When to Talk to Your Financial Aid Office About Special Circumstances

Do you have reason to believe that the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) you recently submitted needs to be updated or reconsidered due to special circumstances in your family? You can correct simple errors by logging in to your FAFSA at FAFSA.gov, but some adjustments can only be made by a financial aid officer at your college.


Dependency Status

The FAFSA will ask up to 13 dependency questions, and the answers to those questions will determine whether you are dependent or independent. If you answer NO to every dependency question, you’ll be considered a dependent student, which means you’ll be asked to report one or both parents’ income and tax information. But supplying parental information can be a challenge to some students due to ‘special circumstances’. You’ll have an opportunity on the FAFSA to state that you’re unable to provide your parents’ information, at which time the FAFSA will inform you that a dependent student who doesn’t include his/her parents’ information will only be eligible for one type of federal financial aid—an Unsubsidized Federal Student Loan. Not reporting your parents’ information can definitely affect the amount of financial aid that you would otherwise be eligible to receive.

There are times when a financial aid officer can ‘override’ your dependency status and change it to an independent status. This can be done if:

  • You had to leave home due to an abusive environment,
  • Your parents are incarcerated or
  • You’re unable to contact your parents and don’t know where they live.

A financial aid officer won’t be able to switch your status to ‘independent’ simply because:

  • Your parents refuse to contribute their information,
  • You weren’t claimed as a dependent on their tax return or
  • You aren’t living with your parents.

Basically, a dependency override can only be done in extreme situations. If you still believe you should be declared independent, discuss your circumstances with a financial aid officer at your school(s) of interest.

Adjustments to Family Income

If you and your parents have experienced a loss of income since 2019*, be sure to talk to someone in financial aid. Some reasons your income could be lower are:

  • Change in employment status
  • A divorce or separation
  • Unusual medical expenses not covered by insurance
  • Unusual dependent care expenses

Once you supply documentation that shows your current family income or special circumstance, a financial aid officer may be able to make adjustments that reflect what you and your family are currently experiencing, rather than what was reflected on your FAFSA. This would be done after you have reported your correct 2019 income on your FAFSA, and only someone from your financial aid office can adjust those figures.

The financial aid staff at your college will always be your best resource when you have questions about special circumstances. It’s important to contact them if you have any comments or concerns.

*Information from the 2019 tax year must be reported on the 2021-2022 FAFSA. The FAFSA will always ask for information from two years prior to the academic year for which the application is being submitted.

Have You Submitted Your FAFSA?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for next fall became available Oct. 1. That means people are applying for financial aid almost a year before they’ll need it for college. It’s a long time until the next fall semester starts, so why is it so important to file now?

It’s best to file your FAFSA as soon as you can once it becomes available. While some types of financial aid are available year-round, other forms are not.

Federal Work-Study
Work-study is a type of aid that is earned, rather than borrowed. Your eligibility is determined by your financial need. Students use the money they earn at a part-time job to pay toward their college expenses. There is a limit to the number of work-study jobs available each semester, so if you don’t submit your FAFSA early and answer yes to the “I’m interested in work-study” question, those jobs could all be filled before you start the school year.

Oklahoma Tuition Aid Grant (OTAG)
OTAG is a grant funded by the state of Oklahoma for students who are Oklahoma residents and will be enrolled at an Oklahoma college or technology center. It’s an example of first-come, first served aid because it’s funded only once a year. Typically, OTAG receives more eligible applications than can be awarded with available funds, and how early a student applies can be the deciding factor in whether that student is offered an OTAG award. To apply, you simply have to complete a FAFSA. Your eligibility for OTAG is determined by your financial need, and the amount of the award is $1,000 ($500 in fall and spring).

Oklahoma Tuition Equalization Grant (OTEG)
OTEG is also funded by the state of Oklahoma, and goes to students who demonstrate financial need on a first-come, first served basis. Recipients must be Oklahoma residents. To receive this grant, your annual family income must be at or below $50,000, and the grant can only be used at an approved private/independent, not-for-profit postsecondary institution in Oklahoma. OTEG funds are sent to the approved institutions; students to be awarded OTEG will be selected and notified by the institutions. The grant pays $2,000 ($1,000 in fall and spring).

Visit OKcollegestart.org to learn more about OTAG and OTEG and a list of approved OTEG schools.

Be sure to submit your FAFSA as soon as you can. You don’t want to miss out on these chances for earned and free money for college that doesn’t have to be repaid!

I Submitted the FAFSA. Now What?

The new 2021-2022 FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) was released on October 1, and students are encouraged to complete this financial aid application as soon as possible. After submitting the FAFSA online, you may be wondering what your next steps are. Here’s what you can expect.

Upon submitting the FAFSA, you’ll see a confirmation page on the screen. You’ll also receive a confirmation email which confirms 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 for any errors.

When your FAFSA is processed, it’s sent to the schools you listed on your application. Watch for communication from the financial aid offices at those schools. They’ll let you know if any additional documentation is required. Financial aid offices at those schools will also send you an aid offer after you’ve been accepted. The aid offer explains the types of financial aid available to you. Read this offer carefully as there may be additional steps you need to take to accept or decline certain types of aid. You don’t have to accept everything offered.

Watch this short video from OCAP explaining financial aid and the FAFSA to learn more!

National Scholarship Month

November is National Scholarship Month! Scholarships are, what we like to call, free money. This means you don’t have to pay them back after college. What’s the first step in receiving free money? Start by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Some scholarship applications are determined by financial need and require proof of a completed FAFSA.

Next, it’s time to start searching for scholarships that you qualify for. We encourage seniors to apply for 2-3 scholarships a week starting now. There are billions of dollars in scholarships available to students, so the more applications you submit, the higher your chances are to receive free money. 

Each scholarship has its own requirements and qualifications. Some scholarships are merit or financial based while others can be based on skill or religious affiliation. Always follow directions and double check that you have all of your required documents. If an application requires a recommendation letter, make sure you give your mentor or teacher plenty of time to write it.

There are many different resources for finding scholarships. We suggest you start with UCanGo2.org and OKcollegestart.org. Both of these websites have regularly updated scholarship databases. Make sure you create a Scholarship Profile on OKcollegestart. You’ll share information such as your GPA, skills, hobbies, intended major, ancestry and more. The answers you provide will help narrow down available scholarships that you qualify for. If you need a little more guidance on the scholarship process, check out our new Scholarship 101 video.

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t receive a scholarship award. Keep applying! Get creative and ask local businesses, libraries and your school about additional scholarship opportunities. Your perseverance will pay off!