Are You Independent? (On the FAFSA)

When completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year that you need money for college, the application may ask up to 13 dependency questions to determine whether you’re a dependent or an independent student. 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 it’s not always that easy, because supplying parental information can be a challenge to some students due to special circumstances. If you’re in this situation, 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’ data can definitely affect the amount of financial aid that you would otherwise be eligible to receive.

There are times when a college 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. A college’s financial aid office will always be your best resource when you have questions about anything related to the FAFSA. It’s important to contact them if you have any comments or concerns.

Use UCanGo2’s Dependency Questionnaire to determine your status.

Questions to Ask Your Financial Aid Office

As you navigate the college financial aid process, you may experience some twists and turns that you didn’t expect. When you’re enrolling in a technology center, career school, community college, or four-year college or university for the first time, you may not be sure what questions to ask the financial aid personnel at your school of interest. Here is a list of questions you may want to ask in order to have a better understanding of how it all works.

  • What types of financial aid do you offer?  
  • If I’m awarded a scholarship, will it change the amount of aid you can offer me?
  • Does your school have a deadline for FAFSA submission? What are the consequences if I don’t meet the deadline?
  • When will I know how much financial aid I’ll be eligible to receive?
  • Am I considered to be a dependent student, or independent?
  • Is there a way to change my dependency status?
  • What should I do if I have a circumstance that causes my/my parent(s)’ income to change?
  • Are there resources available to help me investigate other types of aid, such as state grants and scholarships?
  • Do you offer an installment plan that would allow me to make monthly payments through the year? If so, are there any associated fees?
  • What is the average student loan debt for your graduates?

Most of these questions can only be answered by a knowledgeable financial aid officer, since no two students’ circumstances are the same. Many factors are considered to determine your financial need, which is based on the data you supply on your FAFSA. Always be patient with those who work in the financial aid office! They want you to attend their school, but they must follow federal regulations to the letter. The more you know, the more you can help them assess your situation.

Grants, Work Study and Student Loans

As you prepare to pay college expenses, 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 2021-2022.

Federal Pell Grant: Available to undergraduate 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, 2021, the maximum allowable Pell amount you may be able to receive for one year of college will increase to $6,495.

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 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. If you’re interested in work-study, be sure to ask the financial aid office if would qualify for the program.

Federal Student Loans: To provide relief to student loan borrowers during the COVID-19 national emergency, the interest rate on most federal student loans borrowed before July 1, 2020 is currently 0%. 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 through September 30, 2021, but you can still make payments if you choose.

The following table outlines the projected federal student loan interest rates for Academic Year 2021-2022, beginning October 1, 2021, after the COVID-19 relief program has ended:

Loan TypeBorrower TypeFixed Interest Rate
Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Student LoansUndergraduate students (through Bachelor’s degree)3.73%
Direct Unsubsidized Student LoansGraduate or professional students5.28%
Direct PLUS LoansParents of undergraduate students OR graduate/professional students6.28%

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

Living on a College Budget

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.

UCanGo2.org College Planning checklists

UCanGo2.org helps students prepare for
their transition to college. The most popular
publications UCanGo2 offers are the college
planning checklists. These checklists are available
for grades 6-12 and college freshmen, to help
students identify the steps they should be taking
to reach their higher education goals.

College Freshman Checklist: Students can use
this list to stay on track during their first year
of college. One of the tasks listed is to “Search
for money.” If a student needs help finding
scholarships, they can learn more about financial
aid and saving for college from the publication Are
You Looking for Money
?


Senior Checklist: 12th-grade students may notice
many of the steps focus on the Free Application
for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, which serves
as the financial aid application for college.
UCanGo2 offers a variety of FAFSA publications:

Oklahoma’s Promise Deadline

If you just completed the 8th, 9th or 10th grade, be aware of a very important deadline that’s approaching quickly! In order to apply for the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship, your application must be postmarked on or before June 30, 2021.*

The current application requirements for high school sophomores are as follows:

  • Must be an Oklahoma resident
  • Application must be received on or before June 30, 2021 *
  • The parents’ federal adjusted gross income must not exceed $55K per year. ǂ

In order to receive the scholarship, you must also graduate from high school with an overall grade point average (GPA) of 2.50 or higher and a separate GPA of 2.50 or more in the 17 curriculum units required by Oklahoma’s Promise.

Even if you’ve decided college isn’t for you, be sure to apply if your family qualifies. By missing this deadline, you’d be closing the door to an opportunity to have some or all of your college tuition paid by the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship program. Keep the door open!

One more thing: Be sure to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) on or after October 1 in your senior year. Oklahoma’s Promise requires that you submit a FAFSA for each year that you’ll be attending college.

*Homeschool applications must be postmarked before the student’s 16th birthday.

ǂ Special income provisions may apply to children adopted from certain court-ordered custody and children in the custody of court-appointed legal guardians as well as families receiving Social Security disability and death benefits.

Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan

While you’re exploring the many options available to help you pay for college, keep this in mind: It’s much less expensive to save for college than it is to repay student loans–with interest. One savings option you’ll want to check out is the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan (OCSP). Here are a few benefits of the OCSP:

  • It’s a tax-deferred account
  • Multiple family members and friends can contribute to the account on your behalf
  • It can pay for more than just tuition (covers fees, some room and board costs, etc.)
  • It can be used at any accredited college in the U.S., and even certain colleges abroad
  • Up to $10,000 can be used annually toward K-12 tuition
  • There are several contribution options available that make adding to your OCSP easy and convenient
  • An OSCP can be opened with as little as $25, and subsequent deposits can be as little as $25
  • Contributors can deposit a maximum total of $300,000 to your account.

To see the huge difference between saving and borrowing to help you pay for college, read Saving vs. Borrowing at OK4Saving.org.

Visit OK4Saving.org to learn more about the 529 plan or to open an account.

How does the CARES Act affect the grace period on federal student loans?

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 loans until six months after they graduate, withdraw or drop their number of classroom hours to below half-time status. The grace period gives borrowers time to find employment and adjust their budgets for loan repayment.

Currently, the federal student loan program is operating under the provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. On March 20, 2020, federal student loan payments were suspended, interest rates were reduced to 0% and collections on defaulted loans were stopped. These provisions have applied to federally owned* student loans since that date, and will be in effect through at least September 30, 2021. On March 30, 2021, these emergency relief measures were also applied to defaulted loans originated through the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program.

How does all of this affect the grace period on a student loan? According to the U.S. Department of Education, “Grace periods still apply as they normally would. However, if a loan is scheduled to enter repayment before the COVID-19 emergency relief period ends, borrowers will instead automatically enter payment suspension and receive the temporary 0% interest rate.” This means a borrower whose grace period ends before September 30, 2021 will not be required to make payments on their federally owned student loan(s) until the emergency measures have been lifted. The September end date is subject to change, but if it does, it will be extended to a later date.

Here’s something else you need to know: A borrower may have more than one grace period to monitor after they’ve gone below half-time status at their institution for any reason. This happens when borrowers have loans from multiple institutions, or if at any time they previously dropped to below half-time status at any college they attended. It’s important that borrowers talk to the campus financial aid office to ask about the repayment start dates on each of their loans.

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

*See the FAQ section of the coronavirus announcement at StudentAid.gov (Which loans does the 0% rate apply to?) for guidance on how borrowers can determine whether their loans are federally or privately owned.

Summer scholarships

School is out for the summer and now is the perfect time to find free 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 check out these fun summer scholarships:

Earnest Scholarship Fund

Earnest is giving away scholarships to both undergraduate and graduate students. There is no essay. Applicants just need to complete a short survey providing degree and contact information. Students can be US citizens or permanent residents – this includes DACA students. With 50 scholarships available, don’t miss out on this opportunity!

Award Amount: 50 awards; $5,000
Deadline: May 20, 2021
Learn more and apply for the Earnest Scholarship Fund.

Make Us Laugh Scholarship

Ownage Pranks is an improv comedy brand that is offering a scholarship to an undergraduate student. Applicants must be enrolled or due to be enrolled as a full-time student at an accredited college or university. There is no GPA requirement. All domestic, international and undocumented students are eligible to apply. Students must create a 3-5-minute comedic video which showcases comedic talent. Additionally, students must submit proof of enrollment.

Award Amount: $1,000
Deadline: May 31, 2021
Learn more and apply for the Make Us Laugh Scholarship.

Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) Essay Contest

JASNA conducts an annual student essay contest to foster the study and appreciation of Jane Austen’s work. The contest is open to all students and is divided into three categories: high school, college/university and graduate school. To apply, students must read their category’s prompt and submit a well-written essay answering the passage. For all categories, students will connect Jane Austen’s novels to her Juvenilia – short stories, plays and chapters she wrote as a teenager.

Award Amount: 9 awards; (3) $1,000; (3) $500; (3) $250
Deadline: June 1, 2021
Learn more and apply for the JASNA Essay Contest.

Stuck at Prom Scholarship Contest

Duck Brand Duct Tape is giving high school students a chance to show off their creativity. They are offering scholarships to the students who can make the best prom attire out of Duck Tape. Applicants can document their process in a short video or a written essay. Students don’t need to worry about wearing their creations to prom. They just need to share their promwear virtually. There will be a Grand Prize Winner and a Runner Up in both the Dress and Tux Category.

Award Amount: 4 awards; $500-$10,000
Deadline: July 21, 2021
Learn more and apply for the Stuck at Prom Scholarship Contest.

Want to find more scholarships? Check out UCanGo2.org!

When you are 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

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!

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