Category Archives: UCanGo2 Resources

Free Money First!

It’s award letter season! An award letter is an electronic or paper notification sent by a college, university or career tech after you’ve completed a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and applied for financial assistance. These award letters indicate the amount of financial aid you may receive for your education for the 2019-2020 academic year. After reviewing your letter(s), you might find that the amount of aid awarded to you in the form of federal and/or state grants, known as free money, won’t cover the total cost of college. Before opting for federal student loans to help with expenses, start (or keep) researching available scholarships. A scholarship is another form of free money for college that doesn’t have to be paid back. Scholarships are often competitive, but by putting in the work, you may be able to shrink your remaining school balance and limit – or eliminate – the need for a student loan!

There are many ways to search for scholarships. First, check the school you’ll be attending. Many campuses have foundation offices that provide scholarships to eligible students. Look for these scholarships each year you plan to attend. Your college’s financial aid office can also help you identify different types of scholarships.

Other sources of scholarships include private businesses, employers, churches and community organizations (YMCA/YWCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Rotary and Elks clubs, etc.). These scholarships are often posted online and typically require an application specific to each award. Save time by accessing the free and trusted databases at OKcollegestart.org and UCanGo2.org. Both sites compile thousands of scholarships available to students in Oklahoma and nationwide.

Only after you’ve exhausted all options for free money should you consider student loans. Remember, student loans must be repaid with interest, even if you don’t complete a degree, while free money from grants and scholarships does not have to be repaid.

For more information about scholarships, see our “Scholarship Success Guide.”

For more information about student loans, review “Borrow Smart from the Start.”

 

Understanding Your Financial Aid Award Letter

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?

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 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.

IRS Data Retrieval Tool Outage

Please be advised that the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) will be unavailable Saturday, Jan. 12, from 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Central Standard Time. The DRT is used for transferring student and parent tax information from the IRS to the FAFSA application. During this outage, users may still access and complete the FAFSA. However, if any action requires entry of federal tax information, it must be provided manually. Applicants may wish to complete the FAFSA after the outage is over.

Making Corrections to a FAFSA

How do I fix an error on my Student Aid Report?

Since most students file their FAFSAs electronically, it’s quick and easy to make your corrections online, as well. On the home page at FAFSA.gov, click ‘Log In’. If you’re making changes to your answers, click ‘I am the student’. If your parents are making a change to their answers, they should click ‘I am a parent’. Your parents can log in using your personally identifiable information, and they’ll also need your Save Key. Don’t let anyone else log in with your FSA ID!

Find the section where the correction(s) will be made. Make your changes, and don’t forget to click the ‘Submit’ button on the last page when you’re done. In a few days, another Student Aid Report (SAR) will be sent to your inbox. Review it once more to make sure your changes have been made.

If you aren’t able to make a change, notify the financial aid office at your college or university. A financial aid professional will need your Data Release Number (DRN)–a four-digit code found in the top half of your Student Air Report–to access your FAFSA. Don’t give anyone in the financial aid office your FSA ID.

If you encounter any problems while making corrections, call Federal Student Aid (FSA) at 1.800.433.3243.

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.

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.