Category Archives: Students and Parents

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.

Financial Aid Awareness Month

February is Financial Aid Awareness Month! This is the time for you to learn all about the financial aid process for college.

What is financial aid?
Free Money

Federal and State Grants

Scholarships

Earned Money

Borrowed Money

How do I apply?

  • Complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)
    • Apply every year you need financial aid for college
    • Apply on or after October 1
    • Complete your application online at FAFSA.gov
    • Create an FSA ID to access and sign your FAFSA

How will I know how much financial aid I’ve been offered?

  • After your FAFSA has been submitted and you’ve been admitted, your school will send you an aid offer
  • Review and research all programs offered, and accept only the aid you need
  • You don’t have to accept everything you’ve been offered

To learn more about the financial aid process, review these tools on this site:

  • FAFSA Learning Modules
  • Finish the FAFSA in Five Steps
  • Dependency Questionnaire
  • FAFSA Fundamentals 2021-2022 PowerPoint
  • FAFSA Parent Flyer

You will also find these helpful FAFSA videos:

UCanGo2.org also offers many beneficial FAFSA resources:

  • The EFC (Expected Family Contribution) PowerPoint
  • The FSA ID (Federal Student Aid Identification) PowerPoint
  • The Financial Aid Award Letter PowerPoint

Learn more about Financial Aid Awareness Month here!

FAFSA Learning Modules

The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is an important part of preparing for college. This form serves as your application for all types of federal and most state financial aid. High school seniors should complete the FAFSA in October of their senior year and then each year thereafter to request funding for their college education.

Understanding the FAFSA, however, can be challenging. To assist students, parents, and others completing this form, check out our new FAFSA Learning Modules. We’ve assembled five modules on the following topics.

  • Module One: Gather Your Information
  • Module Two: Create an FSA ID
  • Module Three: Complete Your FAFSA
  • Module Four: Sign and Submit
  • Module Five: Follow Up

These short PowerPoint modules offer detailed information on completing the FAFSA from start to finish. Links are also provided for users to find additional information, publications and resources to assist them in completing the FAFSA.

You’ll find the FAFSA Learning Modules and other helpful tools on financial aid for college on the resources page.

Verification

After you’ve submitted your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), it’s possible your application could be flagged for verification. Don’t panic! Annually about 30% of all FAFSA applications are chosen for this process which means the financial aid office at your college is required to verify your data.

Verification is the process a financial aid office must complete to determine the accuracy of the information on your application. If your FAFSA is selected for verification, you may be asked to provide documentation to your college about the addresses, names or financial data you provided.

After submitting your FAFSA, monitor your email for requests for additional information and swiftly respond to those requests. Your eligibility for financial aid will not be reviewed until the verification process is complete. Follow up with the aid office to check your application status because the more you cooperate with them, the faster the process will go. Verification is the last official step before you’ll be provided with a financial aid offer. The offer will list the amount and types of financial aid you may use to help cover your college expenses. If you have questions about the FAFSA or your financial aid offer, you should contact your school’s aid office directly. They’re here to help!

Student Financial Aid Acronyms

Every profession has a unique set of acronyms used in that particular field. As you plan for college and begin to explore different ways to pay for higher education, you may come across some acronyms commonly found in the world of student financial aid. We’ve listed some here, with a brief explanation of each.

AGI                 Adjusted Gross Income – A dollar amount found on your, and/or your parents’, tax return that must be reported on your FAFSA.

CARES           Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act – A relief package passed in March, 2020 to protect the American people from the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19. The borrower benefits in the Act were extended to September 30, 2021.

COA                Cost of Attendance – The average annual cost for attending a specific college, university, technology center or proprietary school, which includes tuition, room and board, books, fees, supplies, personal expenses and transportation.

EFC                 Expected Family Contribution – A number found on your Student Aid Report (SAR) that’s used by a financial office to determine how much aid you’re eligible to receive.

FAFSA            Free Application for Federal Student Aid – A form submitted by you that is used to determine your eligibility for federal and state financial aid. One or both parents may also need to contribute their financial information.

FSA                 Federal Student Aid – The branch of the U.S. Department of Education that oversees federal financial aid disbursed to higher education institutions for students who qualify.

FSA ID            Federal Student Aid Identification – A username and password that gives you access to some of the U.S. Department of Education’s websites; it can also serve as your legal signature on the FAFSA and other electronic documents.

ISIR                 Institutional Student Information Record – A report sent to your selected college(s) that contains the data from your FAFSA.

MPN                Master Promissory Note – A document signed by you that says you promise to repay a student loan, along with any accrued interest and fees.

SAR                Student Aid Report – Contains the data submitted on your FAFSA, along with next-step instructions. Once the FAFSA is processed, you’ll receive information on how to download and print the report.

For a much larger list of the many acronyms and terms used throughout the federal financial aid process, visit StudentAid.ed.gov.

New Year, New Goals

Welcome, 2021!

Optimism is in the air! You’re ready for new beginnings and opportunities to change some habits in order to achieve your goals. In addition to health and financial goals, there are some helpful academic goals that will give you a jump start in the new year.

Federal Financial Aid: By completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you’re investigating your eligibility for different types of federal and state financial aid to help you pay for college. The FAFSA for the 2021-22 college year is now available, so be sure to submit it ASAP at FAFSA.gov. We encourage you to “start with FAFSA,” and then continue seeking scholarship opportunities throughout the year.

Scholarships: Not sure how to start your scholarship search? Here are some ideas:

  • Check out UCanGo2.org for new scholarships by category and by deadline.
  • While you’re there, take a look at the Scholarship Success Guide to review tips for applying for scholarships and find a list of additional scholarship search websites.
  • Create a profile on OKcollegestart.org to view scholarship applications that are the perfect fit for you. It’s important to apply for as many scholarships as possible year-round, so make a habit of applying for 2-3 scholarships a week.  

Study Habits: While the FAFSA doesn’t take your grade point average (GPA) and class rigor into consideration, schools will look at them when considering your eligibility for academic scholarships as well as acceptance to their school. Your grades in college will also determine if you can maintain certain scholarship offers from year to year. To start or improve good study habits, check out the tips listed in The Perfect 10 Study Habits Guide.

Extracurricular Involvement: Many colleges will also ask if you’ve participated in any school or community programs outside the classroom. Join a club or volunteer in your community after school hours. Not only will your involvement look impressive on a college application or a resume, it will also give you opportunities to serve others and make a difference in your community. Are you already in college? Join a club or find opportunities in your community to share the skills and knowledge that you’re developing. Whether you’re still in high school or you’re headed into the career field, extracurricular involvement is an important commitment to make in the new year.

Happy New Year! Be sure to share your optimism with everyone around you!

The New FAFSA Mobile App

Have you completed your 2021-2022 FAFSA yet? If not, now’s the time! In fact, you can complete this important financial aid application directly on your phone or tablet.

The new myStudentAid mobile app has recently been released with an updated look and a variety of new tools provided by Federal Student Aid (FSA). This app offers a more user-friendly design, as well as a Financial Aid Summary that allows you to keep track of your student loan and grant history. It also offers the ability for borrowers to track their loan repayment progress.

To access this tool, students, parents and borrowers will need to download FSA’s myStudentAid app. From there you can set up your FSA ID, or use your current ID to complete and submit your FAFSA as well as take advantage of these new features. Check out the updated myStudentAid app today!

Mobile phone screenshots of the app

The EFC

The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is a number that’s used to help determine your eligibility for federal and state financial aid. It’s important to know that your EFC is not the guaranteed amount of money you or your family will be required to contribute to your cost of attendance. It’s only a number used by your school to calculate your financial aid eligibility.

Each school that you selected on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will use the EFC to determine how much aid you may receive at their individual institution. Your EFC is calculated through a formula that uses your family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets and benefits. The size of your family, the number of family members who’ll attend college during the academic year and the age of your older parent will also influence your EFC.

For a detailed guide on exactly how an EFC is calculated, you can check out The EFC Formula.

Financial aid administrators will subtract the EFC from the student’s cost of attendance to determine their financial need for the following federal student aid programs:

  • Federal Pell Grants
  • Federal Subsidized Student Loans
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants
  • Federal Work-Study

Other federal and state scholarship programs will also use the EFC to determine your eligibility for additional aid. The EFC is calculated after you complete your FAFSA. If you’re planning to attend college next fall, make sure you submit the FAFSA as soon as possible. You can find the FAFSA online at FAFSA.gov.

Make a Plan for Your Holiday Break

What do you have planned for your holiday break? Family time? Catching up on homework? Taking a part-time job? Whatever your plans may be, focus a little on your future plans…college.

If you’re a senior this year, make sure you’ve completed the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid serves as your application for federal and state financial aid for college. It becomes available every Oct. 1 so always complete and submit this form as soon after that date as possible. If you haven’t submitted your FAFSA, do it now! 

Scholarships should also be on your mind. Use your holiday break to apply for as many as possible. There are numerous scholarships available and you can apply all year for funding that can be used throughout your college career. Take advantage of this free money!

And if you choose to work on your break, stash a portion of your earnings in your savings account for college. Choose to save 20, 30 or 40% of your take-home pay. Any monetary gifts you receive for the holidays can also be added to your savings. Remember, every dollar you save is one less dollar you’ll have to borrow.

Enjoy your holiday and take some time to plan ahead!