Category Archives: Students and Parents

Summer Scholarships

Summer break is closing in! This is the time when many students jump back into their summer jobs to earn a few extra bucks. While a summer job is a great first step to easing the financial responsibility of college, there are also opportunities available all summer long to find scholarship 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 while you’re catching some rays, pull up your favorite lawn chair, grab an iced tea and check out these fun summer scholarships:

Flavor of the Month Scholarship

“Summer and ice cream go hand-in hand. In fact, July is National Ice Cream Month, and that’s the inspiration behind this award. We think people are very similar to ice cream…so if you were an ice cream flavor, which would you be and why?”

Deadline: July 31, 2020

Amount: $1,500

Check out this scholarship and more!

Solar Action Alliance Scholarship

It’s summertime and the sun is shining. Solar Action Alliance wants to spread the word about the most clean, reliable and abundant source of renewable energy: the sun. They are offering a scholarship to a motivated student who can answer the question: “What excites you most about the future of solar power?” Students must submit their answer in the form of a 500-1000-word essay.

Deadline: July 1, 2020

Amount: $1,000

Check out this scholarship!

Slumber Search Scholarship

Summer is a good time to catch up on sleep. It’s also a good time to apply for scholarships! Slumber Search wants to assist students as they start their entrepreneurial endeavors. To apply, students must create a short video answering the following questions:

“If you were to create a product or business to disrupt a current industry, what would you do and what would it be?”

Deadline: June 30, 2020

Amount: $1,000

Check out this scholarship!

Want to find more scholarships? Check out UCanGo2!

When you’re 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

Graduating from high school is a huge milestone. Before you finalize your summer plans though, consider adding a few activities to your list. Implementing these tips will help you prepare for your college freshman year as you enjoy a well-deserved summer break.  

Read and review. High school may be over, but the concepts you’ve learned will appear again in upcoming classes. Since college courses typically don’t review previous material, prepare by studying subjects that gave you trouble in high school. Mastering these academic areas can aid in your college success. Reading often will help with future comprehension and critical thinking assignments.

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.

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.

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

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.

Student Loan Grace Period

While searching for ways to pay for college, it can be encouraging for students to discover that federal loans help ensure their ability to fund higher education. Many student loan borrowers have questions about how loans work, different loan types, repayment options, and the grace period. It’s important for them to be well-educated on this process before they enter repayment. Here we will provide information on understanding the grace period.

What is a grace period?

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 loan until six months after they graduate, withdraw from school or drop below half-time enrollment status. The grace period gives borrowers time to find employment and adjust their budgets accordingly.

How does a grace period work?

During a grace period, interest will accrue on Direct Unsubsidized Student Loans, and sometimes subsidized loans (see the ‘Interest’ section of the Master Promissory Note, or MPN). Borrowers are strongly encouraged to make interest payments on their loans while in school and during the grace period, if possible, in order to keep the interest from being capitalized (added to the principal balance of the loan). Be sure to visit ReadySetRepay.org to see how making interest payments while in school and during the grace period can help you Save Money on Student Loans.

Here’s something else you should know. A borrower could possibly have more than one grace period to monitor if they’ve dropped below half-time status at their school for any reason. This scenario could take place if a borrower had loans at one college and then borrowed again when they transferred to another college. Dropping below half-time status at one or both of those schools would change the timing of their grace period, thus starting the six-month timeframe at different intervals. It’s important that student loan borrowers talk to their school’s financial aid office, or their loan provider, to confirm repayment start dates on each of their loans.

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

Military Benefits and the FAFSA

When it comes to reporting military benefits on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, families aren’t always sure what to include. Three questions on the application relate to military benefits; they request information about combat pay, housing allowance and noneducational veteran benefits. Let’s break them down here.

  • The first question concerning military benefits asks about the service member’s total combat pay. Depending on the military member’s rank, this benefit may not need to be reported. If the person 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.
  • The next inquiry about military benefits concerns the service member’s housing allowance. Reporting this information is dependent on other 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.
  • The last question regarding military benefits asks service members to report their 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.  

I Didn’t File A Tax Return for The 2019 Tax Year, Should I keep my W-2’s?

Quite simply, yes.

If you had income (earned and/or unearned) in 2019 and you are a single dependent who can be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return, you may still be required to file your own return. The amount of your 2019 income will determine whether or not you need to file. See the instructions at the beginning of the 2019 IRS 1040 form, and look for page 10, Chart B.

Now that you’ve determined whether or not you should file a tax return, let’s just say you didn’t have to file because you didn’t make enough money. If this describes your situation, it’s still very important that you save the W-2(s) you received this year. You should have received one from each employer who reported your earnings and withholding tax to the IRS.

Why is it so important that you hold on to your W-2s? Think FAFSA! The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will ask you to report your income from two years prior to the year that you’ll attend college. So, if you plan to go to college in the fall of 2020, you’ll need your 2018 income information. For the fall of 2021, you’ll need to supply the information from 2019.

Also, you’re still required to report your wage, salary and tip income even if you didn’t receive a W-2 from an employer. If you’re not sure what your income was in 2019, use the Income Estimator that’s available on your FAFSA.

Keep those W-2’s! You’ll need them when you’re applying for federal financial aid.

Happy “Pack Your Lunch” Day!

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 covers two necessities that can’t be overlooked—a roof over your head and the food you’ll need to keep you going. Consider these tips to keep room and board costs low.

Where to live

  • Have you considered 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 significantly lower total cost of attendance.
  • Living on campus? Consider this: a roommate can reduce the cost of room and board quite a bit.
  • Living off campus? As a general rule, you’ll find that 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 meal plans to their students, and meal plans are often required for those who live on campus. Consider trying one of the less expensive plans (less meals every week) and plan 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 asking friends over for a potluck or ask them to bring sharable snacks.

Other ways to manage college expenses

  • Check out all available options for financial aid. Apply for scholarships every semester, not just your freshman year. New options are added each year and qualifications change. Don’t miss out on free money that you may be qualified to receive.
  • Is it absolutely necessary for you to have a car on campus? Consider riding your bike and using public transportation. Larger schools often have free or low-cost transit systems.
  • 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.
  • Limit use of credit cards to true emergencies. You’ll likely spend less if you use cash, and you won’t risk paying interest on your purchases.

For more ideas on cutting the costs of college, be sure to read OKMM’s money management article, Getting Through College on Less.

A College Sent Me A Financial Aid Offer – Now What?

When you submitted your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you listed one or more college codes that represent the schools that interest you.  Once your FAFSA’s been processed, you may begin to receive financial aid offers from these schools sent electronically or via the US Postal Service. It’s important to read each offer carefully, as they describe the types and amounts of financial aid a college or career technology center can provide to help you pay for one year of higher education.

On your financial aid offer you’ll see:

  • The total Cost of Attendance (COA) – An estimate of what it costs to go to that school for one year
  • Expected Family Contribution (EFC) – A number calculated from your FAFSA that’s 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’. Your offer may consist of:
    • Grants – aid based on financial need that typically doesn’t have to be repaid
    • Scholarships – gift aid awarded to you by colleges, state agencies, foundations, tribal and private organizations
    • Federal work-study – an opportunity for you to work on or off campus to earn money for college expenses
    • Federal student loans – funds awarded based on financial eligibility that must be repaid, with interest
    • Federal PLUS loan – a loan your parent(s) may borrow to help you pay for college; your parent(s) are expected to repay the loan (credit check required)

Now, subtract all of the financial aid shown on the offer from your Cost of Attendance. This will determine your estimated Net Cost, which is the out-of-pocket amount you’ll be expected to pay. If you should end up with a negative amount, the Net Cost would be zero.

What options are available to help you cover the Net Cost?

  • More scholarships – You don’t have to be a straight A student or a sports star to qualify for many different kinds of scholarships. OKcollegestart.org and UCanGo2.org are great places to begin your scholarship search.
  • A 529 College Savings Plan – visit ok4saving.org for more information
  • Military benefits – visit military.com/education/gi-bill to learn more
  • A monthly payment plan approved by your school

Don’t forget:

  • You don’t have to accept all financial aid offered to you, especially when it comes to borrowing student loans. Using a monthly payment plan while you’re in college can be less expensive than a monthly loan payment with added interest after you’ve graduated. If you’re unable to make a monthly payment to the school, consider making smaller monthly interest payments on any unsubsidized student loan(s). This will decrease your overall student loan debt once you graduate or leave school.
  • Pay attention to deadlines. Accept or decline your financial aid offer before the specified date.
  • If you receive more than one financial aid offer, you may want to determine what your net cost would be at each college. Ultimately, you’ll want to choose the school that’s the best fit for you.
  • To add more school codes to your FAFSA, log in as a returning user at studentaid.gov.

Financial Aid Awareness Month

Happy Financial Aid Awareness Month! February is the time to learn how you can fund your education with various financial aid options. In order to receive federal financial aid, you must submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Once your FAFSA has been submitted, your school’s financial aid office will notify you of your aid eligibility. Before you decide which options you’ll accept, take time to learn about the different kinds of aid that are available to you. Since they’re all beneficial, here’s an overview of each type of financial aid.

  • Scholarships. Potentially the most significant type of financial aid available is a scholarship. It’s free money you can earn from your own hard work, financial need, merit, family history, skills, hobbies or athletics. The more scholarship applications you complete, the more likely you are to win an award. While you don’t have to submit a FAFSA to apply for a scholarship, some programs may request that you do. Scholarship applications could ask you to write an essay, submit a video, take a photograph or complete a service project. To make sure your application matches the scholarship requirements, read all directions carefully before you start the process. If you’re not sure where to look for scholarships, UCanGo2.org and OKcollegestart.org are great places to start your search. Remember that scholarships can be the additional assistance you need to help you reach your educational goals.

  • Grants. Sometimes referred to as free money since they usually don’t have to be repaid, grants are given to those who demonstrate financial need. A common type of grant is the Pell Grant. The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, or FSEOG, is not as common since it is only given to students who show extreme financial need. For students interested in becoming teachers, there’s the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant, or TEACH Grant. Students interested in the TEACH Grant should carefully read all guidelines. If the grant requirements are not met, the money could turn into a loan that must be repaid with interest. Additionally, there’s the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant for those who’ve lost a parent or guardian due to military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11. As with any type of financial aid, be sure to speak with your financial office if you have questions about grants.
  • Work-study. Also called earned aid, work-study allows students to work and earn money for college expenses while they’re in school. Work-study positions are part-time jobs that can be on or off campus. The supervisors over these positions tend to recognize that school is a priority and are usually mindful of your class schedule. Take advantage of these positions because they can give you work experience and time to focus on your academic responsibilities. Each school will have different ways to apply for a work-study job, so talk with your school to learn more about the application process.

  • Student Loans. While this type of aid is borrowed money that must be repaid with interest, student loans can help you bridge the gap between grants and scholarships. When it comes to borrowed money, it’s important that you borrow only the amount you need to pay school expenses! Federal loans can be beneficial due to their fixed interest rates (it will not change over time) and flexible repayment options. One type of federal student loan is the Direct Subsidized loan. This aid is for undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need. The government will pay the accruing interest on a subsidized loan while the student is enrolled in school at least half-time. Another federal loan, the Direct Unsubsidized student loan, is for students who do not show financial need. With this loan, the interest will always be accruing on the loan and students will be responsible for paying the interest. For those who need extra financial assistance there’s the Direct Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students or the Direct PLUS loan. Parents of dependent undergraduate students can apply for the PLUS loan to help cover additional college expenses for their child. In order to receive a Direct PLUS loan, parents must complete the loan application and meet certain credit requirements. Students will have six months from the time they graduate, drop below half-time enrollment or leave school to start repaying Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans. Those who take out a PLUS loan will have to start repayment once funds have been disbursed.

Now that you know a little more about financial aid, use this month to decide which options could be right for you. For more financial aid information, go to StudentAid.gov.

What is Verification?

After you’ve submitted your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), it’s possible that your application could be flagged for verification. 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, the financial aid office from the school(s) listed on your FAFSA may ask you to provide documentation about the addresses, names or financial data you provided. The aid officer will let you know which sections must be corrected and the documentation you’ll be required to provide to verify your information.

Being selected for verification doesn’t mean your FAFSA is incorrect. Annually about 30% of all FAFSA applications are chosen for this process and the financial aid office is required to verify your data. 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 financial aid office to check on your application status because the more you cooperate with them, the faster the process will go. Verification is the last official step they’ll need to complete to provide you with a financial aid offer. The offer will list the amount and types of financial aid programs you may use to help cover your college expenses.