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 cost for a UC starts at around $10,000 per year regardless of family income (see the “Sample Financing Plans” toward the bottom of this page and note that “Student Contribution” is what the UCs expect the students to come up with on their own). This amount is almost always covered by loans or work-study. Still don’t believe me? Use the “net price calculator” to run the numbers yourself (find the calculator for every UC campus here).
Think you can get a full ride? I had two students in the past decade who were in the top 1% of the applicant pool (not just at their respective high schools, but 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 total cost of attending a UC – the expensive part is the room & board and personal/book expenses and healthcare costs). Those without savings or outside scholarships are often left with loans as their only option, meaning students are graduating with $100,000+ worth of debt after four years (assuming they graduate in four years).
Need a little more help? I make the recommendation below since many parents have asked me for financial aid advice, which is a complicated and highly regulated field. This is simply for your information in case you are interested.
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 worked with families with income well below the Federal Poverty Level who consistently received $10,000+ loan and work-study offers from Berkeley (these are super high achieving kids). (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 and healthcare costs.) I recently ran a hypothetical scenario with a divorced parent making $8,000 per year for a family of 4 (which is about 70% below the Federal Poverty Level), with 2 kids in college; Berkeley and UCLA each estimated a net annual cost of $9,500, San Diego estimated a net annual cost of $8,500 to $10,500, and Santa Barbara estimated a net annual cost of $10,000.
Do NOT assume that you should just take out loans to pay for college and everything will work out. The government, colleges, and private lenders are NOT taking the time to educate you on how to manage your money or explain how crushing student loan debt could ruin your life. Loans are too easy to take out and the interests add up too quickly (particularly for unsubsidized or private loans). Federal student loans will follow you for life and not to be taken lightly (you will carry the debt until you die because student loans typically cannot be discharged through bankruptcy; predatory student loan servicers have also been contributing to higher student loan default rates – please note, this link takes you to a video that contains explicit language; unfortunately it’s the only one I could find that provides a clear enough explanation regarding the problems with student loan servicers).
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 this article from U.S. News & World Report for tips.
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