May 29 is Oklahoma 529 Savings Day! The Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan is a program that allows families to deposit funds into an interest earning savings account and use the funds to help pay for their child’s higher education expenses. It only takes a few minutes to set up an account online and users can choose from a variety of low-cost investment options. When adding to the account the funds can be electronically deposited or mailed in.
529 Savings Plan funds can be used at most accredited colleges and universities in the United States. Funds will typically cover tuition, fees, books, supplies, certain room and board expenses, and some technology equipment required for certain courses. If your student doesn’t need all the funds that go into the account, you can transfer the remaining savings to an eligible family member for their college expenses.
Saving for the future isn’t always easy, but being financially ready when your child goes to college will be well worth the investment. If you’re contemplating opening an Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan, here are a few things to consider:
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 to start contributing to your account. Whether your child is in pre-school or high school, start saving for your higher education expenses today.
4. A 529 savings account can be a community effort. Parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and family friends can contribute to your child’s 529 Plan. Encourage family members to make a donation to the fund for children’s birthday and holiday gifts.
For complete information about the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan, visit OK4saving.org.
When you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you’re giving the college(s) of your choice a snapshot of your family’s current financial situation, enabling them to develop a plan for your financial aid ‘package’. That package may contain aid from one or more of these sources:
• The federal government – grants, work-study program, student loans
• The state of Oklahoma – grants and scholarships
• The institution you wish to attend – scholarships and tuition waivers
• Tribal, non-profit and private organizations – grants and scholarships
Your higher education institution may offer you a scholarship, tuition waiver, or both. You may wonder what the differences are between the two and whether you would qualify to receive them.
• A scholarship is usually ‘free money’ that doesn’t have to be paid back, and is used to pay various college expenses. It can be awarded to you by the school you plan to attend, by the state of Oklahoma, or by various private and tribal organizations. A scholarship is often awarded for above-average grades or other achievements, talents and/or community involvement.
• A tuition waiver is granted by your chosen school and reduces the amount the college charges you. The waiver will eliminate the cost of tuition for a designated number of credit hours, but it can’t be used for any other educational expense. While there can be many reasons a school might grant a waiver, here are some of the most common:
• Your family income demonstrates a high financial need.
• You’re of Native American descent.
• You’ve overcome a significant hardship.
• You were adopted, or you were a foster child.
It’s possible that you’d be able to use a scholarship and a tuition waiver simultaneously. Each college has its own policy regarding who meets the qualifications for one or the other. Call your institution’s financial aid office to see how to qualify for any scholarships and waivers they may offer.
Oklahoma’s Promise Day at the State Capitol is today, April 9! On Oklahoma’s Promise Day many students, faculty and supporters of Oklahoma’s Promise gather at the Capitol to show their appreciation for the Governor and legislature’s ongoing support of this program. The Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship pays tuition at Oklahoma public colleges or universities and pays a portion of tuition at Oklahoma’s private colleges and for certain programs at Oklahoma public technology centers. Approximately 17,000 college students are currently benefiting from the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship, allowing more students to have a better chance of reaching their educational goals in our state.
If you’re an Oklahoma’s Promise student, you must complete a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) every year you’re in college. The information from the FAFSA will be used to determine whether or not your parent’s federal adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds $100,000. For any year that the income exceeds $100,000, you will not be eligible to receive the program benefits. Students must also remain in good academic standing based on the guidelines set by your institution. As the financial aid office reviews your FAFSA, they will determine your eligibility for financial aid such as Oklahoma’s Promise, grants, federal work-study and student loans. Submit your FAFSA as soon as possible after Oct. 1 each year and contact the financial aid office if you have questions about your Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship. Also, take some time to celebrate today by thanking your state legislators and encouraging them to keep the promise!
To learn more about Oklahoma’s Promise and its requirements, visit okpromise.org.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has been available since October 1, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to apply! You can still apply to receive federal and state student aid in the form of grants, work-study and loans by submitting your FAFSA. Many students don’t apply at all and forgo FREE money for college! Below are some common reasons students miss out on financial aid.
Myth: If I’m not poor, very smart or super-talented, I won’t qualify for financial aid.
Reality: While it is true that the FAFSA is a need-based program, there are many factors other than income that go into the calculation. You never know if you qualify unless you apply. Plus, the FAFSA is used for more than just federal aid. Many universities and foundations require that you complete a FAFSA to be eligible for their scholarships.
Myth: I have several scholarships lined up, so I don’t need to submit a FAFSA.
Reality: College expenses include more than just tuition and fees – don’t forget about, books, room and board and transportation, among other potential costs. Submit your FAFSA to explore other funding possibilities in the event that your scholarships don’t cover all of your costs. You can always turn down aid that’s offered to you.
Myth: I’m going to pay my own way through college, so there’s no need to complete a FAFSA.
Reality: Paying your own way through college is a great plan, and completing the FAFSA could allow you to keep more of that money in your pocket. Applying for federal aid has become easier and can significantly reduce your financial burden. A few minutes of your time is definitely worth the potential for thousands of dollars in aid.
Complete your application for federal student aid today at FAFSA.gov!
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?
- 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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.