Living on a College Budget

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 College Planning checklists

UCanGo2.org helps students prepare for
their transition to college. The most popular
publications UCanGo2 offers are the college
planning checklists. These checklists are available
for grades 6-12 and college freshmen, to help
students identify the steps they should be taking
to reach their higher education goals.

College Freshman Checklist: Students can use
this list to stay on track during their first year
of college. One of the tasks listed is to “Search
for money.” If a student needs help finding
scholarships, they can learn more about financial
aid and saving for college from the publication Are
You Looking for Money
?


Senior Checklist: 12th-grade students may notice
many of the steps focus on the Free Application
for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, which serves
as the financial aid application for college.
UCanGo2 offers a variety of FAFSA publications:

Oklahoma’s Promise Deadline

If you just completed the 8th, 9th or 10th grade, be aware of a very important deadline that’s approaching quickly! In order to apply for the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship, your application must be postmarked on or before June 30, 2021.*

The current application requirements for high school sophomores are as follows:

  • Must be an Oklahoma resident
  • Application must be received on or before June 30, 2021 *
  • The parents’ federal adjusted gross income must not exceed $55K per year. ǂ

In order to receive the scholarship, you must also graduate from high school with an overall grade point average (GPA) of 2.50 or higher and a separate GPA of 2.50 or more in the 17 curriculum units required by Oklahoma’s Promise.

Even if you’ve decided college isn’t for you, be sure to apply if your family qualifies. By missing this deadline, you’d be closing the door to an opportunity to have some or all of your college tuition paid by the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship program. Keep the door open!

One more thing: Be sure to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) on or after October 1 in your senior year. Oklahoma’s Promise requires that you submit a FAFSA for each year that you’ll be attending college.

*Homeschool applications must be postmarked before the student’s 16th birthday.

ǂ Special income provisions may apply to children adopted from certain court-ordered custody and children in the custody of court-appointed legal guardians as well as families receiving Social Security disability and death benefits.

Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan

While you’re exploring the many options available to help you pay for college, keep this in mind: It’s much less expensive to save for college than it is to repay student loans–with interest. One savings option you’ll want to check out is the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan (OCSP). Here are a few benefits of the OCSP:

  • It’s a tax-deferred account
  • Multiple family members and friends can contribute to the account on your behalf
  • It can pay for more than just tuition (covers fees, some room and board costs, etc.)
  • It can be used at any accredited college in the U.S., and even certain colleges abroad
  • Up to $10,000 can be used annually toward K-12 tuition
  • There are several contribution options available that make adding to your OCSP easy and convenient
  • An OSCP can be opened with as little as $25, and subsequent deposits can be as little as $25
  • Contributors can deposit a maximum total of $300,000 to your account.

To see the huge difference between saving and borrowing to help you pay for college, read Saving vs. Borrowing at OK4Saving.org.

Visit OK4Saving.org to learn more about the 529 plan or to open an account.

How does the CARES Act affect the grace period on federal student loans?

One of the advantages of a federal student loan is the six-month grace period. Borrowers usually aren’t required to make a payment on their loans until six months after they graduate, withdraw or drop their number of classroom hours to below half-time status. The grace period gives borrowers time to find employment and adjust their budgets for loan repayment.

Currently, the federal student loan program is operating under the provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. On March 20, 2020, federal student loan payments were suspended, interest rates were reduced to 0% and collections on defaulted loans were stopped. These provisions have applied to federally owned* student loans since that date, and will be in effect through at least September 30, 2021. On March 30, 2021, these emergency relief measures were also applied to defaulted loans originated through the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program.

How does all of this affect the grace period on a student loan? According to the U.S. Department of Education, “Grace periods still apply as they normally would. However, if a loan is scheduled to enter repayment before the COVID-19 emergency relief period ends, borrowers will instead automatically enter payment suspension and receive the temporary 0% interest rate.” This means a borrower whose grace period ends before September 30, 2021 will not be required to make payments on their federally owned student loan(s) until the emergency measures have been lifted. The September end date is subject to change, but if it does, it will be extended to a later date.

Here’s something else you need to know: A borrower may have more than one grace period to monitor after they’ve gone below half-time status at their institution for any reason. This happens when borrowers have loans from multiple institutions, or if at any time they previously dropped to below half-time status at any college they attended. It’s important that borrowers talk to the campus financial aid office to ask about the repayment start dates on each of their loans.

More information about successful loan repayment can be found at ReadySetRepay.org.

*See the FAQ section of the coronavirus announcement at StudentAid.gov (Which loans does the 0% rate apply to?) for guidance on how borrowers can determine whether their loans are federally or privately owned.

Summer scholarships

School is out for the summer and now is the perfect time to find free 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 check out these fun summer scholarships:

Earnest Scholarship Fund

Earnest is giving away scholarships to both undergraduate and graduate students. There is no essay. Applicants just need to complete a short survey providing degree and contact information. Students can be US citizens or permanent residents – this includes DACA students. With 50 scholarships available, don’t miss out on this opportunity!

Award Amount: 50 awards; $5,000
Deadline: May 20, 2021
Learn more and apply for the Earnest Scholarship Fund.

Make Us Laugh Scholarship

Ownage Pranks is an improv comedy brand that is offering a scholarship to an undergraduate student. Applicants must be enrolled or due to be enrolled as a full-time student at an accredited college or university. There is no GPA requirement. All domestic, international and undocumented students are eligible to apply. Students must create a 3-5-minute comedic video which showcases comedic talent. Additionally, students must submit proof of enrollment.

Award Amount: $1,000
Deadline: May 31, 2021
Learn more and apply for the Make Us Laugh Scholarship.

Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) Essay Contest

JASNA conducts an annual student essay contest to foster the study and appreciation of Jane Austen’s work. The contest is open to all students and is divided into three categories: high school, college/university and graduate school. To apply, students must read their category’s prompt and submit a well-written essay answering the passage. For all categories, students will connect Jane Austen’s novels to her Juvenilia – short stories, plays and chapters she wrote as a teenager.

Award Amount: 9 awards; (3) $1,000; (3) $500; (3) $250
Deadline: June 1, 2021
Learn more and apply for the JASNA Essay Contest.

Stuck at Prom Scholarship Contest

Duck Brand Duct Tape is giving high school students a chance to show off their creativity. They are offering scholarships to the students who can make the best prom attire out of Duck Tape. Applicants can document their process in a short video or a written essay. Students don’t need to worry about wearing their creations to prom. They just need to share their promwear virtually. There will be a Grand Prize Winner and a Runner Up in both the Dress and Tux Category.

Award Amount: 4 awards; $500-$10,000
Deadline: July 21, 2021
Learn more and apply for the Stuck at Prom Scholarship Contest.

Want to find more scholarships? Check out UCanGo2.org!

When you are 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

Congratulations high school graduates! After this exciting accomplishment it’s easy to go into vacation mode. With your first semester of college approaching, it’s important to keep your head in the game. We have some items to keep in mind over the summer so you’ll be prepared for your next academic adventure!

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.

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.

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 those connections create lasting friendships, but connecting with others before school starts could make the first few weeks on campus more enjoyable.

Apply for scholarships. You may have already received your financial aid award letter. If so, you know how much money you and your family might have to pay out of pocket for college. Keep looking for free money and apply for scholarships through the summer and even during your freshman year of college! Check out our publication, Are You Looking for Money?, to get tips on submitting successful scholarship applications. Find current scholarship opportunities at UCanGo2.org!

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.

Keep up the momentum. Did exploring careers give you some inspiration? Seek out current summer opportunities in your field to boost your resume. Sometimes these can be paid or un-paid internships or even volunteer opportunities. No experience is too small!

Need more college prep tips? Be sure to check out our publication Your Transition to College to understand the differences between high school and college. You’ll find tips for success as well as a summer of “to-do” items you can complete during the summer!

Military Benefits on the FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid asks three questions related to military benefits. This includes information about combat pay, housing allowance and noneducational veteran benefits. If you or your family aren’t sure how to report these benefits on the FAFSA, here are some helpful tips about the military questions.

  • Combat Pay: The first military benefits question asks about the service member’s total combat pay. If the service member is an enlisted member or a warrant officer, they don’t have to provide this information. However, if they are a commissioned officer, they will need to report their combat pay. This amount can be found on the service member’s W-2 form in box 12.
  • Housing Allowance: Reporting this information is dependent on several factors. If the member receives a subsidy for on-base military housing or a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), then the member doesn’t need to report the benefit. Those who receive housing allowances other than the ones mentioned above must include that information on the FAFSA.
  • Noneducational Veteran Benefits: Those who receive the Montgomery GI Bill, Post-9/11 GI Bill, Dependents Education Assistance Program or Vocational Rehabilitation Program don’t need to provide this data. Those who receive other noneducational assistance, such as benefits including Disability, Death Pension, Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) and VA Educational Work-Study allowance, must report that information. Noneducational veteran benefits can be found on the service member’s monthly VA benefit statement.

Knowing which types of military benefit information to include on the FAFSA and gathering the right documents can make the process easier. The service member should collect the appropriate year’s tax return, W-2 forms and benefit statements to answer these three questions accurately. For more information about military benefits and the FAFSA, please visit MilitaryBenefits.info.  

Keep Your Tax Information Safe! You’ll Need it For Your FAFSA.

When you’re completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you’ll be asked to submit income information from two years prior to the year that you’ll attend college. That means if you’re submitting the 2021-2022 FAFSA, you’ll need your 2019 federal tax return. You may not have been required to file a return that year*, but any income earned in 2019 still needs to be reported on the FAFSA. If you didn’t file a tax return, it’s even more important to keep your W-2 in a safe place for reference.

If you’re a dependent student, your parents will also need to report their 2019 income information.** Parents who filed a joint return in 2019 should have their W-2’s handy as well, because the FAFSA will ask about the income of ‘Parent 1’ and ‘Parent 2’.

Since you must complete the FAFSA each year you need federal and state financial 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 complete all future FAFSAs quickly and accurately.

*To learn more about who may have been required to file a 2019 tax return, see the 2019 IRS 1040 Instructions, pp. 8-11.

**To determine whether you’ll be a dependent or independent student on the 2021-2022 FAFSA, see the Dependency Questionnaire at UCanGo2.org.

Room and Board – How Can I Cut the Cost?

If you’ve taken a look at the financial aid offer from your college of choice, you may have been surprised by the cost of room and board for one year of school. Your ‘room and board’ estimate includes the cost of living in your choice of housing and the cost of food during that year.

Check out these tips to cutting costs on room and board.

Housing

  • Consider how much money you could save by living at home for another year or two. Nearby community colleges usually charge lower tuition, and they offer the same general education courses required at four-year universities. Add in your savings on room and board, and you’ve got a total cost of attendance that looks a lot more manageable.
  • Living on campus? Living with a roommate can reduce the cost of room and board significantly. Pay close attention to deadlines for submitting your housing application each year, and then turn it in ASAP—before the deadline. It’s not unusual for lower-priced housing to get snatched up more quickly.
  • Living off campus? As a general rule, apartments and houses located close to the campus will charge higher rent than those located farther away. Consider having two or three roommates if you have the space.

Where to eat

  • Colleges and universities offer various types of meal plans to their students and are often required for those who live on campus. Consider trying one of the less expensive plans (fewer meals every week) and try to prepare more meals in your dorm room, apartment, or off-campus rental. Maybe your roommate would agree to split the cost of non-perishable bulk foods that you both use frequently. Clip coupons for even more savings.
  • Limit eating out. Consider inviting friends over for a potluck or ask them to bring sharable snacks.

Other ways to manage college expenses

  • Submit a FAFSA each year to see how much financial aid you may receive.
  • Don’t miss out on free money. There are scholarships available every semester, so don’t forget to search for them in the fall and in the spring. UCanGo2.org and OKcollegestart.org are two great places to start your scholarship search.
  • Consider riding your bike and using public transportation. Larger schools often have their own low-cost transit systems. Many college students leave their cars at home.
  • Graduate on time to reduce the total cost of completing your program.
  • Earn some money. Check on work-study jobs or find a part-time job in town.
  • Stay away from credit cards. The interest is high, and they make it much too easy to overspend.

For more ideas on reducing college costs, be sure to read the Getting Through College on Less section on OklahomaMoneyMatters.org.

What you need to know about submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid