Student Exemption FAQ’s - Human Resources at Ohio State

Student Exemption FAQ's

Ohio State employees are required to contribute to a state retirement system in place of Social Security. OPERS is the default retirement system for Ohio State staff. OPERS contributions are mandatory, unless you submit a valid student exemption form and meet the minimum course credit-hour standard. If you are still within 30 days of your hire date, you may be able to submit an exemption form. If you have passed the 30-day exemption deadline, you are automatically enrolled in OPERS. You can select an OPERS plan within 180 days of your hire date.

You can submit a completed form in one of three ways:

  • Delivered to the Office of Human Resources, 1590 N. High Street, Suite 300, Columbus OH 43201
  • Faxed to 614-292-7813
  • Emailed to

Please do not send this form directly to OPERS. Forms sent directly to OPERS will be denied, and the student will probably miss the opportunity to exempt. The HR manager with signature authority will sign your form once it is processed. OHR customer service is the appropriate resource for questions regarding retirement and exemptions.

Common errors include electronic signatures, scratch-outs, multiple characters in one box and incomplete sections.

The recommended practice is to enter the information in Step 1 electronically on a computer, except the student signature, which should be handwritten. Deliver the form to OHR as close as possible to your hire date. As a reminder, the deadline for submission is 30 days from your hire date.

When employees contribute to a public retirement system, Ohio State is required to provide an employer contribution. The percentage of funds to which an employee has access is considered the “vested” portion. The vesting scheduled for OPERS Traditional and Member Directed plans can be found here. Any non-vested employer contributions are forfeited upon an account refund, and those funds will remain with OPERS. Please contact OPERS or STRS for questions regarding vesting.

OPERS usually takes four weeks to receive, review and return exemption forms. This process could take longer during periods of high volume, such as the start of autumn semester. In addition, Ohio State’s payroll processing may take as long as three weeks, depending on when in the payroll cycle a form is received. In other situations, there may be a delay in creating the student’s employment record, which also delays the exemption form process.

Yes. Ohio State will issue refunds of any contributions withheld prior to the exemption being processed, as long as you met all eligibility requirements during those pay periods. Refunds may take multiple pay periods, or up to 60 days, to appear on a paycheck due to timing.

If you have made previous contributions to a public retirement system, OPERS or STRS may continue to send communications. Even if you are exempt and not contributing to OPERS, your earnings are still governed by OPERS regulations.

To receive an exemption, you must be enrolled in the minimum number of credit hours (6 for undergraduate, 4 for graduate, and 2 for post-candidacy doctoral graduate students). If you work at Ohio State during a term in which you are not enrolled in the minimum number of credit hours, such as summer, you are required to make retirement contributions. These contributions would stay in an OPERS account and cannot be refunded to you by Ohio State.

You have many options once you are no longer a state employee. You may ask OPERS to distribute the funds to you, roll the funds into another retirement account, or leave the funds with OPERS. An early distribution may require you to pay taxes and a penalty depending on your age, and you will forfeit any Ohio State contributions not vested.

OPERS will not refund any contributions until you have been separated from Ohio State for at least 60 days. These funds will be subject to taxation and early withdrawal penalties as appropriate. Employer contributions will be distributed in accordance with OPERS vesting schedules.

Exemption refunds for contributions paid in previous years require a 1099-R form and a separate refund check or direct deposit disbursement from Accounts Payable. This action will result in the refund amount being paid to the employee, and a 1099-R tax document being sent in January of the following year to be filed with taxes for the year the payment was received. The university follows this practice to comply with IRS guidelines.

Your retirement participation or exemption can only be changed within 30 days of returning from a break of student employment that lasted at least 365 days.

You will not earn retirement service credit during the time in which you are exempt from OPERS. It may be possible to purchase service credit for time exempted from retirement contributions. The cost to do this generally increases over time. Please contact OPERS for more details.

If you switch from being a student employee to a regular full- or part-time employee at Ohio State, you will be required to contribute to a public retirement system.

If you return to student employment prior to 365 days from your last student employment, your previous OPERS exemption will still be in effect. After switching back to student employment, the number of enrolled credit hours will be reviewed each pay period as part of the ongoing processing to determine exemption criteria. If you are a GTA, please see the next question: “How are retirement contributions different for Graduate Teaching Associates?”

GTAs who have an STRS account from any prior public employment are required to contribute to STRS, unless they have an approved STRS exemption form. A GTA has 30 days from the start of the GTA appointment to submit the exemption form.

GTAs are eligible for OPERS if they do not have a previously existing STRS account. In this case, the GTA could participate in or exempt out of OPERS.

A common challenge occurs when an individual is a lecturer over the summer, and transfers to a GTA position in the fall. In this case, any previous OPERS exemptions will not exempt earning under the new GTA role, because of the summer contributions into STRS. In this case, the GTA would need to submit a STRS exemption within 30 days of the start of the GTA appointment if they wish to exempt.

If you change positions, especially from a fellow to a student appointment, and want to maintain a previously approved exemption, it is recommended you complete a new exemption form. However, you may not be able to switch your exemption status. Retirement election or exemption decisions can only be changed if the student has a break in service or 365 days or more. This break in service includes any time spent in a non-student appointment or a position not eligible to exempt from OPERS. These appointments include Graduate External Fellow, Graduate Supplemental Fellow, Graduate Fellow, Graduate Trainee, Undergraduate Trainee and Undergraduate Fellow.

Students are allowed to have more than one job. However, they will only be able to make one retirement election. Students cannot participate in OPERS in one job and exempt from OPERS in another job. Your retirement election will carry over to all eligible jobs. Note: The date for your 30-day eligibility window will be your earliest hire date if you start one job before the other.

Students are not permitted to hold staff and student positions at the same time.