Category Archives: Students and Parents

Make a Plan for Your Holiday Break

What do you have planned for your holiday break? Family time? Catching up on homework? Taking a part-time job? Whatever your plans may be, focus a little on your future plans…college.

If you’re a senior this year, make sure you’ve completed the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid serves as your application for federal and state financial aid for college. It becomes available every Oct. 1 so always complete and submit this form as soon after that date as possible. If you haven’t submitted your FAFSA, do it now! 

Scholarships should also be on your mind. Use your holiday break to apply for as many as possible. There are numerous scholarships available and you can apply all year for funding that can be used throughout your college career. Take advantage of this free money!

And if you choose to work on your break, stash a portion of your earnings in your savings account for college. Choose to save 20, 30 or 40% of your take-home pay. Any monetary gifts you receive for the holidays can also be added to your savings. Remember, every dollar you save is one less dollar you’ll have to borrow.

Enjoy your holiday and take some time to plan ahead!

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.

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!

Dependent or Independent?

It’s October which means it’s FAFSA season! The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, can now be accessed at FAFSA.gov. This form becomes available every October 1st and serves as your first step in applying for federal and state financial assistance for college.

The types and amounts of aid you’re eligible to receive are based on the answers you provide on your FAFSA. The information you’re required to include is also based on your answers to some very important questions that will determine your dependency status. Being considered Dependent will require that you include parental data on the FAFSA; being Independent means you will not.

Many factors determine whether a student is considered Dependent or Independent. Review our Dependency Questionnaire to see a full list of the inquiries so you can determine your status before starting the application. Here are a few questions you may be asked:

  • Were you born before Jan. 1, 1998?
  • What’s your marital status?
  • Do you have dependents that you support?
  • Are you a veteran?
  • Have you been in foster care?

After your dependency status has been determined, you’ll be better prepared for the type of documentation you’ll need to complete your FAFSA. The information shown below will be required by the student if he/she’s Independent. And if the student is Dependent, both student and one parent will be required to provide this information:

  • Your Social Security Number.
  • Your Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen).
  • Your 2019 federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned. (You may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.)
  • Bank statements and records of investments.
  • Records of untaxed income.
  • An FSA ID to sign the FAFSA electronically.

For additional information on the FAFSA, check out the Resources tab and also visit UCanGo2.org. You’ll find things like the FSA ID worksheet, FAFSA instructional videos, informative FAFSA Modules and helpful tips on state and federal financial aid programs. If you have questions regarding your dependency status or any items on the FAFSA, feel free to contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 800-433-3243 or your financial aid office.

IRS DRT

The 2021-2022 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opened on Oct. 1. The FAFSA is a form that details a student’s financial situation, which is shared with selected colleges and universities to determine how much financial aid to offer the student. 

In order to share financial information, students and parents must submit their 2019 W-2 forms and tax returns. Families have the option to input this information manually, but there is another tool available that can make the process easier.

The Internal Revenue Service Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) is a feature located inside the online and mobile app FAFSA. It allows students and parents to transfer 2019 tax information directly from the IRS into the FAFSA.

There are several benefits to using the IRS DRT:

1. It saves time as you’re completing the FAFSA. Instead of hunting for the correct numbers on your tax forms and running the risk of making an error, you’ll simply type a few words, click a few buttons, and the bulk of the tax questions on your FAFSA will be complete!

2. Using the IRS DRT reduces your chances of being selected for verification. Verification is the process your school uses to confirm the information provided on the FAFSA is accurate. During the verification process, your school may request various documents to verify the information provided on your FAFSA. Errors that occur when entering tax information manually can cause a student to be selected for verification.

3. If you do happen to be selected for verification, having used the IRS DRT will simplify the process. If you use the IRS DRT and are selected for verification, you will not have to provide any documentation to verify tax data. Your school will know it is accurate since it was transferred directly from the IRS into your FAFSA.

While using the IRS DRT is optional, students and parents are encouraged to use the tool to create a smoother and more accurate application process.

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.

Who is My Parent on the FAFSA?

The answer to this question depends on your dependency status. If you’re considered an independent student, meaning you’ve answered YES to at least one dependency question on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you’ll report your own information (and your spouse’s, if married).

If you’re a dependent student for FAFSA purposes, you’ll need to provide information about your legal parent(s) on the application. A legal parent is your biological or adoptive parent, or your legal parent as determined by the state (for example, if the parent is listed on your birth certificate). If you have a stepparent currently married to your legal parent, you generally also must provide information about him or her.

If you need to report parental information, here are some guidelines to follow:

  • If your legal parents are married to each other, include information for both of them on your FAFSA.
  • If your legal parents (biological and/or adoptive parents) are not married to each other and live together, include information for both.
  • If your legal parent is widowed or was never married, include information only for your legal parent.
  • If your parents are divorced or separated and don’t live together:
    • Include the information about the parent you lived with most over the last 12 months. Also provide information for the stepparent, if your parent has remarried.
    • If you lived with each parent for an equal amount of time, include information for the parent who provided you the most financial support over the last 12 months, or during the most recent 12 months that you received support from your parent(s). Also provide information for your stepparent, if your parent has remarried
  • If your parents are divorced but are still living together:
    • Report their status as ‘Unmarried and both legal parents living together’
    • Include information for both parents
  • If your parents are separated but are still living together:
    • Report their status as ‘Married or remarried’ (not ‘Divorced or separated’)
    • Include information for both parents

One exception to note: The FAFSA will ask about your parents’ education level. Please answer the questions about the education levels of your birth or adoptive parents. A stepparent is not classified as a parent for those questions.

About the FSA ID

Oct. 1 is just around the corner, which is the day the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, becomes available. The FAFSA is used to determine your eligibility for various forms of federal financial aid like grants, work-study and student loans. To ensure you’re prepared to submit your FAFSA after Oct. 1, create your FSA ID ahead of time. This ID is the username and password you’ll use to log in and sign the FAFSA, along with other financial aid documents. One of your parents will need to create a FSA ID, as well. Here are a few tips to help with the process.

Provide personal information. When creating your FSA ID, you’ll be asked to provide your birthdate, Social Security number, phone number and physical address. The same is true for your parent(s). If your parent(s) doesn’t have a Social Security number, they won’t be able to create an FSA ID. They will, however, be able to sign your FAFSA another way. To learn how to sign the FAFSA without an FSA ID, visit StudentAid.gov.

Choose the right email address. You and your parent will also need to enter an email address. Your email address must be different from your parent’s. Be sure to use an email address that’s not issued by your school, since you won’t have access to that email account once you graduate. To ensure you receive all important information on your financial aid eligibility, provide a personal email address when creating your FSA ID.

Select challenge questions. To help with resetting your password for the future, you must select four challenge questions and provide the answers to them. You’ll choose these questions from a drop-down menu. Use our FSA ID worksheet to keep track of your answers.

Allow enough time. It takes about 10-20 minutes to create the FSA ID. As with the FAFSA, give yourself plenty of time to do this. Try to complete the FSA ID process in one sitting, as you won’t be able to save your information and return later to finish this step. Also, it’s important to be near your mobile device and have access to your email during this process. Secure codes will be sent to these devices for confirmation, and you’ll be required to enter them within a limited timeframe to create your FSA ID. By creating your FSA ID before starting the FAFSA, you’ll be better prepared for the entire completion process. Create your FSA ID today at FSAID.ed.gov.