Start Applying for Scholarships Now!

In case you are relying on the UCs to give you scholarships (either due to your financial status or your exceptional merit), know that (with rare exceptions) your MINIMUM out-of-pocket expense at a UC starts at around $9,000 per year regardless of your family income (some UCs charge more than $12,000 per year out-of-pocket). This amount is almost always covered by loans or work-study (including PLUS Loans your parents will likely need to take out). Don’t believe me? Google “[UC campus] net price calculator” to run the numbers yourself.

Think you can get a full ride? I had two students in the past five years who were in the top 1% of the applicant pool (not just their school, the entire UC freshman applicant pool of 150,000+ high school seniors) and competed nationally/internationally in various sports, who chose Stanford over Berkeley because of better financial aid and scholarship package (one of them was living well below the Federal Poverty Level; San Diego did offer a full ride to this student).

Middle and middle-upper class families consistently have to cover the entire cost of a UC education themselves (Middle Class Scholarship only covers a percentage of the systemwide tuition and fees, which is less than half of the cost of attending a UC – the expensive part is the room & board and personal/book expenses). Those without savings or outside scholarships are often left with loans as their only option, meaning students are graduating with at least $100,000 worth of debt after four years (assuming they graduate in four years).

Need a little more help? Given the switch to “Prior-Prior Year” (using tax information from two years prior for the current cycle of FAFSA), the ideal time to optimize aid eligibility for middle and middle-upper class families is at least THREE YEARS prior to college enrollment. However, even if you are late to the game, there are still things you can do now to improve your financial aid eligibility in future years. If you need help (or a second opinion), I recommend Stephanie Hancock of College Aid Consulting. She is knowledgeable, honest, and she genuinely cares about helping her clients get the best financial aid package possible. If you are simply not sure where to start, invest $150 for Stephanie’s Aid Profiler service; she will assess your current financial status and identify any opportunity to receive aid, where, and under what circumstances. You will walk away with a clear understanding of how much financial aid you will qualify and what actions you can take to maximize your need-based and merit-based aid. In addition, as a financial advisor with Hancock Wealth Advisory (a registered investment adviser), Stephanie can help you with shielding assets if opportunities exist.

I have also worked with families that lived below the Federal Poverty Level who consistently received $10,000+ loan and work-study offers from Berkeley. (In case you are thinking about the UC Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan, the program only promises to cover the systemwide tuition and fees, which is less than half of the cost of attending a UC – the expensive part is the room & board and personal/book expenses.) I recently ran a hypothetical scenario with a divorced parent making $8,000 per year for a family of 4 (which is about 67% below the Federal Poverty Level), with 3 kids in college, and Berkeley estimated a net annual cost of $9,000 and San Diego estimated a net annual cost of $12,500.

Are you sufficiently frightened? Good! Now start your scholarship search and calendar the deadlines so you give yourself enough time to work on each scholarship application. Do not wait until you finish your college applications or receive your admission offers before applying for scholarships. You KNOW you are going to college, it’s just a matter of WHERE you will be going. Plan ahead so you have a way to pay for the college you will be attending.

Competition may be fierce in larger, national scholarships. Consider smaller, local scholarships where you have a better chance of winning. Google “local scholarships” to find scholarship listings and resources. You can also read Think Locally to Boost Your College Scholarship Odds from U.S. News & World Report for tips.

Check out my financial aid/scholarships page for freshman or transfer applicants to help you get started (includes tips on how to avoid scams and a list of vetted scholarship search sites).

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