Category Archives: Students and Parents

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!

When to Talk to Your Financial Aid Office About Special Circumstances

Do you have reason to believe that the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) you recently submitted needs to be updated or reconsidered due to special circumstances in your family? You can correct simple errors by logging in to your FAFSA at FAFSA.gov, but some adjustments can only be made by a financial aid officer at your college.


Dependency Status

The FAFSA will ask up to 13 dependency questions, and the answers to those questions will determine whether you are dependent or independent. If you answer NO to every dependency question, you’ll be considered a dependent student, which means you’ll be asked to report one or both parents’ income and tax information. But supplying parental information can be a challenge to some students due to ‘special circumstances’. You’ll have an opportunity on the FAFSA to state that you’re unable to provide your parents’ information, at which time the FAFSA will inform you that a dependent student who doesn’t include his/her parents’ information will only be eligible for one type of federal financial aid—an Unsubsidized Federal Student Loan. Not reporting your parents’ information can definitely affect the amount of financial aid that you would otherwise be eligible to receive.

There are times when a financial aid officer can ‘override’ your dependency status and change it to an independent status. This can be done if:

  • You had to leave home due to an abusive environment,
  • Your parents are incarcerated or
  • You’re unable to contact your parents and don’t know where they live.

A financial aid officer won’t be able to switch your status to ‘independent’ simply because:

  • Your parents refuse to contribute their information,
  • You weren’t claimed as a dependent on their tax return or
  • You aren’t living with your parents.

Basically, a dependency override can only be done in extreme situations. If you still believe you should be declared independent, discuss your circumstances with a financial aid officer at your school(s) of interest.

Adjustments to Family Income

If you and your parents have experienced a loss of income since 2019*, be sure to talk to someone in financial aid. Some reasons your income could be lower are:

  • Change in employment status
  • A divorce or separation
  • Unusual medical expenses not covered by insurance
  • Unusual dependent care expenses

Once you supply documentation that shows your current family income or special circumstance, a financial aid officer may be able to make adjustments that reflect what you and your family are currently experiencing, rather than what was reflected on your FAFSA. This would be done after you have reported your correct 2019 income on your FAFSA, and only someone from your financial aid office can adjust those figures.

The financial aid staff at your college will always be your best resource when you have questions about special circumstances. It’s important to contact them if you have any comments or concerns.

*Information from the 2019 tax year must be reported on the 2021-2022 FAFSA. The FAFSA will always ask for information from two years prior to the academic year for which the application is being submitted.

I Submitted the FAFSA. Now What?

The new 2021-2022 FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) was released on October 1, and students are encouraged to complete this financial aid application as soon as possible. After submitting the FAFSA online, you may be wondering what your next steps are. Here’s what you can expect.

Upon submitting the FAFSA, you’ll see a confirmation page on the screen. You’ll also receive a confirmation email which confirms your FAFSA was submitted and is being processed. After a few days, you’ll receive your Student Aid Report, or SAR, by email as well. The SAR is a summary of the information you listed on your FAFSA. Be sure to review your SAR for any errors.

When your FAFSA is processed, it’s sent to the schools you listed on your application. Watch for communication from the financial aid offices at those schools. They’ll let you know if any additional documentation is required. Financial aid offices at those schools will also send you an aid offer after you’ve been accepted. The aid offer explains the types of financial aid available to you. Read this offer carefully as there may be additional steps you need to take to accept or decline certain types of aid. You don’t have to accept everything offered.

Watch this short video from OCAP explaining financial aid and the FAFSA to learn more!

National Scholarship Month

November is National Scholarship Month! Scholarships are, what we like to call, free money. This means you don’t have to pay them back after college. What’s the first step in receiving free money? Start by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Some scholarship applications are determined by financial need and require proof of a completed FAFSA.

Next, it’s time to start searching for scholarships that you qualify for. We encourage seniors to apply for 2-3 scholarships a week starting now. There are billions of dollars in scholarships available to students, so the more applications you submit, the higher your chances are to receive free money. 

Each scholarship has its own requirements and qualifications. Some scholarships are merit or financial based while others can be based on skill or religious affiliation. Always follow directions and double check that you have all of your required documents. If an application requires a recommendation letter, make sure you give your mentor or teacher plenty of time to write it.

There are many different resources for finding scholarships. We suggest you start with UCanGo2.org and OKcollegestart.org. Both of these websites have regularly updated scholarship databases. Make sure you create a Scholarship Profile on OKcollegestart. You’ll share information such as your GPA, skills, hobbies, intended major, ancestry and more. The answers you provide will help narrow down available scholarships that you qualify for. If you need a little more guidance on the scholarship process, check out our new Scholarship 101 video.

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t receive a scholarship award. Keep applying! Get creative and ask local businesses, libraries and your school about additional scholarship opportunities. Your perseverance will pay off!

Dependent or Independent?

It’s October which means it’s FAFSA season! The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, can now be accessed at FAFSA.gov. This form becomes available every October 1st and serves as your first step in applying for federal and state financial assistance for college.

The types and amounts of aid you’re eligible to receive are based on the answers you provide on your FAFSA. The information you’re required to include is also based on your answers to some very important questions that will determine your dependency status. Being considered Dependent will require that you include parental data on the FAFSA; being Independent means you will not.

Many factors determine whether a student is considered Dependent or Independent. Review our Dependency Questionnaire to see a full list of the inquiries so you can determine your status before starting the application. Here are a few questions you may be asked:

  • Were you born before Jan. 1, 1998?
  • What’s your marital status?
  • Do you have dependents that you support?
  • Are you a veteran?
  • Have you been in foster care?

After your dependency status has been determined, you’ll be better prepared for the type of documentation you’ll need to complete your FAFSA. The information shown below will be required by the student if he/she’s Independent. And if the student is Dependent, both student and one parent will be required to provide this information:

  • Your Social Security Number.
  • Your Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen).
  • Your 2019 federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned. (You may be able to transfer your federal tax return information into your FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.)
  • Bank statements and records of investments.
  • Records of untaxed income.
  • An FSA ID to sign the FAFSA electronically.

For additional information on the FAFSA, check out the Resources tab and also visit UCanGo2.org. You’ll find things like the FSA ID worksheet, FAFSA instructional videos, informative FAFSA Modules and helpful tips on state and federal financial aid programs. If you have questions regarding your dependency status or any items on the FAFSA, feel free to contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 800-433-3243 or your financial aid office.