliminate – the need for a student loan!

There are many ways to search for scholarships. First, check the school you’ll be attending. Many campuses have foundation offices that provide scholarships to eligible students. Look for these scholarships each year you plan to attend. Your college’s financial aid office can also help you identify different types of scholarships.

Other sources of scholarships include private businesses, employers, churches and community organizations (YMCA/YWCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Rotary and Elks clubs, etc.). These scholarships are often posted online and typically require an application specific to each award. Save time by accessing the free and trusted databases at OKcollegestart.org and UCanGo2.org. Both sites compile thousands of scholarships available to students in Oklahoma and nationwide.

Only after you’ve exhausted all options for free money should you consider student loans. Remember, student loans must be repaid with interest, even if you don’t complete a degree, while free money from grants and scholarships does not have to be repaid.

For more information about scholarships, see our “Scholarship Success Guide.”

For more information about student loans, review “Borrow Smart from the Start.”

 

Finish the FAFSA this February!

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has been available since October 1, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to apply! You can still apply to receive federal and state student aid in the form of grants, work-study and loans by submitting your FAFSA. Many students don’t apply at all and forgo FREE money for college! Below are some common reasons students miss out on financial aid.

Myth: If I’m not poor, very smart or super-talented, I won’t qualify for financial aid.

Reality: While it is true that the FAFSA is a need-based program, there are many factors other than income that go into the calculation. You never know if you qualify unless you apply. Plus, the FAFSA is used for more than just federal aid. Many universities and foundations require that you complete a FAFSA to be eligible for their scholarships.

 

Myth: I have several scholarships lined up, so I don’t need to submit a FAFSA.

Reality: College expenses include more than just tuition and fees – don’t forget about, books, room and board and transportation, among other potential costs. Submit your FAFSA to explore other funding possibilities in the event that your scholarships don’t cover all of your costs. You can always turn down aid that’s offered to you.

 

Myth: I’m going to pay my own way through college, so there’s no need to complete a FAFSA.

Reality: Paying your own way through college is a great plan, and completing the FAFSA could allow you to keep more of that money in your pocket. Applying for federal aid has become easier and can significantly reduce your financial burden. A few minutes of your time is definitely worth the potential for thousands of dollars in aid.

Complete your application for federal student aid today at FAFSA.gov!