Money on the Quest for College


Sharon Sun

Zot zot zot! The anteater is UC Irvine’s proud mascot. Part of the University of California system, UCI’s tuition for California students is half the cost of that for out-of-state students.

Sharon Sun, Photojournalist

It’s March. “Your Admissions Decision is Available,” an email reads, highlighted in your inbox. Opening the email takes you to the school’s status portal, where Google also shares your anticipation and punches in your credentials for you. Logging in to your applicant portal, you murmur the words “Status Update” as you draw in your breath. Whether with a hurricane of confetti, a celebratory video, or a plain wall of text conveying its tremendous good news through 12 font Arial, you know you’ve finally done it – you’re heading to college! But whether you find yourself the recipient of multiple acceptances or even a Yorba Linda junior building a college list, money may be the most important factor in the which and why decisions that come next to committing to a school.


The first to consider is the cost of attendance. Total cost in private, out-of-state colleges can shoot upward to about 70 thousand dollars a year before financial aid (and that’s before counting transportation to and from home). As California residents, we are lucky to receive cheaper tuition for public California schools like those in the University of California system (UCs) or California State University system (CSUs or Cal States). Total cost of attending a UC rounds up to about 39 thousand dollars a year, per the UC Admissions website; total cost of attending a Cal State is about 24 thousand dollars a year, according to CSU Long Beach’s website.


Public, in-state tuition is a privilege for California residents as out-of-state public schools charge a much pricier out-of-state tuition plan. The University of Michigan, for example, costs about 70 thousand dollars to attend for out-of-state students; per the UMichigan Financial Aid site, total cost before aid comes out to about 32 thousand dollars for Michigan residents. Michigan’s example is also the case for UC schools; a prospective freshman from Virginia, for instance, would be looking at a whopping estimate of 70 thousand dollars a year to commit to UC Berkeley. 


Yet, financial aid resources and scholarships exist and can help ease the financial cost of college. Applicants to the UCs and CSUs can submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to the schools; the FAFSA form, with detailed questions regarding the student’s and the student’s parents’ income and financial status, enables the school to calculate its own set of grants (alongside the federal Pell Grant) to be awarded to the student. 


For applicants interested in private universities, a CSS financial profile through CollegeBoard may be filled out and sent to schools. Most top-ranked private schools award aid on the basis of financial need, demonstrated through information sent via FAFSA and CSS. And for California students interested in applying to in-state universities, the government Cal Grant awards thousands of dollars to students based on academic achievement. 


Moving on, a scholarship is a grant or payment awarded to support a student’s education. After applications are sent out, it’s helpful to surf the web or reach out to your academic counselors in search of external scholarships that might support the cost of your education. 


Elise Stiefel (12) discusses her experience looking for scholarships. “A lot of my scholarships are writing-based, which is helpful because I’m an English major and love writing,” she says. “I’ve applied for a scholarship before by writing a letter to one of my ancestors who came here on the Mayflower. It was a lot of fun, but scholarships and especially the process of finding them is a lot of work, though.”


After 12 years in grade school, college is a huge step towards the outside world and adulthood. But, knowing your cost of higher education and taking steps beforehand to prepare for that helps make the transition a little less intimidating.