All posts by UCanGo2

National Poetry Month

I could be an artist; I’d create and dream all day.

Good thing there’s a school for that,

but how am I going to pay?

Maybe I’ll be a doctor; I’ll learn to help and heal.

With years and years of studies,

tuition concerns are real.

I’d like to be an astronaut, exploring the final frontier.

I’ll have to master the STEM subjects.

Are there scholarships for engineers?

My future is full of possibilities.

Good thing I completed the FAFSA,

to help with my financial responsibilities.

I qualified for grants and work study,

thanks to federal student aid.

The application didn’t cost me a cent.

Now I can focus on grades.

Resources for Students Experiencing Homelessness

Higher education can be a promising path out of poverty. However, students who experience homelessness or an unstable home life often have to overcome barriers to access financial aid. Some students have difficulty applying for school and scholarships, while others are unable to complete their secondary education. Despite these challenges, there are many resources for students experiencing homelessness to succeed and achieve their goals.

For students who are on track to graduate high school and are preparing to attend college, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step they should take. When they complete the form, they will be asked if they’re homeless, at risk of becoming homeless or an unaccompanied youth. If they answer “yes” to being at risk of homelessness, they won’t need to provide parental financial information. The student will be then be labeled “independent” on the FAFSA. After the application has been submitted, most financial aid offices will require documentation proving that the student has been declared an unaccompanied or homeless youth.

It’s important to note that students should secure a reliable mailing address in order to receive financial aid and college information. This can be a family member’s or friend’s address, if needed. For additional information on filling out the FAFSA as an unaccompanied youth, click visit StudentAid.gov

Students who are unsure if they are classified as an unaccompanied youth can contact their high school counselor, their college financial aid office or the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) Higher Education Helpline at 855.446.2673. NAEHCY is a good resource for students in special circumstances to find educational and personal support in their state. Students can visit the NAEHCY website to find their state’s coordinator, learn about specific opportunities that can help them reach their goals, and access additional scholarships and academic resources. Additionally, most high schools have a homeless liaison that will work directly with students. If you aren’t sure who your district’s homeless liaison is, ask a teacher or counselor to help.

Often, a student’s basic needs should be met before they can pursue higher education. Programs like Pivot in Oklahoma City provide services that help young people find security by giving them access to basic necessities and housing solutions. Pivot also provides education and job assistance, prevention and intervention, and therapeutic care. For more information on Pivot’s resources visit www.pivotok.org.

Happy “Pack Your Lunch” Day!

If you’ve taken a look at the Financial Aid Offer from your college of choice, you may have been surprised by the cost of room and board for one year of school. Your ‘room and board’ estimate covers two necessities that can’t be overlooked—a roof over your head and the food you’ll need to keep you going. Consider these tips to keep room and board costs low.

Where to live

  • Have you considered how much money you could save by living at home for another year or two? Nearby community colleges usually charge lower tuition, and they offer the same general education courses required at four-year universities. Add in your savings on room and board, and you’ve got a significantly lower total cost of attendance.
  • Living on campus? Consider this: a roommate can reduce the cost of room and board quite a bit.
  • Living off campus? As a general rule, you’ll find that apartments and houses located close to the campus will charge higher rent than those located farther away. Consider having two or three roommates if you have the space.

Where to eat

  • Colleges and universities offer various meal plans to their students, and meal plans are often required for those who live on campus. Consider trying one of the less expensive plans (less meals every week) and plan to prepare more meals in your dorm room, apartment, or off-campus rental. Maybe your roommate would agree to split the cost of non-perishable bulk foods that you both use frequently. Clip coupons for even more savings.
  • Limit eating out. Consider asking friends over for a potluck or ask them to bring sharable snacks.

Other ways to manage college expenses

  • Check out all available options for financial aid. Apply for scholarships every semester, not just your freshman year. New options are added each year and qualifications change. Don’t miss out on free money that you may be qualified to receive.
  • Is it absolutely necessary for you to have a car on campus? Consider riding your bike and using public transportation. Larger schools often have free or low-cost transit systems.
  • Graduate on time to reduce the total cost of completing your program.
  • Earn some money. Check on work-study jobs or find a part-time job in town.
  • Limit use of credit cards to true emergencies. You’ll likely spend less if you use cash, and you won’t risk paying interest on your purchases.

For more ideas on cutting the costs of college, be sure to read OKMM’s money management article, Getting Through College on Less.

A College Sent Me A Financial Aid Offer – Now What?

When you submitted your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you listed one or more college codes that represent the schools that interest you.  Once your FAFSA’s been processed, you may begin to receive financial aid offers from these schools sent electronically or via the US Postal Service. It’s important to read each offer carefully, as they describe the types and amounts of financial aid a college or career technology center can provide to help you pay for one year of higher education.

On your financial aid offer you’ll see:

  • The total Cost of Attendance (COA) – An estimate of what it costs to go to that school for one year
  • Expected Family Contribution (EFC) – A number calculated from your FAFSA that’s used by the school to determine how much financial aid you’re eligible to receive (most likely not the amount you’ll be expected to pay)
  • Types and amounts of aid the school can offer you; this list is often called a ‘financial aid package’. Your offer may consist of:
    • Grants – aid based on financial need that typically doesn’t have to be repaid
    • Scholarships – gift aid awarded to you by colleges, state agencies, foundations, tribal and private organizations
    • Federal work-study – an opportunity for you to work on or off campus to earn money for college expenses
    • Federal student loans – funds awarded based on financial eligibility that must be repaid, with interest
    • Federal PLUS loan – a loan your parent(s) may borrow to help you pay for college; your parent(s) are expected to repay the loan (credit check required)

Now, subtract all of the financial aid shown on the offer from your Cost of Attendance. This will determine your estimated Net Cost, which is the out-of-pocket amount you’ll be expected to pay. If you should end up with a negative amount, the Net Cost would be zero.

What options are available to help you cover the Net Cost?

  • More scholarships – You don’t have to be a straight A student or a sports star to qualify for many different kinds of scholarships. OKcollegestart.org and UCanGo2.org are great places to begin your scholarship search.
  • A 529 College Savings Plan – visit ok4saving.org for more information
  • Military benefits – visit military.com/education/gi-bill to learn more
  • A monthly payment plan approved by your school

Don’t forget:

  • You don’t have to accept all financial aid offered to you, especially when it comes to borrowing student loans. Using a monthly payment plan while you’re in college can be less expensive than a monthly loan payment with added interest after you’ve graduated. If you’re unable to make a monthly payment to the school, consider making smaller monthly interest payments on any unsubsidized student loan(s). This will decrease your overall student loan debt once you graduate or leave school.
  • Pay attention to deadlines. Accept or decline your financial aid offer before the specified date.
  • If you receive more than one financial aid offer, you may want to determine what your net cost would be at each college. Ultimately, you’ll want to choose the school that’s the best fit for you.
  • To add more school codes to your FAFSA, log in as a returning user at studentaid.gov.

Student Loans: How To Borrow Smart from the Start

When you receive your financial aid offer from a college you may be interested in attending, it’s quite possible that one or more student loans will be included in the offer. If you need a student loan(s) to help cover the costs of college, you’ll want to borrow smart from the very start of your college experience to minimize your debt after graduation. Here are some things you need to know as you consider student loans.

  • Use ‘free money’ first. Take advantage of all the gift aid you’re offered—grants and scholarships—before deciding how much you’ll need to borrow.
  • You don’t have to accept student loans. You can decline any amount of financial aid that is offered to you. If you must borrow to pay college costs, only borrow what you’ll need to get you through one year of college. Review your finances each semester, and keep that commitment to borrow only what you need to cover school expenses.
  • Do your research. Some experts recommend that your monthly loan payment should be no more than 8-10% of the monthly income you expect to earn during the first year after graduation. To estimate your loan payments, try the Loan Calculator found at ReadySetRepay.org.
  • Subsidized = less expensive. Interest won’t be added to a subsidized federal student loan balance until after you graduate, withdraw or drop your class load to less than half-time status.
  • Make interest payments. Students who borrow federal unsubsidized loans are responsible for all interest on the loan as soon as their institutions receive the first disbursement. Student loan interest payments are generally affordable, even on a college student’s budget. If possible, keep the interest paid down while you’re in school and during your grace period. To help you think it through, see how two students took different paths to repay their student loans.
  • Keep in touch with your lender(s) and loan servicer(s). Always make sure you let them know your current address, and contact them if you’re having trouble making your payments. You can find contact information for your lenders/servicers at StudentAid.gov under Manage Loans. Be sure to have your FSA ID handy—it’s the username and password you created when you submitted your FAFSA. You’ll need it to access your federal student loan information.
  • Stay informed. Find more information and FAQs at ReadySetRepay.org and StudentAid.gov.

Financial Aid Awareness Month

Happy Financial Aid Awareness Month! February is the time to learn how you can fund your education with various financial aid options. In order to receive federal financial aid, you must submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Once your FAFSA has been submitted, your school’s financial aid office will notify you of your aid eligibility. Before you decide which options you’ll accept, take time to learn about the different kinds of aid that are available to you. Since they’re all beneficial, here’s an overview of each type of financial aid.

  • Scholarships. Potentially the most significant type of financial aid available is a scholarship. It’s free money you can earn from your own hard work, financial need, merit, family history, skills, hobbies or athletics. The more scholarship applications you complete, the more likely you are to win an award. While you don’t have to submit a FAFSA to apply for a scholarship, some programs may request that you do. Scholarship applications could ask you to write an essay, submit a video, take a photograph or complete a service project. To make sure your application matches the scholarship requirements, read all directions carefully before you start the process. If you’re not sure where to look for scholarships, UCanGo2.org and OKcollegestart.org are great places to start your search. Remember that scholarships can be the additional assistance you need to help you reach your educational goals.

  • Grants. Sometimes referred to as free money since they usually don’t have to be repaid, grants are given to those who demonstrate financial need. A common type of grant is the Pell Grant. The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, or FSEOG, is not as common since it is only given to students who show extreme financial need. For students interested in becoming teachers, there’s the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant, or TEACH Grant. Students interested in the TEACH Grant should carefully read all guidelines. If the grant requirements are not met, the money could turn into a loan that must be repaid with interest. Additionally, there’s the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant for those who’ve lost a parent or guardian due to military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11. As with any type of financial aid, be sure to speak with your financial office if you have questions about grants.
  • Work-study. Also called earned aid, work-study allows students to work and earn money for college expenses while they’re in school. Work-study positions are part-time jobs that can be on or off campus. The supervisors over these positions tend to recognize that school is a priority and are usually mindful of your class schedule. Take advantage of these positions because they can give you work experience and time to focus on your academic responsibilities. Each school will have different ways to apply for a work-study job, so talk with your school to learn more about the application process.

  • Student Loans. While this type of aid is borrowed money that must be repaid with interest, student loans can help you bridge the gap between grants and scholarships. When it comes to borrowed money, it’s important that you borrow only the amount you need to pay school expenses! Federal loans can be beneficial due to their fixed interest rates (it will not change over time) and flexible repayment options. One type of federal student loan is the Direct Subsidized loan. This aid is for undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need. The government will pay the accruing interest on a subsidized loan while the student is enrolled in school at least half-time. Another federal loan, the Direct Unsubsidized student loan, is for students who do not show financial need. With this loan, the interest will always be accruing on the loan and students will be responsible for paying the interest. For those who need extra financial assistance there’s the Direct Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students or the Direct PLUS loan. Parents of dependent undergraduate students can apply for the PLUS loan to help cover additional college expenses for their child. In order to receive a Direct PLUS loan, parents must complete the loan application and meet certain credit requirements. Students will have six months from the time they graduate, drop below half-time enrollment or leave school to start repaying Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans. Those who take out a PLUS loan will have to start repayment once funds have been disbursed.

Now that you know a little more about financial aid, use this month to decide which options could be right for you. For more financial aid information, go to StudentAid.gov.

Spring Scholarships

Well, here you are, right in the middle of the academic year. How are things going so far? Do you have enough financial aid to pay for your spring semester in college?

The fall semester can often reveal expenses you didn’t anticipate when you accepted your financial aid offer at the beginning of the school year. If your budget’s being stretched to the limit, remember to explore opportunities for scholarships. Believe it or not, new scholarships can pop up in the spring semester, too! Here are some places to look:

  • Your financial aid office. There may be new scholarships available, or there may be some funds left over from a scholarship given to a student who didn’t return for the spring semester. If you’re a high school student, check in with your counselor and take advantage of the resources he/she has to offer.
  • Your college’s website. Institutional scholarships are often available at various times throughout the year. It’s a good idea to check the scholarship listings on your school’s website every week, or at least every two weeks.
  • Online. Oh, the possibilities! Where do you start? Here are a few suggestions:
    • UCanGo2.org/Scholarships – Learn about the Scholarship of the Week, then search by month and scroll down to make sure you don’t miss any application deadlines. You’ll also find a table full of additional scholarship opportunities for each month.
    • Search for brand names of restaurants, chain stores and food producers. Search the websites of health care systems and various law firms. Your search engine could become your best friend.

For a list of additional scholarship websites, see UCanGo2’s publication called Are You Looking for Money?

What is Verification?

After you’ve submitted your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), it’s possible that your application could be flagged for verification. Verification is the process a financial aid office must complete to determine the accuracy of the information on your application. If your FAFSA is selected for verification, the financial aid office from the school(s) listed on your FAFSA may ask you to provide documentation about the addresses, names or financial data you provided. The aid officer will let you know which sections must be corrected and the documentation you’ll be required to provide to verify your information.

Being selected for verification doesn’t mean your FAFSA is incorrect. Annually about 30% of all FAFSA applications are chosen for this process and the financial aid office is required to verify your data. Monitor your email for requests for additional information and swiftly respond to those requests. Your eligibility for financial aid will not be reviewed until the verification process is complete. Follow up with the financial aid office to check on your application status because the more you cooperate with them, the faster the process will go. Verification is the last official step they’ll need to complete to provide you with a financial aid offer. The offer will list the amount and types of financial aid programs you may use to help cover your college expenses.