Category Archives: UCanGo2 Resources

Gratitude and Grants

Thanksgiving is a time to practice gratitude.

Here are some ways we can remain thankful during FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and college application season.

1. Celebrate the fact that the FAFSA is a free resource for financial aid. The FAFSA serves as your application for federal and some state financial aid for college. Whether you receive grants, scholarships, student loans or work study, all of these will help get you one step closer to your future goals.

2. Be grateful that you created your FSA ID (Federal Student Aid ID) before starting your FAFSA application, and kept it safe on your handy FSA ID Worksheet! The FSA ID is a username and password that you and one of your parents create to sign the FAFSA electronically.  This short task can save you time, as submitting and signing your FAFSA online will speed up the processing period for your application. Save your FSA ID worksheet so when you complete the FAFSA next year you won’t have to struggle to remember your ID; you’ll only have to reference your FSA ID worksheet for the information.

3. Remember to show your educators how much you appreciate them. Is there an administrator, teacher or counselor who’s been especially supportive as you plan for college? It’s easy to get caught up in the essays, application requirements and test scores, and educators can encourage us to persevere and answer our endless questions. Educators are an essential resource when it comes to choosing the school you want to attend.

4. Having trouble picking your top schools? The FAFSA allows you to apply for financial aid at up to 10 different schools. Ask your teacher or counselor to help you find the best-fit colleges, universities or technology centers. After you’ve narrowed down your choices and determined which schools are a good match, take the time to thank your teacher or counselor for everything they’ve done to help make your education journey successful.

5. Finally, be proud of your own perseverance. Once you’ve followed the tips in Finish the FAFSA in Five Steps and submitted your application, you can be grateful that it’s done! (Until next year, that is.)

National Scholarship Month

It’s National Scholarship Month! That means we’re raising awareness about the numerous scholarship dollars that are available to help you cover college expenses. For the 2016-2017 school year, the National Scholarship Providers Association awarded over $2 billion in scholarship funds to deserving students. That’s just one organization! There are many other companies that offer scholarships to students preparing for college. To help you put your best foot forward, here are a few tips to help you submit excellent scholarship applications:

  • Follow directions. It’s important to read all scholarship instructions carefully before starting the application. If there is a word count to abide by, be sure to meet the requirements. Also, submit all necessary documents. Ask for letters of recommendation, copies of your transcript and other documentation weeks before the scholarship deadline.
  • Be creative.  Think outside the box on scholarship questions. Be creative and original when writing your essay responses. If you’re asked why you deserve the scholarship, explain why it’s important for you to go to college. Talk about your academic and career goals, as well as the challenges you’ve overcome to reach those goals. Also, tell a story only you can tell. Discuss your involvement with a school organization or a part-time job and describe the skills you’ve gained from those opportunities. Remember that with every experience you’ve encountered, you’ve learned something. Use those learned lessons to fuel your essay responses.
  • Proofread your work. Completing a scholarship application can feel very rewarding; however, it’s only the first step. Proofreading is the next crucial stage in this process. Read your scholarship essay aloud to see if you need to make any adjustments. Also, ask a non-relative, such as a teacher or counselor, to read your essay – and be open to the constructive criticism they give you.
  • Find options that reflect your interests. Applying for scholarships can seem like a lot of work. Yet, if you find scholarships that are interesting to you, the application process can be enjoyable. Search for opportunities that align with your passions. Then writing essays and creating scholarship videos will be fun and exciting, instead of time consuming and tedious.
  • Never give up! Don’t get discouraged when you don’t receive a scholarship award; just keep applying. Your persistence will win out in the end. Keep searching for unique scholarships. Ask local businesses about scholarship opportunities, as well as your current education institution. The goal of scholarships is to assist you with covering the costs of college. The more scholarships you apply for, the more likely you are to gain that extra assistance. To learn more about scholarships or to search for interesting opportunities, check out our Scholarship Success Guide or go to UCanGo2.org and OKcollegestart.org.

Homelessness and the FAFSA

In recent years, questions about the circumstances surrounding homelessness have been added to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to give homeless students the help they need when considering college. Three questions about homelessness canned be summed up this way:

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.

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 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.

To clarify some of the terms used in the questions about homelessness, an unaccompanied student is one who is not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian. The term youth refers to someone who is 21 years of age or younger or is still enrolled in high school at the time they submit their FAFSA.  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. A self-supporting student is one who covers his/her own living expenses.

Often, homeless students ask about how to report their mailing address on the 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 and

FAFSA Tips for Unaccompanied Youth

FAFSA Now Available!

It’s October 1! That means the 2020-2021 FAFSA is available! All students planning to start college in the fall of 2020 can now submit their application for federal and state financial assistance. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, allows colleges to determine your eligibility to receive financial aid. Financial aid, which comes in the form of grants, work-study and student loans, can help you pay for college expenses. To start your FAFSA, here are a few tips that will help you successfully complete the form:

  • Create Your FSA ID – If you haven’t already done so, you and your parent will need to create an FSA ID (Federal Student Aid ID). This username and password allow you to electronically sign the FAFSA. It will also give you access to other financial aid documents and websites. To create your FSA ID, go to fsaid.ed.gov.
  • Gather Your Documents – For the 2020-2021 FAFSA, students will need their parents’ tax return, W-2 and other financial information for the 2018 tax year. If the student filed a tax return in 2018, they will need the same information. Students should also gather their Social Security card and driver’s license, if applicable.
  • Use Your Official Name – When creating your FSA ID and completing the FAFSA, you’ll need to enter your name exactly as it’s shown on your Social Security card. No nicknames are allowed on the FAFSA. If your name has special characters include those as well.
  • Pick Your Venue – There are two electronic options for submitting your FAFSA. You can use the website format, FAFSA.gov, or you can use the mobile app, myStudentAid. These are the only two official means for submitting your application. Remember the first “F” in FAFSA stands for Free, so you should never pay for completing your FAFSA. Using one of these two methods will ensure that you aren’t charge for a free application.
  • Watch Your Inbox – Once you submit your FAFSA, you’ll begin to receive information about your application status and updates from your future school’s financial aid office. Be on the look out for these updates and follow-up with your financial aid office if they need additional documentation.

Utilizing these five tips can save time and make your FAFSA completion much easier. Don’t forget, you need to complete a FAFSA each year you need funding for college.

For more information about the FASFA, check out www.ucango2.org

Welcome Back to School

Back-to-school season is well underway! Before you let out a sigh of frustration because the summer flew by, decide how you’ll make this school year the best one yet. Will you be engaged in class? Will you intentionally make a new friend? Will you take on a new interest? The ball is in your court this month, so make a plan to seize the opportunities of a new school year.

To get you started on the right foot, think about joining a club or sports team. If you’re already involved in a certain activity, think about taking on a leadership role. You’ll gain communication skills and meet new people. You may also enjoy a school play or music recital. Attending different types of events like these could give you a greater appreciation for your school. Additionally, consider volunteering. Devoting some time to a cause that’s important to you is a good way to give back to your community, and you may discover a few interesting career options as you volunteer. Volunteer work can also be an asset when applying for scholarships.

Own your education this year. Challenge yourself to maintain good grades and if you’re struggling in a specific subject area, ask questions. Find resources that can help you understand difficult concepts. Conversely, if you’re excelling in a certain course that others may find tough, contemplate tutoring a few classmates. Doing this will show your concern for others and increase your own knowledge. Practice time management skills, as well. Make it a goal to turn in all assignments on time and keep the lines of communication open with your instructors. Let them know if you’ll miss a deadline.

Finally, prepare for what’s next. High school students can take FREE practice tests for the ACT and SAT to increase their scores. Free test prep material can be found at OKcollegestart.org. Seniors and college students who will need financial aid next year should complete and submit the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as soon after Oct. 1 as possible. The FAFSA determines your eligibility for various types of financial aid – resources to help you cover college expenses. College students can start developing their resumes. Visit your campus Career Services department to learn about all available opportunities. And all students should apply for scholarships! Whether you’re a junior in high school or a sophomore in college, it’s never too early or too late to take advantage of these opportunities. You can find numerous scholarships at UCanGo2.org and OKcollegestart.org.

There are plenty of things to look forward to as you begin a new school year. So instead of dragging your feet on your first day of class, decide that you’ll make this school year the best yet! Welcome back and have a great year!

Summer Checklist for Incoming High School Seniors

You made it! School’s out for the summer. If you’re looking for something to do this summer, why not get a jump start on your senior year of high school? Here’s a preview of what to do as you finish up high school and prepare for college:

  • Stay on track. Review courses with your counselor to make sure you’re meeting high school graduation and entrance requirements for the schools that interest you.
  • Pick your top five. Oklahoma has 25 public colleges and universities as well as several independent and proprietary institutions. Take a few minutes to check out your options!
  • Search for scholarships. It’s never too early (or too late!) to apply for scholarships. Check out UCanGo2 and OKcollegestart to search thousands of scholarships!
  • Test again. Even if you’ve already taken the ACT or SAT, register for the fall ACT and/or SAT tests; you might boost your score! For extra help, try the free practice ACT and SAT tests on OKcollegestart.org. Find test locations and dates at ACT.org and SAT.org.
  • Create a Federal Student Aid ID. The 2020-21 FAFSA will be available on October 1, 2019. You and one of your parents will need an FSA ID to complete the FAFSA online. Be sure to keep track of these usernames and passwords. Creating FSA IDs now will save time this fall when you’re ready to file the FAFSA.
  • Prepare for college fairs. This College Fair Worksheet will help narrow down what types of schools you may be interested in attending. You’ll also find a list of questions to ask college representatives. College Fairs typically begin in September. Registration for fall fairs isn’t open yet, but you can create an account on GoToCollegeFairs.com now, allowing you to easily register when the time comes.

Check out UCanGo2’s full Senior Checklist for reminders and tasks that need to be completed during your senior year of high school.

Summer Prep for Incoming College Freshmen

Preparing for college can be an exciting, yet nerve-wracking time. Now that you’ve made your final decision on the best college for you, what should you do next? Instead of hitting cruise control, take this time to ensure you’ll be ready for the first day higher education.

Follow up with your high school counselor to make sure your final transcript has been sent to the right college or university. Also, speak with the financial aid office at your college to confirm that you’ve completed and submitted all the required paperwork. Be sure to keep track of your FSA ID (Federal Student Aid ID) and all other critical financial documents in case you need them later.

Talk with your family about your school’s financial aid offer, as well. Ask if they’re willing to help with additional college expenses that may arise. Another good option for covering school expenses is taking on a summer job. It’s never too late to save for your education. Scholarships can also assist with the cost of college, so apply for as many scholarships as possible during the summer. The more you apply for, the more likely your chances are of receiving one.

You should also plan to attend Freshmen Orientation. During this exciting event, you’ll learn more about your college and get a chance to register for classes. Constantly check your college-issued email account to receive updates about campus activities or programs. Follow your friends and your new roommate on social media to start making some great connections. This can make the transition to college easier. Additionally, consider using this time to brush up on your reading and writing skills.

While you have some free time, schedule a visit to your doctor and dentist for a regular check-up. Get a copy of your health insurance card from your parents to use in case of an emergency. Finally, enjoy this time with your friends and family. Talk with your parents about their expectations of you in college and agree to check-in with each other at least once a week. You’ve worked hard to get into college so make the most of this summer. Soon you’ll be on your way to a great freshman year!

Do You Know Where Your Tax Returns Are?

That’s an important question if you’re submitting a FAFSA soon. The FAFSA will always require income information from two years prior to the year that you’ll be attending college. That means if you’re submitting the 2019-2020 FAFSA, you’ll need your 2017 tax return to complete the application. For those who earned income in 2017, but not enough to require filing a return, the income still needs to be reported on the FAFSA. Always keep your W2’s, especially for any year that you didn’t file a return.

If you’re a dependent student, your parents will also need to report their 2017 tax information.* Parents who filed a joint return in 2017 should have their W2’s handy, too, because the FAFSA will ask about the income of ‘Parent 1’ and ‘Parent 2’.

Because you must complete the FAFSA each year you need student aid, it’s best to keep all relevant documentation together in a safe location, including your FSA ID (username and password). This will help you quickly and accurately finish all future FAFSAs.

*To determine whether you’re a Dependent or Independent student on the FAFSA, fill out the Dependency Questionnaire at UCanGo2.org.

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.”