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.

Summer Scholarships

Summer break is closing in! This is the time when many students jump back into their summer jobs to earn a few extra bucks. While a summer job is a great first step to easing the financial responsibility of college, there are also opportunities available all summer long to find scholarship 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 while you’re catching some rays, pull up your favorite lawn chair, grab an iced tea and check out these fun summer scholarships:

Flavor of the Month Scholarship

“Summer and ice cream go hand-in hand. In fact, July is National Ice Cream Month, and that’s the inspiration behind this award. We think people are very similar to ice cream…so if you were an ice cream flavor, which would you be and why?”

Deadline: July 31, 2020

Amount: $1,500

Check out this scholarship and more!

Solar Action Alliance Scholarship

It’s summertime and the sun is shining. Solar Action Alliance wants to spread the word about the most clean, reliable and abundant source of renewable energy: the sun. They are offering a scholarship to a motivated student who can answer the question: “What excites you most about the future of solar power?” Students must submit their answer in the form of a 500-1000-word essay.

Deadline: July 1, 2020

Amount: $1,000

Check out this scholarship!

Slumber Search Scholarship

Summer is a good time to catch up on sleep. It’s also a good time to apply for scholarships! Slumber Search wants to assist students as they start their entrepreneurial endeavors. To apply, students must create a short video answering the following questions:

“If you were to create a product or business to disrupt a current industry, what would you do and what would it be?”

Deadline: June 30, 2020

Amount: $1,000

Check out this scholarship!

Want to find more scholarships? Check out UCanGo2!

When you’re 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

Graduating from high school is a huge milestone. Before you finalize your summer plans though, consider adding a few activities to your list. Implementing these tips will help you prepare for your college freshman year as you enjoy a well-deserved summer break.  

Read and review. High school may be over, but the concepts you’ve learned will appear again in upcoming classes. Since college courses typically don’t review previous material, prepare by studying subjects that gave you trouble in high school. Mastering these academic areas can aid in your college success. Reading often will help with future comprehension and critical thinking assignments.

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.

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.

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 these connections create lasting friendships, but connecting with others before school starts could make the first few weeks on campus more enjoyable.

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.

Student Loan Grace Period

While searching for ways to pay for college, it can be encouraging for students to discover that federal loans help ensure their ability to fund higher education. Many student loan borrowers have questions about how loans work, different loan types, repayment options, and the grace period. It’s important for them to be well-educated on this process before they enter repayment. Here we will provide information on understanding the grace period.

What is a grace period?

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 loan until six months after they graduate, withdraw from school or drop below half-time enrollment status. The grace period gives borrowers time to find employment and adjust their budgets accordingly.

How does a grace period work?

During a grace period, interest will accrue on Direct Unsubsidized Student Loans, and sometimes subsidized loans (see the ‘Interest’ section of the Master Promissory Note, or MPN). Borrowers are strongly encouraged to make interest payments on their loans while in school and during the grace period, if possible, in order to keep the interest from being capitalized (added to the principal balance of the loan). Be sure to visit ReadySetRepay.org to see how making interest payments while in school and during the grace period can help you Save Money on Student Loans.

Here’s something else you should know. A borrower could possibly have more than one grace period to monitor if they’ve dropped below half-time status at their school for any reason. This scenario could take place if a borrower had loans at one college and then borrowed again when they transferred to another college. Dropping below half-time status at one or both of those schools would change the timing of their grace period, thus starting the six-month timeframe at different intervals. It’s important that student loan borrowers talk to their school’s financial aid office, or their loan provider, to confirm repayment start dates on each of their loans.

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