Category Archives: Students and Parents

New Videos

Our friends at UCanGo2 have produced two new videos about financial aid!

FAFSA and Financial Aid provides an overview of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and how it is the first step in successful financial aid!

Scholarships 101 provides an overview of looking for and applying for scholarships.

You can also view these two videos on our Videos page!

FAFSA Preview

If you’re an incoming high school senior, you’ll probably be hearing an important question this fall that you haven’t heard before: “Have you completed your FAFSA yet?” Let us tell you what the FAFSA is, and why it’s so important.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the key to unlock money that will help you pay for your education after high school. It’s simply a ‘snapshot’ of your family’s financial situation, and it’s used to determine how much federal financial aid a student may be eligible to receive.

Now that you know what the FAFSA is, let’s talk about what it’s NOT. It’s not an application to college, a loan application or any type of commitment to accept the aid you’re offered. It’s not a credit check, and it’s not limited only to students with stellar grades; the application won’t even ask for your grade point average (GPA).

A new FAFSA is available October 1 each year. For high school seniors, this means yours will be ready for you to submit this October – almost a year before you begin college. Don’t sweat it if you haven’t picked a college yet. One great thing about the FAFSA is that you can have your information sent to up to 10 different campuses.

Even though your FAFSA won’t be ready until October, you can take a look at the current form to see what it’s like. There are two options you may want to consider.

Please keep in mind that neither of these tools is a replacement for the real FAFSA. You’ll still need to complete the actual form online ASAP after October 1 in order to apply for federal and some state-based financial aid.

According to the National College Attainment Network, billions of dollars in federal financial aid for college is left unclaimed each year by students who would have qualified to receive the aid; they just 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 FAFSA.gov and studentaid.gov.

Welcome Back To School

Welcome back to campus! This year may look a bit different than last year, but it’s still important to have the right supplies to be successful. Here are some suggestions of items that can help you throughout the year.

  • The Basics. This includes notebooks, binders, pencils and pens, and of course, a bag to carry everything. You can get these supplies at the campus bookstore, most big box stores, t or even the grocery store. It’s more budget friendly to plan ahead and take advantage of sales.
  • Calendar/Planner. It takes some time to get used to your new schedule every semester. Make sure you don’t miss a class or an assignment by keeping track of your schedule and to-dos. If you prefer a hard copy tool over digital options – or to supplement them – you can browse online stores or check out a local bookstore to find your favorite calendars and planners.
  • Course Specifics. Some classes will require additional materials such as calculators, art supplies or lab equipment. You won’t know about some of these items until you get your syllabi, but be prepared and budget for additional supply costs.
  • Snacks. With late-night study sessions and back-to-back classes, you need to keep your brain fueled. Remember to pack some snacks for busy days. Need some snack inspiration? Try granola bars, pretzels, or gummy bears!
  • Organization. Everyone has a different process for organizing papers and information. Whether you use files, folders or you scan it all for digital reference, have a plan to store and keep track of key documents. During the first weeks of classes, you’ll receive an enormous amount of information, including campus event details and course syllabi. 
  • Financial Aid File. When organizing your syllabi and papers, keep a separate file specifically for financial aid information. You can keep track of the award offers you accepted and information on the additional scholarships you’re receiving. If you’ve taken out student loans, you can keep your account information, loan amounts and payment information in a safe and accessible place. It’s also good to keep a record of any information you have or will need for the FAFSA. This could include information such as your FSA ID, current Student Aid Report, tax information and more. Keeping a secure record of all of this information (whether printed out and stored in a locked location or saved in a password-protected file on your computer) will help when it comes to paying your bursar bill or submitting a renewal FAFSA.

Set yourself up for success with the right supplies to get started. It’s going to be a great year!

Questions to Ask Your Financial Aid Office

The financial aid office is an ally to students who have questions about affording college. It’s good to engage with your college’s financial aid officers early on, so they can advise and assist you the best way possible. Not sure where to start? Here are some helpful questions to ask.

  • Are there other scholarships available?

If you’ve already received your financial aid offer letter, you can ask them to talk you through the awards listed. During this time, you can ask if the campus offers additional scholarships that you might qualify for. They may also know of other resources for receiving additional aid.

  • How will outside scholarships affect my financial aid?

If you receive an outside scholarship (for example, from a private program), they may adjust the amounts on your financial aid offer letter. It varies by school. While some colleges will reduce your unmet need and student loans first, others may reduce the grants first. It’s important to ask your financial aid office so you know what to expect.

  • Do you offer a tuition payment plan?

This is a question that the financial aid office can answer, however, they may direct you to the Bursar’s office to set it up. The Bursar handles all student charges and payments. The financial aid office will be able to explain to you the exact cost of attendance and what you will be expected to pay, when. From there, you can ask the Bursar if you have to pay your balance in one payment or if you can pay in installments. Many schools offer payment plans, so be sure to ask what options are available to you.

  • What is the appeal process if I don’t receive enough financial aid?

While an appeal isn’t always guaranteed to work, some campuses offer a process to allow you to demonstrate why the current financial aid offer doesn’t meet your needs. Any increase in financial aid helps, so it never hurts to ask.

  • Will my financial aid offer be similar all four years?

Some scholarships can be renewed every year, so it’s important to find out what you need to do to maintain those awards. Ask your financial aid office what’s expected of you. Sometimes awards can be lost based on GPA or enrollment status. Also, ask if there are any awards that will not renew after your freshman year. If your financial aid is going to change, it’s good to plan ahead by finding additional resources to bridge any gaps.

Federal Financial Aid in 2020: What Can I Expect for the Coming Academic Year?

When gathering the money you need to pay for college, 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 2020-2021.

  • The Federal Pell Grant: Available to 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, 2020, the maximum allowable Pell amount you may be able to receive for one year of college is $6,345, which is an increase over the maximum of $6,195 for Academic Year 2019-2020.
  • The 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 for 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.
  • Federal Student Loans: To provide relief to student loan borrowers during the COVID-19 national emergency, interest is being temporarily set at 0% on federal student loans borrowed before July 1, 2020. 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 from March 13, 2020, through September 30, 2020, but you can still make payments if you choose.

The following table outlines the projected federal student loan interest rates for Academic Year 2020-2021, which show a decrease from last year’s rates:

Loan TypeBorrower TypeFixed Interest Rate
Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Student LoansUndergraduate students (up to Bachelor’s degree)2.75%
Direct Unsubsidized Student LoanGraduate or professional students4.30%
Direct PLUS LoanParents of undergraduate students OR graduate/professional students5.30%

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

Budgeting While in College

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.

UCanGo2.org’s Checklists

The Oklahoma College Assistance Program offers a variety of online publications through UCanGo2.org that help students prepare for their transition to college. Their most popular publications are the college planning checklists. These checklists are available for grades 6-12 and help students and their parents with the specific steps they should be taking during each year to reach their higher education goals.

On the Senior Checklist, 12th-grade students may notice many of the steps center around the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. The first “to-do” calls for students to create an FSA ID. Seniors can reference the FSA ID Worksheet to keep track of their username and password each year they complete the FAFSA. There is also a copy of the FSA ID Worksheet available in Spanish. The second “to-do” calls for students to complete the FAFSA after Oct. 1 each year they need funds for college. A helpful tool to complete this step is the FAFSA in Five publication. With this resource, students can make sure they have all the necessary materials to complete the FAFSA. Students must also determine their dependency status on the FAFSA. A helpful resource to determine this is the Dependency Questionnaire. If they answer “yes” to any of the questions on this form, the student is considered an independent and won’t need to include their parents’ information on the FAFSA.

Not a senior yet? No problem! There are many more publications and helpful tools for students to use as they progress through middle and high school. Below are the college planning checklists for each grade. Be sure to follow the suggested links on each one to discover additional resources:

Junior Checklist

Sophomore Checklist

Freshman Checklist

8th Grade Checklist

7th Grade Checklist

6th Grade Checklist

529 Savings Plan

“Save, spend, invest, give,” is a popular approach to basic personal finances. There are ways to use this method to your advantage when preparing and planning for your child’s educational future. Parents and families have an opportunity to help their children avoid the burden of student loan debt by saving money, so their child or grandchild doesn’t have to spend an overwhelming amount of money on tuition. By investing in your child’s future, you’ll give them the means to reach their education goals.

 An Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan is a specialized savings account that’s used to pay college and K-12 tuition expenses. The money in these accounts can grow tax-free and isn’t taxed when withdrawn. In other words, no matter how much your investment grows in an OCSP (Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan) account, you’ll never have to pay taxes on it as long as it’s used for educational expenses.

A 529 account is quick and easy to open, it can be managed online or by mail. You can set up automatic contributions from your bank account. Some employers also support these accounts and can set up payroll deductions directly to your savings account.

There are a variety of professionally managed investments to choose from to help grow your account in addition to providing direct contributions. These funds can be used at any accredited university, college or vocational school in the nation. Many international schools are also qualified to receive these funds. Additionally, up to $10,000 annually can be used toward K-12 school tuition.

OCSP can be used for certain room and board costs, computers, fees, books, supplies and other equipment that a student may require.

A common question is, “will these funds negatively affect my child’s eligibility for financial aid?” As long as the parent or grandparent is the account owner, funds are treated as belonging to the guardian and not the child. This will minimize the impact on the child’s financial aid. The direct impact on financial aid will vary by school.

If your child does not need all of the money for their education goals, you can designate a new beneficiary penalty-free as long as they’re an eligible member of your family.

So how to you start? You can open an account with as little as $100 per investment. There’s no application, sales or maintenance fee and you don’t have to contribute all on your own. Grandparents, other family members, friends and even the student can make gifts and contributions to the account.

It’s not too early to start investing in your child’s future. Learn more about the benefits of an Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan here.

Summer Scholarships

Summer break is closing in! This is the time when many students jump back into their summer jobs to earn a few extra bucks. While a summer job is a great first step to easing the financial responsibility of college, there are also opportunities available all summer long to find scholarship money.

Many scholarships have deadlines from May-August and the awards can be applied to the upcoming school year. The more scholarships a student applies for, the greater their chance of being selected a winner. We suggest that students apply for at least 1-2 scholarships per week. There are plenty of scholarships that only require a simple application and/or a short essay. A little effort can reap great financial benefits, so while you’re catching some rays, pull up your favorite lawn chair, grab an iced tea and check out these fun summer scholarships:

Flavor of the Month Scholarship

“Summer and ice cream go hand-in hand. In fact, July is National Ice Cream Month, and that’s the inspiration behind this award. We think people are very similar to ice cream…so if you were an ice cream flavor, which would you be and why?”

Deadline: July 31, 2020

Amount: $1,500

Check out this scholarship and more!

Solar Action Alliance Scholarship

It’s summertime and the sun is shining. Solar Action Alliance wants to spread the word about the most clean, reliable and abundant source of renewable energy: the sun. They are offering a scholarship to a motivated student who can answer the question: “What excites you most about the future of solar power?” Students must submit their answer in the form of a 500-1000-word essay.

Deadline: July 1, 2020

Amount: $1,000

Check out this scholarship!

Slumber Search Scholarship

Summer is a good time to catch up on sleep. It’s also a good time to apply for scholarships! Slumber Search wants to assist students as they start their entrepreneurial endeavors. To apply, students must create a short video answering the following questions:

“If you were to create a product or business to disrupt a current industry, what would you do and what would it be?”

Deadline: June 30, 2020

Amount: $1,000

Check out this scholarship!

Want to find more scholarships? Check out UCanGo2!

When you’re submitting your scholarship applications, be sure to remember these tips:

  • Check your eligibility: Some (not all) scholarships have age, grade level or GPA requirements. Be sure you are eligible before investing your time in an application.
  • Check the requirements: Do you have all of the documentation required for your scholarship? Do you need letters of recommendation? Be sure to double check that you’re prepared to submit a complete application.
  • Proofread: Verify that your contact information is correct on scholarship applications. Also, make sure you review your essay, if one is required. Represent yourself well with professional and clear writing.

Summer Prep for Incoming College freshmen

Graduating from high school is a huge milestone. Before you finalize your summer plans though, consider adding a few activities to your list. Implementing these tips will help you prepare for your college freshman year as you enjoy a well-deserved summer break.  

Read and review. High school may be over, but the concepts you’ve learned will appear again in upcoming classes. Since college courses typically don’t review previous material, prepare by studying subjects that gave you trouble in high school. Mastering these academic areas can aid in your college success. Reading often will help with future comprehension and critical thinking assignments.

Develop a routine. It’ll take discipline to balance coursework, other responsibilities and time with friends when you begin college. Therefore, develop a summer routine to practice designating specific times for certain activities. While your schedule will probably change when classes start, you’ll gain great time-management skills that’ll assist with meeting new academic expectations.

Gather supplies. Get an early start on back-to-school shopping. Already have your college schedule? Great! Use it as a guide to purchase supplies. Compare prices when buying course textbooks and technology. If you don’t have your schedule yet, consider purchasing the common necessities – notebooks, writing instruments, folders, backpacks, planners, etc.

Connect with others. Use social media to connect with future roommates or other students who will also be attending your campus in the fall. Converse with those who have similar interests. Not only could these connections create lasting friendships, but connecting with others before school starts could make the first few weeks on campus more enjoyable.

Explore careers. Summer is a good time to explore career interests. If you’ve already decided on your college major, research popular jobs in that field of study. Even if you’re undecided, take time to discover which industries pique your curiosity. Researching different professions allows you to see which career field could be a great fit for you. To learn about various occupations and to view over 400 videos detailing possible careers, visit OKcollegestart.org.