Category Archives: Financial Need

Gather Your Tax Information

When you submit your FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, on or after Oct. 1 this year, you’ll be required to report your income and tax information, along with that of your parents or spouse, if applicable. When you complete the new FAFSA for the 2022-2023 academic year, you’ll need your 2020 tax return and W-2s.

Instead of manually entering your tax information on the FAFSA, many applicants will choose to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT). The IRS DRT automatically transfers the income information from your tax return directly into the FAFSA.

Even if you use the DRT, it’s still helpful to have your tax return and W-2s on hand when you complete your FAFSA. Here’s why:

  • If your tax return was submitted as ‘Married Filing Jointly’ and the two people who filed the joint return are reporting their income on a FAFSA, they’ll still need to report their individual incomes separately. The W-2s will indicate the specific income for each.
  • Occasionally, the IRS website may be slow, or the IRS DRT connection may be a little uncooperative. It’s also possible that a filer may not qualify to use the DRT. In order to continue completing your FAFSA, you may find it easier just to enter the income and tax figures yourself. In order to do that, you’ll need your tax return. The good news here is that the FAFSA will direct you to the correct line on the tax return for the information requested.

Gather your tax returns before you start the FAFSA so you’ll be prepared. Having everything on hand will make the process go much faster and easier. Remember, Oct. 1 is right around the corner!

Financial Aid Resources

“How will I pay for college?” That’s a question everyone considering higher education is asking. Investigating your financial aid options can seem overwhelming, especially if no one in your family has ever gone to college.

Here are a few great resources to help you discover some options available to assist you.

  • The FAFSA. The first step in applying for most types of federal and state financial aid is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, as soon as it’s available! Students who will be attending college during the 2022-23 school year should complete the FAFSA at FAFSA.gov as soon as it becomes available on Oct. 1.
  • Your high school counselor. Counselors love talking about college—college preparation, choosing a college and finding financial aid options. Make an appointment with your counselor soon!
  • The financial aid office at your college(s) of interest. Each college, technology center and career school are different. Be sure to speak with someone in the Financial Aid office at each institution you’re considering to learn which types of aid you may be able to receive at their school.
  • Internet resources. 
  • Free money. Scholarships are an important resource to help you pay for college expenses. There are many scholarship search websites that allow students to set up a profile that will match them with various programs they may qualify for. Many scholarships are also available to students as young as elementary school so start your search now! These websites offer helpful information:

What’s The Big Deal About the FAFSA?

All high school students in the Class of ’22 will be hearing a lot of information about the FAFSA during the fast-approaching school year. So, just what is a FAFSA, and why is it so important?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the key you need to unlock money that will help you pay for college, vocational school or career school.

  • It’s simply a ‘snapshot’ of a family’s financial situation, and
  • It’s used to determine how much federal financial aid a student may be eligible to receive to help them with the cost of college.

Now that you know what the FAFSA is, let’s talk about what it’s NOT. The FAFSA isn’t:

  • An application to college
  • A loan application
  • Any type of commitment to accept the aid you’re offered
  • A credit check
  • Available only to students with stellar grades–the application won’t even ask you about your grade point average (GPA).

A new FAFSA is available October 1 each year. High school seniors can submit their FAFSA on October 1 or shortly thereafter, which means you’ll be applying for financial aid almost a year before you begin college. It’s important to submit your FAFSA as early as possible, because some types of financial aid are first-come, first served. Haven’t picked your college yet? No problem! One great thing about the FAFSA is that you can have your information sent to up to 10 different schools, and none of them will be able to see the other colleges you’re interested in attending.

Even though your FAFSA won’t be ready until October, you can do a practice run by completing the FAFSA on the Web (FOTW) Worksheet, which lists most of the questions from the FAFSA, letting you know what it will be like to fill out the form online. This tool isn’t a replacement for the real FAFSA. You’ll still need to complete the actual form online after October 1 in order to apply for financial aid.

According to the National College Attainment Network (NCAN), billions of dollars in federal financial aid for college is left unclaimed each year by students who would have been qualified to receive the aid, but simply didn’t submit a FAFSA. You’ll never know what you’re eligible for unless you submit the application.

For more information about the FAFSA and the types of aid that are available, visit studentaid.gov. To learn more about borrowing smart from the start, check out ReadySetRepay.org.

Grants, Work Study and Student Loans

As you prepare to pay college expenses, it’s important to know the amount of federal financial aid that may be available to you. Each year, grant amounts and student loan interest rates are subject to change. Here’s what you can expect for Academic Year 2021-2022.

Federal Pell Grant: Available to undergraduate students who qualify based on the level of their financial need as determined by Federal Student Aid, a division of the U.S. Department of Education. Beginning July 1, 2021, the maximum allowable Pell amount you may be able to receive for one year of college will increase to $6,495.

Federal Work-Study Program: If your campus administers work-study funds, you may be able to sign up for a part-time job, either on-campus or an approved site off-campus, enabling you to earn money to pay some of your college expenses. The maximum amount you can earn in the work-study program will be determined by your level of financial need. If you’re interested in work-study, be sure to ask the financial aid office if would qualify for the program.

Federal Student Loans: To provide relief to student loan borrowers during the COVID-19 national emergency, the interest rate on most federal student loans borrowed before July 1, 2020 is currently 0%. In addition, federal student loan borrowers are automatically being placed in an administrative forbearance, which allows you to temporarily stop making your monthly loan payments. This 0% interest and suspension of payments will last through September 30, 2021, but you can still make payments if you choose.

The following table outlines the projected federal student loan interest rates for Academic Year 2021-2022, beginning October 1, 2021, after the COVID-19 relief program has ended:

Loan TypeBorrower TypeFixed Interest Rate
Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Student LoansUndergraduate students (through Bachelor’s degree)3.73%
Direct Unsubsidized Student LoansGraduate or professional students5.28%
Direct PLUS LoansParents of undergraduate students OR graduate/professional students6.28%

Be sure to visit StudentAid.gov for up-to-date information regarding interest rates and special allowances due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Living on a College Budget

Before your first day of college, it’s important to consider creating a budget for the upcoming school year. If you know how much financial aid you’ll receive, evaluate your other monthly expenses that are a priority. You may have responsibilities such as car payments and maintenance, cellphone service and miscellaneous items. Remember that financial aid can only be used for educational, and some living expenses, so a budget can help with planning for other important purchases. Here are a few tips to assist with developing a budget while in college.

Talk it out. Talk to those who are helping you pay for college. Whether it’s a parent or guardian, conversing with those who are supporting your educational pursuits allows expectations to be set for everyone involved. Even if you’ll be supporting yourself financially in college, inform others that you’ll need to be wise with managing your resources and may not be able splurge on certain items or activities. Talking it out allows everyone to be on the same page.

Essentials first, fun second. When developing a budget, account for necessities first, – housing, transportation, utilities etc. – then designate money for entertainment. Using this order can ensure your living needs are taken care of while still giving you room to enjoy leisure activities. Some college campuses host many fun, free events that could make the most of a small entertainment budget.  

Discounts and sales help. Check to see if your favorite stores offer a college student discount, as many companies do. While this tip may not directly relate to developing a budget, it can help you stick to the one you create. Clipping coupons along with shopping on sale can also assist with managing your finances. Browse retailers’ websites or apps for coupons and sales that may help with purchasing items on your shopping list.

Avoid budget busters. Daily coffee runs or trips to the vending machine can eat away at your budget. You don’t have to stop these altogether, but limit yourself to one or two splurges a week. Buying a coffeemaker and snacks from the grocery store can minimize the impact of these habits on your budget. Additionally, instead of eating out often, utilize your college meal plan or pack a lunch. You can see what habits are busting your budget by using a budget tracking app. Trackers can show your spending behavior and give you insight to routines that may need to change.

To learn more about tips for budgeting while in college, visit OklahomaMoneyMatters.org.

Oklahoma’s Promise Deadline

If you just completed the 8th, 9th or 10th grade, be aware of a very important deadline that’s approaching quickly! In order to apply for the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship, your application must be postmarked on or before June 30, 2021.*

The current application requirements for high school sophomores are as follows:

  • Must be an Oklahoma resident
  • Application must be received on or before June 30, 2021 *
  • The parents’ federal adjusted gross income must not exceed $55K per year. ǂ

In order to receive the scholarship, you must also graduate from high school with an overall grade point average (GPA) of 2.50 or higher and a separate GPA of 2.50 or more in the 17 curriculum units required by Oklahoma’s Promise.

Even if you’ve decided college isn’t for you, be sure to apply if your family qualifies. By missing this deadline, you’d be closing the door to an opportunity to have some or all of your college tuition paid by the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship program. Keep the door open!

One more thing: Be sure to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) on or after October 1 in your senior year. Oklahoma’s Promise requires that you submit a FAFSA for each year that you’ll be attending college.

*Homeschool applications must be postmarked before the student’s 16th birthday.

ǂ Special income provisions may apply to children adopted from certain court-ordered custody and children in the custody of court-appointed legal guardians as well as families receiving Social Security disability and death benefits.

Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan

While you’re exploring the many options available to help you pay for college, keep this in mind: It’s much less expensive to save for college than it is to repay student loans–with interest. One savings option you’ll want to check out is the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan (OCSP). Here are a few benefits of the OCSP:

  • It’s a tax-deferred account
  • Multiple family members and friends can contribute to the account on your behalf
  • It can pay for more than just tuition (covers fees, some room and board costs, etc.)
  • It can be used at any accredited college in the U.S., and even certain colleges abroad
  • Up to $10,000 can be used annually toward K-12 tuition
  • There are several contribution options available that make adding to your OCSP easy and convenient
  • An OSCP can be opened with as little as $25, and subsequent deposits can be as little as $25
  • Contributors can deposit a maximum total of $300,000 to your account.

To see the huge difference between saving and borrowing to help you pay for college, read Saving vs. Borrowing at OK4Saving.org.

Visit OK4Saving.org to learn more about the 529 plan or to open an account.

Student Loans: Borrow Smart!

Once you submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you’ll see a confirmation page that explains your next steps and gives you an estimate of federals grants and loans you may be eligible to receive. When you get your financial aid award letter from the college(s) of your choice, they will most likely include those loan amounts in their offer. Be cautious when borrowing student loans; you may not need all the loan money that’s offered to you. Student loan debt can grow quickly, and you must repay the full amount with interest. Search for grants and scholarships first to cover your college expenses, as they’re typically considered free money. Think of student loans as your last option to help pay for college.

If you must borrow student loans, do your research. ReadySetRepay.org offers information on all aspects of student loan management, as well as Borrow Smart From the Start, a guide to help you navigate student loan process from beginning to end. You’ll find tips on how to avoid or reduce student loan debt and the steps you’ll need to take if you’re having trouble with your loan payments. Students loans are an investment in your future. Remember to invest wisely by making smart borrowing decisions from the start.

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.


¿Habla usted español?

In our continuing efforts to ensure that all Oklahoma students and their families have access to valuable college planning information, the Oklahoma College Assistance Program is offering helpful publications and tools in Spanish. We’ve also included information about Oklahoma’s Promise, an amazing scholarship opportunity that covers college tuition or students who qualify.

College Planning
¿Estás planeando ir a la Universidad?
(Are You Planning to Go to College? – flyer)

FSA ID
Instrucciones para sacar una FSA ID
(FSA ID worksheet – flyer)

  • Guides students and parents through the process of creating the FSA ID, a username and password used to sign, submit and edit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Space is provided to write down the answers given in each field.
  • FSA ID worksheet, Spanish

FAFSA Video
La FAFSA en 5
(The FAFSA in 5 – video)

Oklahoma’s Promise Resources
La Promesa de Oklahoma

Did you know that the FAFSA is also available in Spanish? Simply click Español in the top right corner of the home page at fafsa.gov to begin your application.