Why Apply for Scholarships?
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 $9,000 per year regardless of family income; calculate your estimated “net cost” for each UC campus here, which is what the UCs expect you to come up with on your own, by paying out-of-pocket, taking out loans, or getting work-study jobs.
Expecting the “debt-free path” to take care of you? That goal has a target date of 2030 and primary focuses on low-income students, who will still likely face a MINIMUM out-of-pocket cost of at least $8,000 per year (with work-study prioritized over loans to cover that).
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 high school seniors, indicated by their Regents Scholars status across the campuses) 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).
Reality of the Middle Class Scholarship
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, personal/book expenses, and healthcare). Those without savings or outside scholarships are often left with loans and work-study as their only options. Most students opt to take out loans, meaning they are graduating with more than $160,000 worth of debt if they started as freshmen (assuming they graduate in four years) or more than $80,000 worth of debt if they started as transfers (assuming they graduate in two years).
Reality of the UC Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan
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, personal/book expenses, and healthcare. I recently ran a hypothetical scenario with married parents making $8,000 per year for a family of 4 (which is about 70% below the Federal Poverty Level), and one kid in college; almost all of the UCs estimated a net annual cost of around $9,000.
Reality of Student Loans
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). This is further complicated by predatory student loan servicers that are taking advantage of borrowers and contributing to skyrocketing student loan default rates (find a video that offers a clear, comprehensive explanation of the problem here – please note the video contains explicit language); some states have begun addressing the issue and California students are now protected by the California Student Borrower Bill Of Rights.
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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