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 just over $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 that 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 entering as freshmen are graduating with $100,000+ worth of debt after four years (assuming they graduate in four years).
I make the recommendation below because many parents have asked me for college funding advice, which is a complicated and highly regulated field. This is simply for your information in case you are interested.
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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 think the UC Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan will cover the cost of attendance, 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 one kid in college; Berkeley and Santa Barbara each estimated a net annual cost of $10,000, UCLA estimated a net annual cost of $9,600, and San Diego estimated a net annual cost of $9,500.
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. Do an online search for “local scholarships” to find listings and resources, and get tips from this U.S. News & World Report article. You can also find freshman and transfer financial aid and scholarships resources on my website (including information on how to avoid scams and a list of vetted scholarship search sites).
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