Category Archives: Financial Aid Offers

Room and Board – How Can I Cut the Cost?

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 includes the cost of living in your choice of housing and the cost of food during that year.

Check out these tips to cutting costs on room and board.

Housing

  • Consider 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 total cost of attendance that looks a lot more manageable.
  • Living on campus? Living with a roommate can reduce the cost of room and board significantly. Pay close attention to deadlines for submitting your housing application each year, and then turn it in ASAP—before the deadline. It’s not unusual for lower-priced housing to get snatched up more quickly.
  • Living off campus? As a general rule, 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 types of meal plans to their students and are often required for those who live on campus. Consider trying one of the less expensive plans (fewer meals every week) and try 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 inviting friends over for a potluck or ask them to bring sharable snacks.

Other ways to manage college expenses

  • Submit a FAFSA each year to see how much financial aid you may receive.
  • Don’t miss out on free money. There are scholarships available every semester, so don’t forget to search for them in the fall and in the spring. UCanGo2.org and OKcollegestart.org are two great places to start your scholarship search.
  • Consider riding your bike and using public transportation. Larger schools often have their own low-cost transit systems. Many college students leave their cars at home.
  • 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.
  • Stay away from credit cards. The interest is high, and they make it much too easy to overspend.

For more ideas on reducing college costs, be sure to read the Getting Through College on Less section on OklahomaMoneyMatters.org.

Financial Aid Letter

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an important first step in the financial aid process. After you’ve submitted the FAFSA, your college(s) of interest will process the information you provided and will determine your eligibility for federal and state aid. The college(s) will also calculate the loans and institutional scholarships you’re eligible to receive. The summary will be sent to you in an award letter, either electronically or via the U.S. Postal Service. Keep in mind, it takes time to process this information, so most campuses will send out aid offers in late March or early April for those starting college in the fall.

When your offer arrives, it’s important to read it carefully. You’ll be asked to accept or decline all or some of the offered financial aid. On your aid offer, you’ll see several different numbers, which are outlined below.

Cost of Attendance (COA): This is the estimated cost to attend your college for one year.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC): This number is used by the college to determine how much financial aid you’re eligible to receive. While the EFC is a calculation of all the information provided on the FAFSA by you and your parent, it’s most likely not the amount you’ll be expected to contribute. Want to learn more about the EFC? Check out our EFC Overview .

Award Package: The letter will list the types and amounts of aid the college can offer to you. You may see some of the following:

Grants: These are considered gift aid that can come from federal, state and tribal governments. Grants are usually based on financial need.

Scholarships: These can be based on need, merit or interests. They’re awarded by colleges, state agencies, companies, foundations, tribal and private organizations.

Federal Work-Study: This is an opportunity to work on- or off-campus to earn financial aid. Think of it as a part-time job specifically to pay for college.

Federal Student Loans: Loans are borrowed money to help you pay for college. Loans must be repaid, with interest.

Remember, you don’t have to accept all of the aid offered to you, especially when it comes to borrowing student loans. A monthly payment of tuition and fees during college may be a better option for you or your family than a loan payment with added interest after you’ve completed your education. To learn more about the different types of financial aid, check out our publication: Are You Looking for Money?

Talk with your family about your financial situation and decide how much financial aid and which types of aid you need to accept. Still have questions about the financial aid letter? Take a look at our new resource, Understanding Your Award Letter.


Financial Aid Awareness Month

February is Financial Aid Awareness Month! This is the time for you to learn all about the financial aid process for college.

What is financial aid?
Free Money

Federal and State Grants

Scholarships

Earned Money

Borrowed Money

How do I apply?

  • Complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)
    • Apply every year you need financial aid for college
    • Apply on or after October 1
    • Complete your application online at FAFSA.gov
    • Create an FSA ID to access and sign your FAFSA

How will I know how much financial aid I’ve been offered?

  • After your FAFSA has been submitted and you’ve been admitted, your school will send you an aid offer
  • Review and research all programs offered, and accept only the aid you need
  • You don’t have to accept everything you’ve been offered

To learn more about the financial aid process, review these tools on this site:

  • FAFSA Learning Modules
  • Finish the FAFSA in Five Steps
  • Dependency Questionnaire
  • FAFSA Fundamentals 2021-2022 PowerPoint
  • FAFSA Parent Flyer

You will also find these helpful FAFSA videos:

UCanGo2.org also offers many beneficial FAFSA resources:

  • The EFC (Expected Family Contribution) PowerPoint
  • The FSA ID (Federal Student Aid Identification) PowerPoint
  • The Financial Aid Award Letter PowerPoint

Learn more about Financial Aid Awareness Month here!

The FAFSA Is Now Available

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is now available!

It’s the key you need to unlock money that will help you pay for college or other education after high school. Students often ask if the FAFSA is a scholarship, it’s not. The FAFSA is simply a statement about a family’s financial situation, and it’s used to determine how much federal financial aid a student may be eligible to receive.

A new FAFSA is available October 1 each year. You can submit your FAFSA even if you haven’t applied to any colleges yet. In fact, if you’re not sure which college you want to attend, you can request that your FAFSA information be shared with up to 10 different campuses that you may want to learn more about. Every student who may need money for college for the 2021-22 school year should complete this FAFSA.

The current FAFSA is available online at FAFSA.gov.

Need some guidance to get started on your FAFSA? Check out our resources:

FAFSA in Five Steps: This publication explains the steps to completing the application and provides reminders for additional materials you might need.

FAFSA Modules: These five PowerPoint presentations walk through the details of each step of the FAFSA process.

FAFSA and Financial Aid Video: Sometimes it helps to hear someone explain the FAFSA process. Our new FAFSA video walks students through common FAFSA questions.

If you’re still wondering why the FAFSA is so important, keep in mind that during the 2018-2019 school year, $2.6B dollars in federal financial aid for college was left unclaimed by students. They would have been qualified to receive the aid, but they didn’t simply because they didn’t submit a FAFSA. Discover what you’re eligible for by submitting your FAFSA today!

Everyone Should Apply

Students will make many decisions, from picking a college to choosing a major, but something students should never debate is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The FAFSA determines a student’s eligibility for various types of federal financial aid, which comes in the form of grants, work-study and student loans. While some students believe they won’t qualify for financial aid, all students should submit a FAFSA. Make sure these common myths aren’t holding you back.

Grades are a factor. Some may think good grades are required to submit the FAFSA, but that isn’t true. The application doesn’t ask about grades, your GPA or class ranking. Instead, it seeks to gather your financial information to determine your eligibility for various forms of federal and state aid.

Your parents make too much. A common statement is, “My parents make too much money, so I won’t get any aid.” Until you submit the FAFSA, you won’t know your eligibility for financial aid. Before counting yourself out, complete the FAFSA to learn about your aid options. Most students are eligible to receive some type of financial assistance.

One time isn’t enough. Unlike an admission application that you submit once, the FAFSA must be completed each year you’d like to receive financial aid. This tip is specifically for returning college students. Renew your application each year after Oct. 1 so you can receive as much financial aid as possible for the next academic year.

Adult learners aren’t included. Financial aid isn’t just for recent high school graduates, it’s for all college students – which includes adult learners. Whether you’re returning to school after many years or immediately diving into a graduate program after completing your bachelor’s degree, be sure to submit the FAFSA to determine your aid eligibility. If your child is going to college and you’ve submitted a FAFSA for them, you’ll still need to submit your own application. This will help the college financial aid office create an aid award for you and a separate award for your child.

Remember, you won’t know how much aid you can receive until you submit the FAFSA. Don’t leave it up to chance. Submit your FAFSA as soon as possible after Oct. 1 each year. To learn more about the FAFSA and how to apply, visit FAFSA.gov.

Completing the 2021-22 FAFSA

It’s almost time to start the 2021-2022 Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA! This application will help determine your financial aid eligibility if you plan to attend college in the fall of 2021. We’ve created a helpful list of steps to guide you through the application process.

  1. Gather Materials: Before getting started, you’ll need to make sure you have your Social Security card, current bank statements, and your 2019 W2 and tax return. If you’re a dependent student, you’ll also need your parent(s)’ financial information and 2019 tax returns.
  2. Create an FSA ID: The FSA ID, or Federal Student Aid ID, is a username and password that you’ll use to log-in to your FAFSA. It will also serve as your electronic signature for completing the application. To create an FSA ID, visit fsaid.ed.gov. Remember to use our FSA ID Worksheet (also available in Spanish) to keep track of your username and password. If you are a dependent student, a parent or guardian will also need to create a FSA ID.
  3. Fill It Out: Starting Oct. 1, you can access the new FAFSA at FAFSA.gov.
  4. Sign & Submit: Enter your FSA ID for your electronic signature. If you’re a dependent student, remember a parent will have to provide their electronic signature, as well. Don’t forget to click ‘submit’ at the bottom of the screen!
  5. Follow Up: Keep an eye out for a Student Aid Report (SAR) email, as well as information from the colleges you applied to. Sometimes campuses ask for additional paperwork, so watch for possible requests. If you have any questions after receiving your financial aid offer, follow up with the financial aid office at your campus.

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

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.

What’s an EFC?

The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is a number that’s used to help determine your eligibility for financial aid for college. Each school that you selected to share your information with on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will use the EFC to determine how much aid you may receive at their individual institution. Your EFC is calculated through a formula that uses your family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets and benefits. The size of your family, the number of family members who will attend college during the academic year and the age of your older parent will also influence your EFC.

Financial aid administrators will subtract the EFC from the student’s cost of attendance to determine their need for the following federal student aid programs:

  • Federal Pell Grants
  • Federal Subsidized Student Loans
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants
  • Federal Work-Study

Other federal and state scholarship programs will also use the EFC to determine your eligibility for additional aid. For a detailed guide on exactly how an EFC is calculated, you can check out The EFC Formula.

It’s important to know that your EFC is not the guaranteed amount of money you or your family will be required to contribute to your cost of attendance. It’s only a number used by your school to calculated your financial aid eligibility.

The EFC is a very influential calculation, so it’s important to complete your FAFSA sooner than later. You can find the FAFSA online at FAFSA.gov.

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.”

 

Understanding Your Financial Aid Award Letter

Submitting your FAFSA to find out your eligibility for federal and state aid is definitely a huge step in the financial aid process, but it’s only the first step. After your FAFSA has been processed and you’ve visited with the financial aid office at your school(s) of interest, watch for an Award Letter from one or more of those institutions. The letter may be sent electronically or via the US Postal service. It’s important that you read each Award Letter carefully, for it describes the types and amounts of financial aid the college or career tech can offer to help you pay for one year of higher education.

On your award letter you will see:

  • The total Cost of Attendance (COA) – what it costs to go to that school for one year
  • Expected Family Contribution (EFC) – a number 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’.
    • Grants – gift aid that comes from federal, state and tribal governments, usually based on financial need
    • Scholarships – can be based on need, merit or your interests; awarded by colleges, state agencies, companies, foundations, tribal and private organizations
    • Federal work-study – there may be an opportunity for you to work on or off campus to earn some of your financial aid
    • Federal student loans – money that you borrow to help you pay for college; loans must be repaid, with interest
    • Federal PLUS loan – an undergraduate loan your parent(s) may qualify to borrow to help you pay for college, subject to credit history requirements; your parent(s) are expected to repay the loan

Now, do a simple calculation. Subtract all of the financial aid shown on your Award Letter from your Cost of Attendance. This will determine your estimated Net Cost. The Net Cost is the out-of-pocket amount you’ll be expected to pay. You may hear this referred to as unmet need, or ‘the gap’. It’s possible that your Net Cost could be zero if your financial aid package covers your whole Cost of Attendance (a negative amount would count as a zero).

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

Remember:

  • You don’t have to accept all of the aid offered to you, especially when it comes to borrowing student loans. A monthly payment during college may be less expensive than a loan payment with added interest after you’ve completed your education.
  • Each award letter will give you a deadline to accept or decline some or all of the aid by a specified date. Always keep track of deadlines.
  • If you receive more than one Award Letter, be sure to determine what your Net Cost would be at each school. The schools will most likely have different packages to offer.