Welcome Back To School

Welcome back to campus! This year may look a bit different than last year, but it’s still important to have the right supplies to be successful. Here are some suggestions of items that can help you throughout the year.

  • The Basics. This includes notebooks, binders, pencils and pens, and of course, a bag to carry everything. You can get these supplies at the campus bookstore, most big box stores, t or even the grocery store. It’s more budget friendly to plan ahead and take advantage of sales.
  • Calendar/Planner. It takes some time to get used to your new schedule every semester. Make sure you don’t miss a class or an assignment by keeping track of your schedule and to-dos. If you prefer a hard copy tool over digital options – or to supplement them – you can browse online stores or check out a local bookstore to find your favorite calendars and planners.
  • Course Specifics. Some classes will require additional materials such as calculators, art supplies or lab equipment. You won’t know about some of these items until you get your syllabi, but be prepared and budget for additional supply costs.
  • Snacks. With late-night study sessions and back-to-back classes, you need to keep your brain fueled. Remember to pack some snacks for busy days. Need some snack inspiration? Try granola bars, pretzels, or gummy bears!
  • Organization. Everyone has a different process for organizing papers and information. Whether you use files, folders or you scan it all for digital reference, have a plan to store and keep track of key documents. During the first weeks of classes, you’ll receive an enormous amount of information, including campus event details and course syllabi. 
  • Financial Aid File. When organizing your syllabi and papers, keep a separate file specifically for financial aid information. You can keep track of the award offers you accepted and information on the additional scholarships you’re receiving. If you’ve taken out student loans, you can keep your account information, loan amounts and payment information in a safe and accessible place. It’s also good to keep a record of any information you have or will need for the FAFSA. This could include information such as your FSA ID, current Student Aid Report, tax information and more. Keeping a secure record of all of this information (whether printed out and stored in a locked location or saved in a password-protected file on your computer) will help when it comes to paying your bursar bill or submitting a renewal FAFSA.

Set yourself up for success with the right supplies to get started. It’s going to be a great year!

FAFSA Mobile App

Traditionally, students submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, through the official web site, FAFSA.gov. A few still complete and mail in a paper application. Did you know students can also submit their application through the FAFSA mobile app, myStudentAid, from anywhere they choose? The myStudentAid mobile app allows students to submit their FAFSA on any mobile device. Along with extra submission options, the app provides students with other great features. Here are a few to consider.

FSA ID. To access and submit the FAFSA online, students and one of their parents must create a Federal Student Aid ID, or FSA ID. Students can create and manage this username and password through the mobile app. Whether completing the FAFSA using myStudentAid or FAFSA.gov, students will need an FSA ID to sign and submit the application.

Tools. Using myStudentAid, just like FAFSA.gov, students can access various tools to help with the FAFSA process. One feature that’s available is the school comparison tool, which provides information about different institutions. This information helps students narrow down the list of schools they’d like to receive their FAFSA. Families can also use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS-DRT) on the mobile app. The IRS-DRT allows families to transfer their tax information from IRS.gov into FAFSA.gov, or in this case, myStudentAid, to assist with completing the income section of the FAFSA.

The myStudentAid mobile app also links to myChecklist. This resource offers tips for students in all phases of the student aid process, from college freshman to college graduate, to help them manage their financial aid. Students can also view their loan history, if they’ve previously borrowed any federal student loans. These two features can assist students in forecasting future financial aid needs and preparing for successful loan repayment.

SAR. After the FAFSA has been submitted and processed, students will be able to view their Student Aid Report, or SAR. This document provides a summary of all the information students entered on their FAFSA. Students can view this report on the mobile app, as well. If changes need to be made, students will need to log into FAFSA.gov to submit any corrections.

The myStudentAid mobile app offers students an additional option for submitting the FAFSA and various  features to assist with the FAFSA process, financial aid planning and student loan management. To learn more about the myStudentAid app and how to download it to your devices, visit StudentAid.gov.

Questions to Ask Your Financial Aid Office

The financial aid office is an ally to students who have questions about affording college. It’s good to engage with your college’s financial aid officers early on, so they can advise and assist you the best way possible. Not sure where to start? Here are some helpful questions to ask.

  • Are there other scholarships available?

If you’ve already received your financial aid offer letter, you can ask them to talk you through the awards listed. During this time, you can ask if the campus offers additional scholarships that you might qualify for. They may also know of other resources for receiving additional aid.

  • How will outside scholarships affect my financial aid?

If you receive an outside scholarship (for example, from a private program), they may adjust the amounts on your financial aid offer letter. It varies by school. While some colleges will reduce your unmet need and student loans first, others may reduce the grants first. It’s important to ask your financial aid office so you know what to expect.

  • Do you offer a tuition payment plan?

This is a question that the financial aid office can answer, however, they may direct you to the Bursar’s office to set it up. The Bursar handles all student charges and payments. The financial aid office will be able to explain to you the exact cost of attendance and what you will be expected to pay, when. From there, you can ask the Bursar if you have to pay your balance in one payment or if you can pay in installments. Many schools offer payment plans, so be sure to ask what options are available to you.

  • What is the appeal process if I don’t receive enough financial aid?

While an appeal isn’t always guaranteed to work, some campuses offer a process to allow you to demonstrate why the current financial aid offer doesn’t meet your needs. Any increase in financial aid helps, so it never hurts to ask.

  • Will my financial aid offer be similar all four years?

Some scholarships can be renewed every year, so it’s important to find out what you need to do to maintain those awards. Ask your financial aid office what’s expected of you. Sometimes awards can be lost based on GPA or enrollment status. Also, ask if there are any awards that will not renew after your freshman year. If your financial aid is going to change, it’s good to plan ahead by finding additional resources to bridge any gaps.

Federal Financial Aid in 2020: What Can I Expect for the Coming Academic Year?

When gathering the money you need to pay for college, it’s important to know the amount of federal financial aid that may be available to you. Each year, grant amounts and student loan interest rates are subject to change. Here’s what you can expect for Academic Year 2020-2021.

  • The Federal Pell Grant: Available to students who qualify based on the level of their financial need as determined by Federal Student Aid, a division of the U.S. Department of Education. Beginning July 1, 2020, the maximum allowable Pell amount you may be able to receive for one year of college is $6,345, which is an increase over the maximum of $6,195 for Academic Year 2019-2020.
  • The Federal Work-Study Program: If your campus administers work-study funds, you may be able to sign up for a part-time job, either on-campus or an approved site off-campus, enabling you to earn money to pay for some of your college expenses. The maximum amount you can earn in the work-study program will be determined by your level of financial need.
  • Federal Student Loans: To provide relief to student loan borrowers during the COVID-19 national emergency, interest is being temporarily set at 0% on federal student loans borrowed before July 1, 2020. In addition, federal student loan borrowers are automatically being placed in an administrative forbearance, which allows you to temporarily stop making your monthly loan payments. This 0% interest and suspension of payments will last from March 13, 2020, through September 30, 2020, but you can still make payments if you choose.

The following table outlines the projected federal student loan interest rates for Academic Year 2020-2021, which show a decrease from last year’s rates:

Loan TypeBorrower TypeFixed Interest Rate
Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Student LoansUndergraduate students (up to Bachelor’s degree)2.75%
Direct Unsubsidized Student LoanGraduate or professional students4.30%
Direct PLUS LoanParents of undergraduate students OR graduate/professional students5.30%

Be sure to visit StudentAid.gov for up-to-date information regarding interest rates and special allowances due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Budgeting While in College

Before your first day of college, it’s important to consider creating a budget for the upcoming school year. If you know how much financial aid you’ll receive, evaluate your other monthly expenses that are a priority. You may have responsibilities such as car payments and maintenance, cellphone service and miscellaneous items. Remember that financial aid can only be used for educational, and some living expenses, so a budget can help with planning for other important purchases. Here are a few tips to assist with developing a budget while in college.

Talk it out. Talk to those who are helping you pay for college. Whether it’s a parent or guardian, conversing with those who are supporting your educational pursuits allows expectations to be set for everyone involved. Even if you’ll be supporting yourself financially in college, inform others that you’ll need to be wise with managing your resources and may not be able splurge on certain items or activities. Talking it out allows everyone to be on the same page.

Essentials first, fun second. When developing a budget, account for necessities first, – housing, transportation, utilities etc. – then designate money for entertainment. Using this order can ensure your living needs are taken care of while still giving you room to enjoy leisure activities. Some college campuses host many fun, free events that could make the most of a small entertainment budget.  

Discounts and sales help. Check to see if your favorite stores offer a college student discount, as many companies do. While this tip may not directly relate to developing a budget, it can help you stick to the one you create. Clipping coupons along with shopping on sale can also assist with managing your finances. Browse retailers’ websites or apps for coupons and sales that may help with purchasing items on your shopping list.

Avoid budget busters. Daily coffee runs or trips to the vending machine can eat away at your budget. You don’t have to stop these altogether, but limit yourself to one or two splurges a week. Buying a coffeemaker and snacks from the grocery store can minimize the impact of these habits on your budget. Additionally, instead of eating out often, utilize your college meal plan or pack a lunch. You can see what habits are busting your budget by using a budget tracking app. Trackers can show your spending behavior and give you insight to routines that may need to change.

To learn more about tips for budgeting while in college, visit OklahomaMoneyMatters.org.

NonTraditional Students and the FAFSA

Traditional (or ‘typical’) college students earn a high school diploma, enroll full time immediately after finishing high school, depend on parents for financial support, and either work part time during the school year or choose not to work. However, recent data shows that the majority of today’s college students are not ‘typical’ at all.

At times, over 70% of those enrolled in undergraduate studies nationwide have been adults over the age of 24 who often work and attend college part time. Evening and weekend classes, online courses and economic twists and turns have changed the landscape of higher education. If you’re an adult who is 25 years of age or older and you’ve been thinking about enrolling in college for the first time or returning to college to complete your degree, you are definitely not alone. But where do you start?

First, if you’re not sure which college you would like to attend, research your options by using tools such as OKcollegestart.org and NCES.ed.gov/CollegeNavigator to find schools that have the program and/or major you’re looking for.

When you have your choices narrowed down, submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is simply a snapshot of your family’s financial situation used to help technology centers, career schools, colleges and universities determine your eligibility for various types of student financial aid . Things may have changed since you submitted your last FAFSA, if you submitted one at all. The vast majority of FAFSAs are now done online, and you can begin yours at StudentAid.gov . To complete your FAFSA online, you’ll first need to establish your Federal Student Aid Identification (FSA ID), which is a username and password that has replaced the four-digit PIN formerly used on the FAFSA. Click here to create your FSA ID.

The college you plan to attend may offer assistance for students like you who want to finish their degrees. Contact the school(s) of your choice for more information, and be sure to visit ReachHigherOK.org to see more valuable resources.


UCanGo2.org’s Checklists

The Oklahoma College Assistance Program offers a variety of online publications through UCanGo2.org that help students prepare for their transition to college. Their most popular publications are the college planning checklists. These checklists are available for grades 6-12 and help students and their parents with the specific steps they should be taking during each year to reach their higher education goals.

On the Senior Checklist, 12th-grade students may notice many of the steps center around the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. The first “to-do” calls for students to create an FSA ID. Seniors can reference the FSA ID Worksheet to keep track of their username and password each year they complete the FAFSA. There is also a copy of the FSA ID Worksheet available in Spanish. The second “to-do” calls for students to complete the FAFSA after Oct. 1 each year they need funds for college. A helpful tool to complete this step is the FAFSA in Five publication. With this resource, students can make sure they have all the necessary materials to complete the FAFSA. Students must also determine their dependency status on the FAFSA. A helpful resource to determine this is the Dependency Questionnaire. If they answer “yes” to any of the questions on this form, the student is considered an independent and won’t need to include their parents’ information on the FAFSA.

Not a senior yet? No problem! There are many more publications and helpful tools for students to use as they progress through middle and high school. Below are the college planning checklists for each grade. Be sure to follow the suggested links on each one to discover additional resources:

Junior Checklist

Sophomore Checklist

Freshman Checklist

8th Grade Checklist

7th Grade Checklist

6th Grade Checklist

Have You Applied for Oklahoma’s Promise?

The Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship program offers qualified Oklahoma students an opportunity to earn a scholarship for college tuition. To qualify for enrollment:

  • You must be an Oklahoma resident.
  • You must enroll for the scholarship in the 8th, 9th or 10th grade

(at the age of 13, 14 or 15 for homeschool students).

  • Your parent(s)’ federal adjusted gross income (AGI) must not exceed $55K per year. –  Special income provisions apply to legal guardians and certain adoptive parents.

If you have just completed 10th grade, you must submit your application for Oklahoma’s Promise by June 30, 2020 in order to be considered for the scholarship. Students who just completed 8th or 9th grade and miss the June 30 deadline will be able to complete the 2020-21 application in the fall.

Prior to receiving the scholarship in college, the federal adjusted gross income (AGI) of the student’s parents (or the income of the student if the student is officially determined to be financially independent of their parents) may not exceed $100,000. Each year in college Oklahoma’s Promise students will be required to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which will be used to determine whether the federal adjusted gross income exceeds $100,000. To learn more about Oklahoma’s Promise and to explore other federal and state financial aid opportunities, visit:

529 Savings Plan

“Save, spend, invest, give,” is a popular approach to basic personal finances. There are ways to use this method to your advantage when preparing and planning for your child’s educational future. Parents and families have an opportunity to help their children avoid the burden of student loan debt by saving money, so their child or grandchild doesn’t have to spend an overwhelming amount of money on tuition. By investing in your child’s future, you’ll give them the means to reach their education goals.

 An Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan is a specialized savings account that’s used to pay college and K-12 tuition expenses. The money in these accounts can grow tax-free and isn’t taxed when withdrawn. In other words, no matter how much your investment grows in an OCSP (Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan) account, you’ll never have to pay taxes on it as long as it’s used for educational expenses.

A 529 account is quick and easy to open, it can be managed online or by mail. You can set up automatic contributions from your bank account. Some employers also support these accounts and can set up payroll deductions directly to your savings account.

There are a variety of professionally managed investments to choose from to help grow your account in addition to providing direct contributions. These funds can be used at any accredited university, college or vocational school in the nation. Many international schools are also qualified to receive these funds. Additionally, up to $10,000 annually can be used toward K-12 school tuition.

OCSP can be used for certain room and board costs, computers, fees, books, supplies and other equipment that a student may require.

A common question is, “will these funds negatively affect my child’s eligibility for financial aid?” As long as the parent or grandparent is the account owner, funds are treated as belonging to the guardian and not the child. This will minimize the impact on the child’s financial aid. The direct impact on financial aid will vary by school.

If your child does not need all of the money for their education goals, you can designate a new beneficiary penalty-free as long as they’re an eligible member of your family.

So how to you start? You can open an account with as little as $100 per investment. There’s no application, sales or maintenance fee and you don’t have to contribute all on your own. Grandparents, other family members, friends and even the student can make gifts and contributions to the account.

It’s not too early to start investing in your child’s future. Learn more about the benefits of an Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan here.