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.

Have You Submitted Your FAFSA?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for next fall became available Oct. 1. That means people are applying for financial aid almost a year before they’ll need it for college. It’s a long time until the next fall semester starts, so why is it so important to file now?

It’s best to file your FAFSA as soon as you can once it becomes available. While some types of financial aid are available year-round, other forms are not.

Federal Work-Study
Work-study is a type of aid that is earned, rather than borrowed. Your eligibility is determined by your financial need. Students use the money they earn at a part-time job to pay toward their college expenses. There is a limit to the number of work-study jobs available each semester, so if you don’t submit your FAFSA early and answer yes to the “I’m interested in work-study” question, those jobs could all be filled before you start the school year.

Oklahoma Tuition Aid Grant (OTAG)
OTAG is a grant funded by the state of Oklahoma for students who are Oklahoma residents and will be enrolled at an Oklahoma college or technology center. It’s an example of first-come, first served aid because it’s funded only once a year. Typically, OTAG receives more eligible applications than can be awarded with available funds, and how early a student applies can be the deciding factor in whether that student is offered an OTAG award. To apply, you simply have to complete a FAFSA. Your eligibility for OTAG is determined by your financial need, and the amount of the award is $1,000 ($500 in fall and spring).

Oklahoma Tuition Equalization Grant (OTEG)
OTEG is also funded by the state of Oklahoma, and goes to students who demonstrate financial need on a first-come, first served basis. Recipients must be Oklahoma residents. To receive this grant, your annual family income must be at or below $50,000, and the grant can only be used at an approved private/independent, not-for-profit postsecondary institution in Oklahoma. OTEG funds are sent to the approved institutions; students to be awarded OTEG will be selected and notified by the institutions. The grant pays $2,000 ($1,000 in fall and spring).

Visit OKcollegestart.org to learn more about OTAG and OTEG and a list of approved OTEG schools.

Be sure to submit your FAFSA as soon as you can. You don’t want to miss out on these chances for earned and free money for college that doesn’t have to be repaid!

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!

School Profiles on OKCollegestart.org

Before you begin your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) —have you decided which college(s) you’d like to attend? You will have to provide at least one college choice on your FAFSA—but what if you haven’t decided yet?

One of the best resources for exploring colleges is OKcollegestart.org. Once you’ve logged in (you can create an account on the OKCS homepage), click the ‘College Planning’ tab at the top, then look for the option to Explore Postsecondary Schools. Under School Exploration Tools, choose School Finder. You’ll see a list of school characteristics at the left which can be used to narrow down your search. You can choose only one characteristic to begin, or you can choose as many as you wish to refine your search.

Once you see a table listing schools that have the characteristics you’ve chosen, click on each of the school names to compare the schools on the list. The individual school profiles will provide a wealth of information to help you determine which colleges you’d like to investigate further—school size, average cost of attendance and programs/majors offered are just a few things to check out. You can even find each college’s school code that you’ll need if you choose to add that school to your FAFSA!
Adding a college code to your FAFSA doesn’t mean you’re making any commitments to that school. It simply gives the financial aid office on that campus permission to see the data from your FAFSA, so they can determine how much financial aid you may qualify for at their school.

Give OKcollegestart.org a try! You’ll be amazed at what you’ll find there! Don’t forget to complete your 2021-2022 FAFSA as soon as possible!

Homeless Students and the FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) asks up to three questions about homelessness. They ask if you’ve been determined as an unaccompanied youth who was homeless, or you were self-supporting and at risk of becoming homeless any time since July 1, 2020…if you’re completing the 2021-2022 FAFSA. This timeframe is based on the year prior to the academic year for which you will need financial aid for college.

The homeless 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.

A student is considered unaccompanied if he or she is not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian. 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, 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.

If you answer yes to any one of the questions about homelessness on the FAFSA, you’ll be considered an independent student; therefore, you won’t have to provide your parents’ income information on the application. Later, 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 decision. The aid officer will probably ask you for additional documentation before reaching a decision.

When providing a street address on your FAFSA, follow these instructions given by 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 from StudentAid.gov.

We wish you the very best as you begin your journey to a bright future!

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.

IRS DRT

The 2021-2022 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opened on Oct. 1. The FAFSA is a form that details a student’s financial situation, which is shared with selected colleges and universities to determine how much financial aid to offer the student. 

In order to share financial information, students and parents must submit their 2019 W-2 forms and tax returns. Families have the option to input this information manually, but there is another tool available that can make the process easier.

The Internal Revenue Service Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) is a feature located inside the online and mobile app FAFSA. It allows students and parents to transfer 2019 tax information directly from the IRS into the FAFSA.

There are several benefits to using the IRS DRT:

1. It saves time as you’re completing the FAFSA. Instead of hunting for the correct numbers on your tax forms and running the risk of making an error, you’ll simply type a few words, click a few buttons, and the bulk of the tax questions on your FAFSA will be complete!

2. Using the IRS DRT reduces your chances of being selected for verification. Verification is the process your school uses to confirm the information provided on the FAFSA is accurate. During the verification process, your school may request various documents to verify the information provided on your FAFSA. Errors that occur when entering tax information manually can cause a student to be selected for verification.

3. If you do happen to be selected for verification, having used the IRS DRT will simplify the process. If you use the IRS DRT and are selected for verification, you will not have to provide any documentation to verify tax data. Your school will know it is accurate since it was transferred directly from the IRS into your FAFSA.

While using the IRS DRT is optional, students and parents are encouraged to use the tool to create a smoother and more accurate application process.

The FAFSA Is Now Available

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is now available!

It’s the key you need to unlock money that will help you pay for college or other education after high school. Students often ask if the FAFSA is a scholarship, it’s not. The FAFSA is simply a statement about a family’s financial situation, and it’s used to determine how much federal financial aid a student may be eligible to receive.

A new FAFSA is available October 1 each year. You can submit your FAFSA even if you haven’t applied to any colleges yet. In fact, if you’re not sure which college you want to attend, you can request that your FAFSA information be shared with up to 10 different campuses that you may want to learn more about. Every student who may need money for college for the 2021-22 school year should complete this FAFSA.

The current FAFSA is available online at FAFSA.gov.

Need some guidance to get started on your FAFSA? Check out our resources:

FAFSA in Five Steps: This publication explains the steps to completing the application and provides reminders for additional materials you might need.

FAFSA Modules: These five PowerPoint presentations walk through the details of each step of the FAFSA process.

FAFSA and Financial Aid Video: Sometimes it helps to hear someone explain the FAFSA process. Our new FAFSA video walks students through common FAFSA questions.

If you’re still wondering why the FAFSA is so important, keep in mind that during the 2018-2019 school year, $2.6B dollars in federal financial aid for college was left unclaimed by students. They would have been qualified to receive the aid, but they didn’t simply because they didn’t submit a FAFSA. Discover what you’re eligible for by submitting your FAFSA today!

Everyone Should Apply

Students will make many decisions, from picking a college to choosing a major, but something students should never debate is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The FAFSA determines a student’s eligibility for various types of federal financial aid, which comes in the form of grants, work-study and student loans. While some students believe they won’t qualify for financial aid, all students should submit a FAFSA. Make sure these common myths aren’t holding you back.

Grades are a factor. Some may think good grades are required to submit the FAFSA, but that isn’t true. The application doesn’t ask about grades, your GPA or class ranking. Instead, it seeks to gather your financial information to determine your eligibility for various forms of federal and state aid.

Your parents make too much. A common statement is, “My parents make too much money, so I won’t get any aid.” Until you submit the FAFSA, you won’t know your eligibility for financial aid. Before counting yourself out, complete the FAFSA to learn about your aid options. Most students are eligible to receive some type of financial assistance.

One time isn’t enough. Unlike an admission application that you submit once, the FAFSA must be completed each year you’d like to receive financial aid. This tip is specifically for returning college students. Renew your application each year after Oct. 1 so you can receive as much financial aid as possible for the next academic year.

Adult learners aren’t included. Financial aid isn’t just for recent high school graduates, it’s for all college students – which includes adult learners. Whether you’re returning to school after many years or immediately diving into a graduate program after completing your bachelor’s degree, be sure to submit the FAFSA to determine your aid eligibility. If your child is going to college and you’ve submitted a FAFSA for them, you’ll still need to submit your own application. This will help the college financial aid office create an aid award for you and a separate award for your child.

Remember, you won’t know how much aid you can receive until you submit the FAFSA. Don’t leave it up to chance. Submit your FAFSA as soon as possible after Oct. 1 each year. To learn more about the FAFSA and how to apply, visit FAFSA.gov.

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