Category Archives: Students and Parents

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.

What’s With All The Acronyms?

As you plan for college and begin to explore the different ways to pay for higher education, you may come across some acronyms that are commonly used in the world of financial aid. We’ve listed some here, with brief explanations of each.

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.

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

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 this report.

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

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.

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 all accrued interest and fees. Remember, you don’t have to accept the full amount of student loans you may be offered.

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

What’s a Student Aid Report?

After you complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), be on the lookout for your Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR is an electronic or paper document that summarizes the data you put on your FAFSA. It also provides some basic information about your eligibility for federal student financial aid. If you completed, signed and submitted your FAFSA electronically, this document will be sent to your email address within 3-5 days. If you did not include an email address, a paper version of the SAR will be mailed to your postal address in approximately 2-3 weeks. You can also access your SAR by logging in to your account at FAFSA.gov.

The SAR contains important information, like your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and your Data Release Number (DRN). The EFC is a measure of your family’s financial strength and is calculated according to a formula established by law. It’s based on the information provided on the FAFSA, but the EFC is NOT the amount of money your family will have to pay for college. It’s a number used by your school to calculate the amount of federal student aid you’re eligible to receive.

Your DRN is located below your EFC on the SAR and is necessary if you want your college or career school to change certain types of information on your FAFSA. Speak with someone at your college financial aid office if there has been a significant change in income for you or your parents or you have a special circumstance you need to discuss with the aid administrator.

Your SAR might indicate that you’ve been selected for verification. This is a process schools use to confirm the information on your FAFSA is correct. Your college financial aid office will notify you if additional paperwork is needed to fulfill this requirement.

Review the remainder of your SAR for any errors. If you find anything that should be corrected, log back in to FAFSA.gov, access your FAFSA, and make the necessary changes. Then enter the appropriate FSA IDs and submit your FAFSA again.

How to make FAFSA Corrections

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is a form you submit to determine your eligibility to receive financial aid. This form asks various questions on information you probably haven’t thought about before. Since these questions may be uncommon to you and your family, it’s easy to make a mistake when completing the application. If you need to make corrections to the FAFSA after you’ve submitted it, there are a few ways you can fix the errors.

  • Log back in – If you need to correct some information on your FAFSA, such as change your high school’s name or add more colleges to the application, you can simply log back into the FAFSA form. To do this, you’ll need your FSA ID. When you log in, you’ll see a box that shows information about your application status, along with your next steps in the FAFSA process. Under this box is a section that says, “You can also”. In that section, find the link to “Make FAFSA Corrections”. Click on the link to access your application. After you’ve made the necessary changes, submit the application again with the correct information. Don’t forget to sign the FAFSA again with your FSA ID!

  • Update your SAR – When you first submit your FAFSA, it generates a Student Aid Report or SAR. This report shows all the information you entered on your application. If you need to change your name or Social Security number, you can make those adjustments by printing out your SAR and correcting the errors. Unfortunately, the application doesn’t allow you to update this information on the electronic version. You can find and print your SAR in the “You can also” section of FAFSA.gov, after you’ve logged in with your FSA ID. Once you’ve printed out the report and made your changes, mail the corrected SAR to the address stated on the form. Additionally, if you need to change your name due to marriage, divorce, etc., you must first make those changes with the Social Security Administration (SSA). When SSA has corrected your information, you can then update your FSA ID, as well as the FAFSA form, with the right data.

  • Speak with financial aid – For small changes such as updating your email or mailing address, you can use the previous two methods. However, if you need to correct financial information on the FAFSA, especially if you used the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, you may have to submit corrections through the financial aid office at your anticipated school. Students who manually entered their financial information on the FAFSA can log back into FAFSA.gov and make changes. Those who used the IRS Data Retrieval tool to complete the income portion must speak with their financial aid office to fix any errors. Talk to the office about the errors that were made and learn how you can correct the mistakes. The financial aid office may want extra documentation, so be sure to give them all the required information. You can make changes to your name or Social Security number through the financial aid office as well.

Submitting the FAFSA with the right information is important. If you need to make changes, don’t wait. Adjust your answers as soon as you learn a mistake was made. Using any of these methods will help you successfully make changes. For more information on how to submit FAFSA corrections, go to studentaid.ed.gov.

What’s an EFC?

The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is a number that’s used to help determine your eligibility for financial aid for college. Each school that you selected to share your information with 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 will attend college during the academic year and the age of your older parent will also influence your EFC.

Financial aid administrators will subtract the EFC from the student’s cost of attendance to determine their 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. For a detailed guide on exactly how an EFC is calculated, you can check out The EFC Formula.

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 calculated your financial aid eligibility.

The EFC is a very influential calculation, so it’s important to complete your FAFSA sooner than later. You can find the FAFSA online at FAFSA.gov.

What Happens After I Submit my FAFSA?

Once you hit the ‘Submit’ button after completing your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), you’ll receive a confirmation page. The confirmation means your FAFSA has been received by the Federal Student Aid (FSA) Processing Center and they’ll begin to review your application. A few days after that you’ll be notified that your FAFSA results have been sent to the colleges you entered on your application. You’ll also be able to review your Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR lists the information you entered on your FAFSA and allows you to determine if any changes should be made. Follow the directions provided to retrieve your SAR and read the report carefully. The first page will contain valuable information about the next steps you should take.

If you find any errors on your SAR, go to FAFSA.gov, access your online FAFSA application and make the necessary corrections. If you’re changing one of your (student)answers, click ‘I am the student’ once you’ve logged in and enter your FSA ID and Save Key. If your parent(s) are updating one of their answers, they should click ‘I am a parent.’ They will log in using your personal identifying information along with the same Save Key. Don’t let anyone else log in with your FSA ID!

Please note: If any changes need to be made to the income figures provided on the FAFSA by you or your parent(s), it’s possible that your college financial aid office may have to make the changes for you. Students and parents who utilize the IRS DRT (Internal Revenue Service Data Retrieval Tool) can download their income figures from the IRS directly into their FAFSA, which can save you time and additional paperwork. To keep your information secure, however, once figures are downloaded you are unable to see them. Only your financial aid office will be able to view the results, and only they can make any necessary corrections. If changes do need to be made, you must provide your aid officer with the Data Release Number (DRN) which appears at the top of the SAR. Remember, never give your FSA ID to anyone in the financial aid office.

The colleges you included on your FAFSA will receive the results of your application from FSA directly. They will then begin working on a financial aid ‘package’ for you by determining your eligibility for funds from various federal, state and institutional resources. A financial aid offer will be sent to you through the mail or via email. You’ll be given a deadline to respond to the offer, letting the school know if you’ll accept or decline a part or all of the aid they’ve awarded. Remember, you don’t have to accept everything offered.

You may not receive an offer from every school listed on your FAFSA. Some universities may wait to provide a financial aid offer until you’ve been admitted to their school. If you don’t receive a response from one of your schools, contact their financial aid office to ensure they’ve received your FAFSA results.

From that point on, follow the directions given to you by the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend. They’ll be your best resource for any questions you may have about the financial aid process.

If You Haven’t Applied, Do It Now

The busiest time of the year is just around the corner. Before the hustle and bustle of the holiday season begins, take time to submit your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The 2020-2021 FAFSA opened on October 1, which means many students have already had the chance to successfully submit their application. Now is the time to successfully submit yours! This application allows the financial aid office at your chosen college to determine your eligibility to receive many types of financial aid. While some aid does not run out, other types are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. If you submit your FAFSA too late, you may miss out on important funding. There are a few other significant reasons to submit your FAFSA now:

  • More and more colleges and universities are setting early enrollment and institutional scholarship deadlines in November and December. During the application process, they’ll want to know if you’ve submitted your FAFSA.
  • It’s not uncommon for a scholarship committee to ask for a copy of your Student Aid Report (SAR), which you receive after you submit the FAFSA. Completing your FAFSA early ensures that you won’t miss important deadlines.
  • Submit the FAFSA now so you have one less thing on your to-do list for college next fall. It’s better to complete the FAFSA now so you can focus on other college planning tasks in the spring.
  • Since you’ll need to submit the FAFSA each year you’re in college, completing your application now allows you to become familiar with the FAFSA form for next year. If you’re in high school, take this time to ask questions about the application process with your parents and school counselor so that you’ll know what to expect next fall.  

Don’t wait any longer! Complete your FAFSA as soon as possible.

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

What’s a Special Circumstance?

We all know life happens! From losing a job, to dissolving a marriage, to unexpectedly taking in an elderly parent or relative, life has a way of throwing a variety of situations at you. Sometimes these situations can have an impact on the financial aid you receive for college.

Whether you’re planning for college as a new freshman, or continuing your education as an upperclassman, you must complete a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) in order to qualify for federal and some state financial aid. You can access the new 2020-2021 FAFSA now at FAFSA.gov. The FAFSA measures your ability to qualify for grants, work-study and student loans. The FAFSA doesn’t, however indicate your job layoff last month or all the medical expenses your parent is paying for your younger brother.

These types of situations can be determined as special circumstances. Visit with the financial aid office at your college or career technology center to share any conditions you feel are not accurately reflected on your FAFSA. Your situation may be reviewed and if approved, could be deemed a special circumstance. Any revisions to your FAFSA data may also cause changes to your financial aid eligibility, offering a possible increase in your funding.

Examples of a special circumstance might be:
– A significant change in income after your FAFSA was originally filed.
– The death of a spouse, parent or other family member.
– A job change or layoff.
– Unexpected medical expenses.
– A marriage, divorce or separation after the FAFSA was submitted.
– An incarcerated parent or spouse.

If you fall into one of these categories, or experience something completely different, contact your institution’s financial aid office for further instruction.