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.

Homelessness and Special Circumstances

Everyone should have access to higher education! If someone you know is experiencing homelessness or has a special circumstance they’re dealing with, there are resources to help them on their academic and financial journey.

The first step all college-bound seniors should take, regardless of their personal circumstance, is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. This form is an annual application for federal and state financial assistance for college.

On this application, students will be asked a series of questions to determine their dependency status. If a student is independent, they won’t need to provide parental information on the FAFSA. If a student is experiencing homelessness they will not need to provide parental information, however, they should talk to their college financial aid office to confirm their living arrangements. Federal Student Aid defines a homeless student as someone who lacks “fixed, regular and adequate housing.”

Talk to your high school counselor! Counselors can work with the homeless student liaison assigned to their school for the appropriate documentation. Many counselors also know of local resources to assist homeless students in meeting their basic needs.

Check out StudentAid.gov for information on all types of funding for college. On this site, common questions are addressed about homeless youth and federal financial aid.

What about special circumstances? Students who aren’t homeless, but are unable to provide parental information will indicate they have a “special circumstance” on their FAFSA. This allows students to skip the parent portion of the form. They will, however, be required to provide documentation confirming their special circumstance before financial aid is approved and awarded.

Special circumstances can include escaping an abusive home environment, the inability to contact parents, the students’ parents being incarcerated, parents who refuse to provide their information on the FAFSA, and more. Be careful! If a student CAN provide their parental information at a later date, they should NOT select “special circumstance.” Otherwise, they may only be eligible to receive unsubsidized student loans. When in doubt, students should talk with their college financial aid officer to explain the situation.

Find on-campus resources! Many college campuses have resources to help students access year-round housing, food banks and academic support groups. Check with the Office of Resident Life on-campus to discover available resources.

Here are some additional resources for students experiencing homelessness:

Pivot works with young people lacking stability in their lives. Oklahoma students in need of housing and assistance should check out Pivot. https://www.pivotok.org/

National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY): This program connects students with resources that can help them be successful throughout every year of school. Learn more about the program at NAEHCY.org.

National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE): NCHE offers an educational helpline for students experiencing homelessness. See how their helpline can guide you at NCHE.ed.gov.

Local Family and Youth Services: Family and Youth Services agencies provide living arrangement resources for homeless students. Find your local Family and Youth Services office at https://www.acf.hhs.gov/fysb.

Call 2-1-1: This hotline helps students locate assistance with shelters, food and other support groups.

Don’t Rely on Luck to Pay Your Way

Wouldn’t it be great if you could find that pot o’ gold at the end of the rainbow to help you pay for college?  As luck would have it, a free ride to college just isn’t in the cards for most folks. Your next best bet is to submit the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. By submitting the FAFSA, you’re able to determine how much federal and state aid you may be eligible to receive to help pay for college.

Already submitted the FAFSA? It’s never too late to start applying for scholarships. Be sure to take advantage of the helpful information provided in UCanGo2’s Scholarship Success Guide to help you as you go.

Also check out these websites for scholarship opportunities: UCanGo2. org and OKcollegestart.org.

screenshots of websites

Student Loans: Borrow Smart!

Once you submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you’ll see a confirmation page that explains your next steps and gives you an estimate of federals grants and loans you may be eligible to receive. When you get your financial aid award letter from the college(s) of your choice, they will most likely include those loan amounts in their offer. Be cautious when borrowing student loans; you may not need all the loan money that’s offered to you. Student loan debt can grow quickly, and you must repay the full amount with interest. Search for grants and scholarships first to cover your college expenses, as they’re typically considered free money. Think of student loans as your last option to help pay for college.

If you must borrow student loans, do your research. ReadySetRepay.org offers information on all aspects of student loan management, as well as Borrow Smart From the Start, a guide to help you navigate student loan process from beginning to end. You’ll find tips on how to avoid or reduce student loan debt and the steps you’ll need to take if you’re having trouble with your loan payments. Students loans are an investment in your future. Remember to invest wisely by making smart borrowing decisions from the start.

Financial Aid Letter

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an important first step in the financial aid process. After you’ve submitted the FAFSA, your college(s) of interest will process the information you provided and will determine your eligibility for federal and state aid. The college(s) will also calculate the loans and institutional scholarships you’re eligible to receive. The summary will be sent to you in an award letter, either electronically or via the U.S. Postal Service. Keep in mind, it takes time to process this information, so most campuses will send out aid offers in late March or early April for those starting college in the fall.

When your offer arrives, it’s important to read it carefully. You’ll be asked to accept or decline all or some of the offered financial aid. On your aid offer, you’ll see several different numbers, which are outlined below.

Cost of Attendance (COA): This is the estimated cost to attend your college for one year.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC): This number is used by the college to determine how much financial aid you’re eligible to receive. While the EFC is a calculation of all the information provided on the FAFSA by you and your parent, it’s most likely not the amount you’ll be expected to contribute. Want to learn more about the EFC? Check out our EFC Overview .

Award Package: The letter will list the types and amounts of aid the college can offer to you. You may see some of the following:

Grants: These are considered gift aid that can come from federal, state and tribal governments. Grants are usually based on financial need.

Scholarships: These can be based on need, merit or interests. They’re awarded by colleges, state agencies, companies, foundations, tribal and private organizations.

Federal Work-Study: This is an opportunity to work on- or off-campus to earn financial aid. Think of it as a part-time job specifically to pay for college.

Federal Student Loans: Loans are borrowed money to help you pay for college. Loans must be repaid, with interest.

Remember, you don’t have to accept all of the aid offered to you, especially when it comes to borrowing student loans. A monthly payment of tuition and fees during college may be a better option for you or your family than a loan payment with added interest after you’ve completed your education. To learn more about the different types of financial aid, check out our publication: Are You Looking for Money?

Talk with your family about your financial situation and decide how much financial aid and which types of aid you need to accept. Still have questions about the financial aid letter? Take a look at our new resource, Understanding Your Award Letter.


Financial aid Valentine’s Day Poem

Roses are red, violets are blue.
College is great – You can go, too!

“How do you pay for it?” students will ask.
Find the free money! It’s your first task.

Focus on scholarships, grants and work-study.
Remember you need a FSA ID.

Complete the FAFSA for financial aid love,
Sign and submit at FAFSA.gov!

There are quite a few questions on that free application.
Confused? Visit StartWithFAFSA without hesitation!

You’ve found extra scholarships! How very smart.
Search for more aid at OKcollegestart!

On your award offer, there may be some loans.
Borrow just what you need to reduce what you’ll owe.

Stay the course through graduation,
and keep preparing for higher education!

¿Habla usted español?

In our continuing efforts to ensure that all Oklahoma students and their families have access to valuable college planning information, the Oklahoma College Assistance Program is offering helpful publications and tools in Spanish. We’ve also included information about Oklahoma’s Promise, an amazing scholarship opportunity that covers college tuition or students who qualify.

College Planning
¿Estás planeando ir a la Universidad?
(Are You Planning to Go to College? – flyer)

FSA ID
Instrucciones para sacar una FSA ID
(FSA ID worksheet – flyer)

  • Guides students and parents through the process of creating the FSA ID, a username and password used to sign, submit and edit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Space is provided to write down the answers given in each field.
  • FSA ID worksheet, Spanish

FAFSA Video
La FAFSA en 5
(The FAFSA in 5 – video)

Oklahoma’s Promise Resources
La Promesa de Oklahoma

Did you know that the FAFSA is also available in Spanish? Simply click Español in the top right corner of the home page at fafsa.gov to begin your application.

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