Welcome Back to School

Back-to-school season is well underway! Before you let out a sigh of frustration because the summer flew by, decide how you’ll make this school year the best one yet. Will you be engaged in class? Will you intentionally make a new friend? Will you take on a new interest? The ball is in your court this month, so make a plan to seize the opportunities of a new school year.

To get you started on the right foot, think about joining a club or sports team. If you’re already involved in a certain activity, think about taking on a leadership role. You’ll gain communication skills and meet new people. You may also enjoy a school play or music recital. Attending different types of events like these could give you a greater appreciation for your school. Additionally, consider volunteering. Devoting some time to a cause that’s important to you is a good way to give back to your community, and you may discover a few interesting career options as you volunteer. Volunteer work can also be an asset when applying for scholarships.

Own your education this year. Challenge yourself to maintain good grades and if you’re struggling in a specific subject area, ask questions. Find resources that can help you understand difficult concepts. Conversely, if you’re excelling in a certain course that others may find tough, contemplate tutoring a few classmates. Doing this will show your concern for others and increase your own knowledge. Practice time management skills, as well. Make it a goal to turn in all assignments on time and keep the lines of communication open with your instructors. Let them know if you’ll miss a deadline.

Finally, prepare for what’s next. High school students can take FREE practice tests for the ACT and SAT to increase their scores. Free test prep material can be found at OKcollegestart.org. Seniors and college students who will need financial aid next year should complete and submit the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as soon after Oct. 1 as possible. The FAFSA determines your eligibility for various types of financial aid – resources to help you cover college expenses. College students can start developing their resumes. Visit your campus Career Services department to learn about all available opportunities. And all students should apply for scholarships! Whether you’re a junior in high school or a sophomore in college, it’s never too early or too late to take advantage of these opportunities. You can find numerous scholarships at UCanGo2.org and OKcollegestart.org.

There are plenty of things to look forward to as you begin a new school year. So instead of dragging your feet on your first day of class, decide that you’ll make this school year the best yet! Welcome back and have a great year!

Grants, Loans & Work Study

By now you probably know that it’s important to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, but do you know what you’re actually submitting? This application allows colleges to see which types of financial aid you’re eligible to receive. Financial aid can help you cover educational expenses and comes in the form of grants, work-study and student loans.

Grants, sometimes referred to as gift aid, are need-based aid that usually don’t have to be repaid. The most common federal grant is the Pell Grant. This form of financial aid is available for undergraduate students (those who haven’t received their first bachelor’s degree). The maximum amount of Pell Grant a student can receive is $6,195 for the 2019-2020 school year. Financial aid offices will determine students’ financial need and inform them of their Pell eligibility. Another federal grant that’s available is the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, or FSEOG. Only students who have extreme financial need are eligible to receive this grant. Other grants require students to meet certain criteria. The TEACH (Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education) Grant is an example of aid that has conditions attached to it, as it requires students to take certain courses and work specific jobs. There is also the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant that’s available for students who lost a parent or guardian as a result of military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after the events of 9/11. Eligible students should contact their school if they have any questions. Some states offer grants to their residents as well. Oklahoma has the Oklahoma Tuition Aid Grant, or OTAG, for eligible state residents who will be attending an Oklahoma public or private institution.

Work-study is also a type of financial aid that can help with the costs of college. Eligible students who receive this aid will have the chance to work a part-time job and earn money for educational expenses. Undergraduates and graduates with financial need are able to receive a work-study opportunity. Talk with your financial aid office to learn about potential places, on or off campus, that are hiring.

Student loans are another type of financial assistance. Different than other aid, student loans must be repaid with interest. There are various federal loans available for students. One type is the Direct Subsidized Loan for undergraduates who demonstrate financial need. The maximum amount for freshmen in the 2019-2020 school year is $5,500, with a fixed interest rate of 5.05 percent. A fixed interest rate means that the interest won’t change over time. The federal government will pay the interest on a subsidized loan while the student is enrolled in school at least half-time. In contrast, Direct Unsubsidized Loans are not based on financial need and are given to undergraduates and graduates. Students are responsible for the interest on this loan during all periods. The interest rate on an unsubsidized loan is 5.05 percent for undergraduates and 6.6 percent for graduate students. Other borrowed aid that isn’t based on financial need is the Parent PLUS Loan. This is available for parents of dependent students who need extra assistance with college expenses. In addition, parents must also be credit worthy to qualify for this type of aid. PLUS Loans have a 7.6 percent fixed interest rate. Speak with your financial aid office to learn more details.

There are a variety of resources available to help you pay for college. Not all schools offer each program, so be sure to contact your financial aid office with any questions. For more information about grants, student loans and work-study go to studentaid.ed.gov.

Should I Complete the FAFSA as a Nontraditional Student?

If you’ve decided to go to college as a nontraditional student or as an adult learner then congratulations! It’s never too late to learn and grow. Now that you’ve made this decision, it’s time to think about financial aid – monetary support that helps cover the costs of college such as grants, student loans and scholarships. You might assume that you won’t qualify for financial assistance because you’re a nontraditional student, but there are various financial resources to help you on your college journey. One resource that you should utilize first is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. Regardless of your educational background or age, you should always submit a FAFSA every year that you’re in need of financial aid. The FAFSA allows you to apply for federal and some state financial assistance for college. Your school’s financial aid office will use the information you provide on the application to determine your aid eligibility. They will be able to see if you qualify for grants, work-study and/or student loans. In case you haven’t decided which school you’ll attend, the FAFSA can be sent to up to ten schools at one time. Once you’ve submitted your FAFSA, be sure to contact the financial aid offices if you have any questions.

Whether this is your first time submitting a FAFSA or it’s been a while since you’ve seen the application, here are a few tips to help you successfully complete the form:

Gather your materials – Before you start the application you’ll need to round up a few necessary items: your social security card, tax returns and other financial information. The FAFSA will ask you to provide your income figures as well as your personal identification information. Your W-2s and other bank statements will be helpful with this section of the FAFSA.

Create an FSA ID – An FSA ID (Federal Student Aid Identification) is your username and password for logging into FAFSA.gov. This login will also serve as your electronic signature for completing the FAFSA. It only takes about ten minutes to create an FSA ID. During the process you will be asked to provide your identification information and select a few challenge questions to answer in case you need to reset your ID at a later date. Use this FSA ID Worksheet to help you keep track of your FSA ID information. To create your FSA ID, go to fsaid.ed.gov.

Use the correct website FAFSA.gov is the official website to access the FAFSA form. You can also find the application by using the myStudentAid mobile app. The first “f” in FAFSA stands for “free”, meaning you should never be charged a fee to submit your FAFSA. Using one of the above options guarantees that you’ll not have to pay to complete your application.

Remember Oct. 1 – The FAFSA opens each year on Oct. 1. You should complete your FAFSA as soon as possible after this date. Some financial aid that you’re eligible to receive may be on a first-come first-serve basis, concluding that funds will be given to those who apply first and will eventually run out after a certain point. Therefore, to ensure that you don’t miss out on any financial aid, complete your application in a timely manner.

Summer Checklist for Incoming High School Seniors

You made it! School’s out for the summer. If you’re looking for something to do this summer, why not get a jump start on your senior year of high school? Here’s a preview of what to do as you finish up high school and prepare for college:

  • Stay on track. Review courses with your counselor to make sure you’re meeting high school graduation and entrance requirements for the schools that interest you.
  • Pick your top five. Oklahoma has 25 public colleges and universities as well as several independent and proprietary institutions. Take a few minutes to check out your options!
  • Search for scholarships. It’s never too early (or too late!) to apply for scholarships. Check out UCanGo2 and OKcollegestart to search thousands of scholarships!
  • Test again. Even if you’ve already taken the ACT or SAT, register for the fall ACT and/or SAT tests; you might boost your score! For extra help, try the free practice ACT and SAT tests on OKcollegestart.org. Find test locations and dates at ACT.org and SAT.org.
  • Create a Federal Student Aid ID. The 2020-21 FAFSA will be available on October 1, 2019. You and one of your parents will need an FSA ID to complete the FAFSA online. Be sure to keep track of these usernames and passwords. Creating FSA IDs now will save time this fall when you’re ready to file the FAFSA.
  • Prepare for college fairs. This College Fair Worksheet will help narrow down what types of schools you may be interested in attending. You’ll also find a list of questions to ask college representatives. College Fairs typically begin in September. Registration for fall fairs isn’t open yet, but you can create an account on GoToCollegeFairs.com now, allowing you to easily register when the time comes.

Check out UCanGo2’s full Senior Checklist for reminders and tasks that need to be completed during your senior year of high school.

Oklahoma’s Promise Deadline

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 $55,000 per year.
    Special income provisions apply to legal guardians and certain adoptive parents.

High school students who have just completed 10th grade must apply for Oklahoma’s Promise before July 1, 2019 in order for their application to be considered. If students in the 8th or 9th grade miss the July 1 deadline, they’ll have the opportunity to use the 2019-2020 application this fall.

In the 2017-18 school year, 83% of Oklahoma’s Promise recipients were also eligible for federal Pell Grants, which is more ‘free money’ for college that doesn’t have to be repaid. Oklahoma’s Promise students must complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in their senior year to verify their family income a second time and to determine their eligibility for the Pell Grant and the Oklahoma Tuition Aid Grant (OTAG). To learn more about Oklahoma’s Promise, federal financial aid and OTAG, visit:
OKPromise.org
StudentAid.ed.gov
OKcollegestart.org

Oklahoma 529 Savings Plan

May 29 is Oklahoma 529 Savings Day! The Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan is a program that allows families to deposit funds into an interest earning savings account and use the funds to help pay for their child’s higher education expenses. It only takes a few minutes to set up an account online and users can choose from a variety of low-cost investment options. When adding to the account the funds can be electronically deposited or mailed in.

529 Savings Plan funds can be used at most accredited colleges and universities in the United States. Funds will typically cover tuition, fees, books, supplies, certain room and board expenses, and some technology equipment required for certain courses. If your student doesn’t need all the funds that go into the account, you can transfer the remaining savings to an eligible family member for their college expenses.

Saving for the future isn’t always easy, but being financially ready when your child goes to college will be well worth the investment. If you’re contemplating opening an Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan, here are a few things to consider:
1. Contributions made to the 529 Plan grow as tax-free earnings in the account and can be deducted from your Oklahoma taxable income.
2. Regular contributions, even if they start as small amounts, add up over time. Consider making small automatic contributions or direct deposits into the account every pay period.
3. Don’t wait to start contributing to your account. Whether your child is in pre-school or high school, start saving for your higher education expenses today.
4. A 529 savings account can be a community effort. Parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and family friends can contribute to your child’s 529 Plan. Encourage family members to make a donation to the fund for children’s birthday and holiday gifts.

For complete information about the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan, visit OK4saving.org.

Summer Prep for Incoming College Freshmen

Preparing for college can be an exciting, yet nerve-wracking time. Now that you’ve made your final decision on the best college for you, what should you do next? Instead of hitting cruise control, take this time to ensure you’ll be ready for the first day higher education.

Follow up with your high school counselor to make sure your final transcript has been sent to the right college or university. Also, speak with the financial aid office at your college to confirm that you’ve completed and submitted all the required paperwork. Be sure to keep track of your FSA ID (Federal Student Aid ID) and all other critical financial documents in case you need them later.

Talk with your family about your school’s financial aid offer, as well. Ask if they’re willing to help with additional college expenses that may arise. Another good option for covering school expenses is taking on a summer job. It’s never too late to save for your education. Scholarships can also assist with the cost of college, so apply for as many scholarships as possible during the summer. The more you apply for, the more likely your chances are of receiving one.

You should also plan to attend Freshmen Orientation. During this exciting event, you’ll learn more about your college and get a chance to register for classes. Constantly check your college-issued email account to receive updates about campus activities or programs. Follow your friends and your new roommate on social media to start making some great connections. This can make the transition to college easier. Additionally, consider using this time to brush up on your reading and writing skills.

While you have some free time, schedule a visit to your doctor and dentist for a regular check-up. Get a copy of your health insurance card from your parents to use in case of an emergency. Finally, enjoy this time with your friends and family. Talk with your parents about their expectations of you in college and agree to check-in with each other at least once a week. You’ve worked hard to get into college so make the most of this summer. Soon you’ll be on your way to a great freshman year!

What’s the Difference Between a Scholarship and a Tuition Waiver?

When you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you’re giving the college(s) of your choice a snapshot of your family’s current financial situation, enabling them to develop a plan for your financial aid ‘package’. That package may contain aid from one or more of these sources:
• The federal government – grants, work-study program, student loans
• The state of Oklahoma – grants and scholarships
• The institution you wish to attend – scholarships and tuition waivers
• Tribal, non-profit and private organizations – grants and scholarships

Your higher education institution may offer you a scholarship, tuition waiver, or both. You may wonder what the differences are between the two and whether you would qualify to receive them.
• A scholarship is usually ‘free money’ that doesn’t have to be paid back, and is used to pay various college expenses. It can be awarded to you by the school you plan to attend, by the state of Oklahoma, or by various private and tribal organizations. A scholarship is often awarded for above-average grades or other achievements, talents and/or community involvement.
• A tuition waiver is granted by your chosen school and reduces the amount the college charges you. The waiver will eliminate the cost of tuition for a designated number of credit hours, but it can’t be used for any other educational expense. While there can be many reasons a school might grant a waiver, here are some of the most common:
• Your family income demonstrates a high financial need.
• You’re of Native American descent.
• You’ve overcome a significant hardship.
• You were adopted, or you were a foster child.

It’s possible that you’d be able to use a scholarship and a tuition waiver simultaneously. Each college has its own policy regarding who meets the qualifications for one or the other. Call your institution’s financial aid office to see how to qualify for any scholarships and waivers they may offer.

Selective Service and the FAFSA

The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) currently has over 100 questions. One of those questions is about Selective Service and it’s often answered incorrectly. So, what is Selective Service and why do you need to be registered?

The Selective Service system is an independent agency of the U.S. government tasked with providing manpower to the Department of Defense should there be a national emergency. Federal law requires all male U.S. citizens, regardless of where they live, and male immigrants, whether documented or undocumented, residing in the U.S. to register with Selective Service. If you’re a male student completing the FAFSA, you must register with Selective Service to be eligible to receive federal student aid. Female applicants aren’t required to register and won’t see this question on their digital FAFSA.

Registration with Selective Service must be completed between the ages of 18 through 25. If you’re not yet 18, no worries! By checking ‘Register Me’ on your FAFSA, you’ll automatically be signed up for Selective Service once you reach 18. In either case, all males are required to register within 30 days of their 18th birthday. You also have the option to pre-register when you’re at least 17 years and 3 months old. If you’re 26 or older and didn’t register for Selective Service, you should contact your school’s financial aid office. They will provide you with instructions on the next steps to take.

Males may visit SSS.gov to find more information about the Selective Service requirement.