Category Archives: Financial need

I’ve Submitted the FAFSA. Now What?

Completing the FAFSA is just the first step in applying for financial aid. After your application has been processed, you’ll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR is a summary of all the information you entered on the FAFSA form. Included in the report will be your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), a number that helps determine your financial aid eligibility. When you receive the SAR, review it and make any necessary changes. You can make changes by logging into FAFSA.gov, accessing your original FAFSA application, and correcting your information. Don’t forget to resign and submit! Once you’ve updated your FAFSA, your SAR will be sent to the schools that were listed on your application. If you’re selected for verification, schools will ask you to provide more documentation to confirm that you reported the correct information. Be sure to submit documents as soon as possible to the financial aid office.

Colleges and universities will eventually send you award letters, notifying you of the amount of financial aid they’re able to offer you. Most award letters will be sent electronically, while a few others might come in the mail. Ask your campuses or choice how their notifications will be sent. The award letters will also tell you the cost of attendance. Carefully review those letters and only accept the aid you need. Always accept free money first: grants and scholarships. If you need to take out a student loan, only accept the amount you need to cover the cost of attendance. Be sure to compare different schools’ award letters as well. Consider the financial aid packages and the campus environment to decide which would be the best fit for you.

Follow up with every campus you received an award letter from and let them know how much of the financial aid package you would like to accept. Check for deadlines! Each award letter will ask you to respond by a certain date or you could lose the aid offered. Remain in constant contact with the financial aid office to make sure you take all necessary steps to secure your financial aid award.

529 Plan on the FAFSA

A 529 Plan can be a huge benefit in paying college expenses. However, this college savings account can be tricky to report on the FAFSA. If the account is in the student’s name or in the custodial parent’s name, then the 529 Plan should be reported as a parent asset on the FAFSA. If the student is independent, meaning s/he doesn’t have to report parental information, then the plan should be reported as a student asset. The plan doesn’t have to be reported as an asset if someone other than the student or custodial parent owns the account, such as a grandparent or family friend.

Another aspect of the 529 Plan that can be challenging is distributions from the account. Distributions are funds taken from the 529 Plan for any reason. Students and parents only have to report a distribution from the account if the plan wasn’t reported on the FAFSA as an asset. Here are some guidelines to ensure that you accurately report any 529 Plan distributions:

  1. A non-qualified distribution – funds taken from the account for non-educational expenses – will be included in the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) of the student’s federal income tax return. The AGI will be a part of the student’s total income, so the student will just need to report his or her income on the FAFSA.
  2. A qualified distribution – funds taken from the account for educational expenses – should be reported as the student’s untaxed income on the FAFSA.
  3. A distribution made from an account that the student or the custodial parent does not own must be reported as the student’s untaxed income on the FAFSA, as well.

The best option for reporting a 529 Savings Plan is to leave the account in the student’s name or in the custodial parent’s name. By doing this, the Plan will be reported as an asset and the family won’t have to report distributions made from the account. For more information on how to report the 529 Plan on the FAFSA, visit Edvisors.com/plan-for-college.

Aid Eligibility for Undocumented Students

Although a student must have a valid Social Security Number to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and qualify for federal student aid, undocumented students are eligible for other forms of financial aid for college.

*Remember, if your parent does not have a Social Security Number, but you do, you are eligible to complete a FAFSA and receive federal student aid. Your parent, however, will not be able to set up an FSA ID (Federal Student Aid ID) to electronically sign the FAFSA. Instead, he or she can print, sign and mail in a paper signature page.

One form of aid undocumented students can receive is the Oklahoma Tuition Aid Grant (OTAG). This is available to students who can answer yes to the following questions:

  • Have you graduated from a public or private high school in Oklahoma?
  • Have you resided in Oklahoma with a parent or guardian while attending a public or private high school in Oklahoma for at least two years prior to graduation?
  • Have you satisfied the admission standards for the institution?
  • Have you provided to the institution a copy of a true and correct application or petition filed with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to legalize the student’s immigration status?

If you answered yes to these questions, you should apply for OTAG as soon as possible after October 1 prior to each year you plan to attend college. You can find the application for undocumented students at: https://content.xap.com/media/8335/2019-20-OTAG-undoc.pdf.

Undocumented students may also receive scholarships through their college or university, foundation offices or private companies. Check out a list of scholarships for DACA and Dreamer Students here and search and apply for additional scholarships by visiting UCanGo2.org, OKcollegestart.org and OCCF.org.

Submit Your FAFSA ASAP, OK?

It’s FAFSA time, so make it a priority to submit yours ASAP. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the 2019-20 academic year became available October 1. The fall semester of 2019 seems far away, so why should you submit your FAFSA this early? Here are three good reasons:

  • Some forms of financial aid are first-come, first-served. When this type of aid is gone, you may have to wait for the next school year to apply for it again. Examples of this type of aid are the Oklahoma Tuition Aid Grant (OTAG) and scholarships offered by the college or university where you’re enrolling (institutional aid).
  • More and more colleges and universities are setting early enrollment and institutional scholarship deadlines in November and December. During the application process, they’ll want to know if you’ve submitted your FAFSA.
  • It’s not uncommon for a scholarship committee to ask for a copy of your Student Aid Report (SAR), which you receive after you submit your FAFSA. Completing your FAFSA early ensures that you won’t miss important deadlines.

For more information about completing the FAFSA, visit StudentAid.ed.gov.

November is National Scholarship Month

November is National Scholarship Month, and it’s an excellent time to begin applying for scholarships if you haven’t done so already. Many scholarship providers are posting new scholarship information and competitions for the next academic year, and November is also an ideal month to dedicate some time to finding scholarships for college (think Thanksgiving Break!).  Remember, scholarships are ‘free money’. They’re gift aid that doesn’t have to be paid back.

There are many ways students can qualify for scholarships. They are often based on a student’s talents, abilities, skills or participation in extra-curricular activities. They can also be given because of a student’s ancestry or religious affiliation, or for a variety of other reasons.

Apply for as many scholarships as you can. Many experts say that high school seniors should apply for 2-3 scholarships each week. But where do you begin? We suggest starting your search at UCanGo2.org and okcollegestart.org, where you’ll find hundreds of scholarship opportunities. Also, be sure to check out UCanGo2’s Scholarship Success Guide, where you’ll find many more websites that you can use to investigate scholarships of all types and helpful tips for maximizing your scholarship dollars.

For helpful information about all types of financial aid that are available, be sure to check out UCanGo2’s Are You Looking for Money? booklet.

FAFSA Homelessness Status

Are there any special instructions for homeless students who are filling out the FAFSA?

While completing your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you may be asked three different questions about homelessness.

At any time on or after July 1 [in the year prior to the academic year covered by this FAFSA], did an official* determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?

*This determination can be given by:

  • A high school or school district homeless liaison,
  • A director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or
  • A director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program.

As always, you should contact the financial aid office at your school(s) of interest if you need help answering any of these questions. If you answer yes to any one of the ‘homelessness’ questions, you’ll be considered an independent student and will not be required to provide your parents’ income and tax information on your FAFSA. Later on, though, you may be asked by a financial aid administrator to provide a copy of the homeless youth determination. If you did not receive a determination provided by one of the officials listed above, you’ll be considered a dependent student on the FAFSA, but you may ask a financial aid administrator to consider making their own determination. The administrator will probably ask you for additional documentation before reaching a decision.

A student is considered unaccompanied if he or she is not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian. A student is considered homeless if he or she lacks fixed, regular, and adequate housing. This includes students who are living in shelters, motels, cars, or parks, or who are temporarily living with other people because they have nowhere else to go. Students are also considered homeless if they are fleeing an abusive parent who would otherwise provide the student with financial support and a place to live.

Which street address should a homeless student provide on their FAFSA? According to the U.S. Department of Education, “You must provide a mailing address where you can reliably receive mail. Your mailing address can be the address of a relative or friend who has given you permission to use it, or it can be your college’s address. If you want to use your college’s address, you must contact the school for permission and instructions to ensure that your mail reaches you.” Don’t forget to update your FAFSA later when you find more permanent housing.

For more information and a list of additional resources for homeless students, read Questions and Answers: Federal Student Aid and Homeless Youth from StudentAid.gov.

Grants, Work-Study and Student Loans

As you begin exploring different forms of financial aid, three terms will stand out: grants, work-study and student loans. These are the three primary forms of aid that the federal government distributes through the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA). By completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), you’re applying to receive these various types of financial aid for school.

Grants and scholarships, which are given to eligible students to help them pay higher education expenses, are the best form of aid you can receive, as they typically don’t need to be repaid. The Pell Grant is the most notable federal grant; it’s awarded to undergraduate students based on financial need. Students can receive up to $6,095 from the Pell Grant for the 2018-19 school year. The OTAG is awarded to eligible Oklahoma residents enrolled in schools within the state and the FSEOG (Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant) is awarded to students with exceptional financial need. Some grants do have obligations attached to them, such as the TEACH (Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education) Grant. This grant is designed to assist students who plan to teach and meet certain requirements for the grant. Not all campuses participate in this program, so students will need to check with their campus about available types of financial aid offered.

Work-Study is the form of federal aid that allows undergraduates to work part-time jobs on or off campus to earn money for school expenses. This program is administered by the school, and like grants, is based on your financial need.

The third type of aid is a federal direct student loan. A student loan is a form of aid the federal government provides to help students bridge the gap between family savings, scholarships and grants, and work study and remaining college costs. Unlike most grants or work-study, this money must be paid back with interest. While federal student loans need to be repaid, the interest accrued is often lower than it would be with a private lender, and federal student loans have more flexible repayment options than private or alternative loans.

The Direct Subsidized Loan program will lend students up to $5,500 annually depending on grade level, financial need and dependency status. The interest rate for subsidized loans first disbursed on or after July 1, 2018 is set at 5.05 percent, and the government will pay your interest costs while you’re attending school at least half time. The Direct Unsubsidized Loan is available to undergraduates (5.05 percent interest rate) and graduate students (6.60 percent interest rate). The government does not pay interest costs during school for unsubsidized loan borrowers, but students may make interest payments while in school to save money. If there is still a balance remaining after using all other available forms of aid, parents of dependent undergraduate students may apply for a Direct PLUS Loan. PLUS loan applicants must meet credit requirements, and the interest rate is currently set at 7.60 percent.

If you must accept a student loan to help pay for college, focus on federal loan options, and limit your borrowing to the amount you truly need to pay school expenses. For more information about paying for college, check out UCanGo2.org/pay.

Don’t Miss the Oklahoma’s Promise Deadline!

Students in 8th, 9th or 10th grade: Don’t miss this very important deadline!

If you’re interested in applying for the Oklahoma’s Promise (OKP) scholarship, don’t wait until it’s time to submit your FAFSA! The deadline for submitting your OKP application this year is July 2, 2018.*

To enroll in the Oklahoma’s Promise program, you must be:

  • An Oklahoma resident
  • Enrolled in the 8th, 9th or 10th grade in an Oklahoma high school (homeschool students must be age 13, 14 or 15); and
  • A student whose parents earn $55,000 or less per year.

Special income provisions may apply to:

  • Children adopted from certain court-ordered custody and children in the custody of court-appointed legal guardians
  • Families receiving Social Security disability and death benefits.

To apply now or to learn more about the program, visit okpromise.org.

*Note: Any 2017-2018 application not submitted by the application deadline of July 2, 2018 will be removed from the system. Students who will be in the 8th, 9th or 10th grade in 2018-2019 will have to start a new application when it is available. High school sophomores who have not submitted their applications by July 2, 2018 will not be eligible for the program.

Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan

The Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan allows families to deposit funds into an account that will earn interest over time. When higher education costs arise, families will be able to use the funds from this account to help pay for their child’s education. It only takes a few minutes to set up an account online. There are a variety of low-cost investment options to choose from, and funds can be electronically deposited into the account or mailed in.

529 Plan funds can be used at most accredited colleges and universities in the United States. Expenses that the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan will cover include tuition, fees, books, supplies, certain room and board costs, and some technology equipment required for courses.

Saving for the future isn’t always easy, but being financially ready when your child goes to college will be well worth the investment. Here are a few things to think about when considering opening an Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan:

  1. Contributions made to the 529 Plan grow as tax-free earnings in the account and can be deducted from your Oklahoma taxable income.
  2. Regular contributions, even if they start as small amounts, add up over time. Consider making small automatic contributions or direct deposits into the account every pay period.
  3. Don’t wait, and don’t panic if your child is closer to college than diapers. Whether your child is in pre-school or high school, start saving for higher education expenses today. Focus on saving as much as you can afford within your means.
  4. A 529 Plan account can be a community effort. Parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and family friends can contribute to your child’s 529 Plan account. Encourage family members to contribute to the fund for children’s birthdays and holiday gifts.

For complete information about the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan, visit OK4saving.org.

Summer Preparation for College

So you’re finishing up your senior year of high school and about to transition to life as a college student. It may be tempting to use your summer break as a time to relax and recover from your final year of high school, but it’s important to begin prepping for your upcoming college experience.

If you haven’t already filled out the FAFSA, it’s not too late. You will need to complete the 2018-19 form if you are starting classes in the fall of 2018. It can take a couple weeks for your college to send you your financial aid award letter, so complete your FAFSA as soon as possible.

The summer is also the perfect time to apply for scholarships. Use some of your extra time to complete scholarship applications. The more scholarships you apply for, the better your chances are of winning! Don’t forget about scholarships provided by your college or university, too. For more information on those, call the campus financial aid office. You can also find a list of scholarships at UCanGo2.org and OKCollegeStart.org

If you will be living on campus, you can use the summer to start coordinating dorm needs with your roommate. You should also take a look at the school’s website to start reviewing potential associations, clubs or activities to join. Make sure you don’t overextend yourself, though; transitioning successfully from high school to college takes focus.

For more tips on preparing for college, check out our primer for high school seniors, Your Transition to College.