Single-Parent Student Realities: Financial Aid

 

After deciding to go to college, the next question is how to pay for the biggest investment in your future. The good news is that tuition at public Oklahoma colleges and universities is among the lowest in the nation. Furthermore, there is substantial federal financial aid available for students with families of their own.

Start With the FAFSA

Applying for financial aid requires that you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and this will take a few hours of your time. Here is some information on how to get started, what information is required and who can help.

The FAFSA is the FREE application students must complete before receiving any type of federal student aid like Pell Grants, Federal Work-Study or federal student loans.

The FAFSA is also used to award some state financial aid programs as well as financial aid offered by colleges. Students can complete the FAFSA online at fafsa.gov. Students (and their parents, if the student is still a dependent) should have a copy of their most recent tax returns and financial statements available to use as a reference. Students can start completing the FAFSA as early as Jan. 1 of the year financial aid will be needed.

Review Your SAR

Once a student has submitted the FAFSA, they will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR is a summary of the information that the student originally submitted, and it includes the expected family contribution (EFC). The EFC is what the government expects the family to contribute to the cost of the student’s education.

Financial Aid Award

Your financial aid award is the amount given to you through grants, scholarships, work-study, loans or a combination of these. This award will cover some or all of the expenses associated with attending college such as tuition, fees, books, housing, child care and transportation. The amount of financial aid a student receives depends on many things.
For example, if a student attends only part-time, the financial aid award is likely to be smaller.

Types of Financial Aid

There are four major types of financial aid: grants, scholarships, work-study and loans. More information on each of these categories can be found at studentaid.ed.gov.

  • Grants are based on financial need and do not need to be repaid. The Federal Pell Grant will be the first thing a student is awarded. It is considered to be the foundation of federal financial aid, and all other aid will be added to it. For the 2011-12 academic award year, the maximum amount is $5,550. This amount may change every year depending on funding.
  • Scholarships can be awarded for excellence in academics, athletics or artistic talent or through a professional or civic affiliation. State, institution and private scholarships each have their own eligibility criteria. Ask your campus financial aid office for information about scholarships for which you may be eligible. Work-study provides part-time jobs for students with financial need. Work-study programs often focus on community service and work related to the student’s major. These job programs are also built around the student’s class schedule.
  • Federal student loans are money that is borrowed and that a student has to repay. Examples of federal student loans are Perkins, Stafford and PLUS loans.
  • Federal Stafford Loans fall into two categories: subsidized and unsubsidized.
  • Subsidized Federal Stafford Loans are need-based, and the government will pay the interest while the student is enrolled in school.
  • Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans can replace a student’s expected family contribution, and the student is responsible for the interest while enrolled in school (or can let it accrue).
It should be noted that all institutions do not participate in all of the grant programs, so it is important for you to stay in touch with the financial aid office at your college or university.

We all know that college can require quite an investment of finances and time. But a college education will greatly enhance your earning power.

Now is the time to take action.

  1. Fill out your FAFSA.
  2. Review your SAR.
  3. Make an appointment with a financial aid counselor on your campus to learn how your award will be distributed and other financial aid options.