Can someone explain Financial Aid in California to me?

Freshman here who WANTS to get into a UC, but knows that she will be unable to afford the cost. How does Financial Aid work? Should I give up and go to community college?

Prep for the ACT and/or SAT and do your best to maintain good grades. High test scores and a good GPA in college prep courses could make you eligible for merit aid. If you’re a US citizen from a low income family you may be eligible for a federal Pell Grant. Can your parents contribute anything to your education?

UC’s give little merit aid. The majority of aid is need based so first you need to determine your FASFA EFC. This is the Federal form which the UC’s use to determine your need based aid for Federal Pell grants, Federal student loans, Cal grants if you are a CA resident along with the Blue and Gold and Middle class scholarship.

Depending upon your family’s income, you could get almost the full costs of your education covered with these types of aid. You and your patents will be expected to also contribute by way of savings, work study, student and parent loans.

Each UC website will have a Net Price calculator where you can get an estimate on possible FA.

Here is an example for UCSB:

The Merit aid offered by the UC’s are for the top 1-2% of applicants so the advice in the above is valid in getting top grades and test scores. Regents/Chancellors and Alumni scholarships are available will not always cover the whole cost of attendance.

The UC websites all have helpful information about the financial aid available so do some research since you plenty if time before applying.

Since you are a CA resident, do not limit yourself to the UC’s. The Cal states especially the top CSU’s such as Cal Poly Pomona/SLO, San Diego State, CSU Long Beach are also great options depending upon what you plan to study. California also has plenty of private schools where merit aid based on your academics could garner you some good financial aid.

The financial information given above about the UC’s also pertains to the Cal States. They however do not offer the Blue and Good or Middle Class scholarship but Federal aid and Cal grants are still offered for qualified applicants.

The Cal states also have much lower tuition/fee costs, around $7500 for the CSU’s vs. $14,000 for the UC’s. Since there are 23 CSU’s vs. 9 UC’s in California, the CSU’s are setup so commuting locally is a great option if costs are an issue.

You are a Freshman so the first thing I would do is sit down with your parents and find out how much they can contribute towards your college costs by way of savings and current income.

Then you can try out some Net Price calculators for different schools to get an estimate of your possible college costs.

You have plenty of time to figure out what will be affordable and what schools to target if you need financial aid either need based and/or merit.

Arming yourself with as much knowledge as possible to help with your college decisions is vital and CC can help you with many knowledgeable posters.

I am a California resident and had one son attend a UC and another attend a CSU so you are welcome to ask me any questions about either of these type of schools.

Best of luck.

Would I be applying as a junior, or senior? I admit that I’m not 100% certain about the college apps process.

They say that they make around $82,000 a year. Thank you for providing this calculator.

I don’t quite know what I want to do yet, but I’m interested in nursing, and I want to take some Computer Science courses to see if that is something I might enjoy. If all goes well, I’ll take my first Comp. Science class as a junior and see whether or not I like it. I LOVE my science courses. I intend on taking: AP Chem, AP Biology, AP Calc or Stats, AP History, and AP English before graduating.

What exactly do people who major in Computer Science do?

I will take both the SAT and ACT, to see which I score higher on. I intend on keeping my GPA above a 3.5 for all of high school. I’m not sure if we qualify as low income - my parents make $82,000 together. They are unable to contribute to my education.

All kinds of things. I worked for companies in a variety of industries designing/writing programs, had some opportunities to play with hardware as well.

Like nursing, it’s a wide field within the general major.

Based on this income you won’t qualify for a Pell Grant. You may qualify for a Cal Grant, but it will depend on your parent’s assets as well as income.

If your parents can’t contribute to your education, that can limit your choices. Would you be able to live at home and commute to a community college, CSU, or UC?

Do you have access to Avid at your HS?

Continue to focus on getting good grades and participating in ECs that you enjoy.

How does someone know that they want to go into Computer Science? Should I take a course on it in my junior year?

Based on this income you won’t qualify for a Pell Grant. You may qualify for a Cal Grant, but it will depend on your parent’s assets as well as income.

If your parents can’t contribute to your education, that can limit your choices. Would you be able to live at home and commute to a community college, CSU, or UC?

Do you have access to Avid at your HS?

Continue to focus on getting good grades and participating in ECs that you enjoy.


Yes, I would be able to live at home and commute to a local school. My mother works on-off, so the financial position of my parents may be different by the time I am a senior and applying to different schools.

Should I wait until I am a senior to think more about this? My mother says that she isn’t certain about whether or not she’ll still be working when I reach senior year.

$82,000 income as stated may qualify you for Cal grants and the Middle Class scholarship. This will limit your options since both will not cover all the costs of a CSU or UC if you require housing. You can take out Federal student loans in the amount of $27K for 4 years total.

With an income of $82K from your parents, the schools do not care if they will not contribute so as stated in the above posts, you would need to determine how much aid you qualify and target schools that affordable.

Commuting to a local CSU or UC will help save costs since you will not have any on-campus housing costs.

Your parents have no college savings for you?

You work summers to earn some spending money and take out the Federal loans which can cover Cal State tuition costs (currently around $7500/year)

If qualify for some aid from the UC’s, then commuting to a UC and working summers could cover tuition (currently $14,000/year)

Another option is attend a California Community college, use TAG (Transfer Admission Guarantee) for the UC’s or ADT (Associated Degree for Transfer) for the CSU’s and transfer to either school after you have completed all the GE and major prep courses (Junior level 60 semester/90 quarter units). This will save you money which can then be used for your last 2 years at a CSU or UC.

College Prep Timeline:

  1. Do well in your a-g courses (Core courses required for the Cal states and UC’s)

  2. Increase your HS course rigor each year.

  3. Continue with your EC’s to show consistency and look for leadership positions

  4. Consider taking the PSAT and Pre-ACT for practice in Sophomore year and determine if one test is more suited to your strengths than the other.

  5. Take the PSAT Junior year and aim for a National Merit qualifying score. Also try to complete all SAT/ACT testing by summer prior to Senior year. Check each school of interest to determine if SAT subject tests are required/recommended.

  6. UC application opens August prior to Senior year, so you can start working on your personal insight essays and start filling out the application. You need to submit the UC application by November 30th Senior year. Submission period is November 1-30.

  7. Cal State application opens October 1 of Senior year and you have until November 30th to submit. No essays involved, just your a-g course grades and test scores.

  8. FASFA (Federal financial aid form) opens up October 1 Senior year, so you file anytime of that date.

What do you mean by “require housing?” As in, live there? My parents will let me stay in our house while I’m attending college.

We have $0 in college savings. My parents did not plan anything out before deciding to have children. This has left me in a high-stress situation.

I’m thinking that I may take the first option. Thank you for mentioning these options to me.

Would you advise that I take Art in the summer, as I do not care much for the course?

I’ll take the steps advised for the College Prep Timeline. I want to kill myself.

If you are not local (usually with 30 miles of campus), the UC’s and CSU’s have a Freshman on-campus housing requirement. It is possible to get a wavier depending upon your circumstances. So do you live within 30 miles or so of a UC/CSU that you can commute?

Housing costs for the CSU’s and UC’s average anywhere from $15-17K/year. San Diego State requires 2 years on campus if you are not local so if your parents will let you live at home and you have access to a local college/university, this will definitely help you for the affordability factor.

The closest is UC Berkeley, about 18 mins away by car. We live roughly 30 mins away from say, San Francisco State, by car.

It’s great that you would have the option of commuting to a local school. Is that a CC, CSU or UC?

I understand. Just keep working hard in school, fulfilling the a-g requirements, and participating in ECs that you enjoy…which are the things that are in your control. Many successful adults started out at community college. You are smart, are thinking ahead, and will do well.

Do you have a counselor at school that you can talk with to help alleviate your anxiety? Many of the knowledgeable posters here will continue to support and guide you too.

I don’t know if you are serious in your comment, but please speak with someone if so. On the internet we only know the words posters type, so if you are having serious thoughts of harming yourself please call the national suicide hotline 1-800-273-8255, online chat at, or text 741741.

I’m not sure if we exactly qualify as low income - my father says that he and my mother together make $82,000, at least with my mother’s current job. She works on-off, and her job may very well be different by the time I’m a junior. However, they are unable to put anything toward my college education and often struggle to pay rent on our apartment. I want to take different AP classes as my sophomore, junior, and senior years come along (I attend Encinal High School in Alameda.)

SFSU would make a great Safety school since the campus is non-impacted and you only need to meet a minimum CSU GPA and test scores for an excellent chance at an acceptance.

UCB is another story since any applicant should consider it a Reach school due to low acceptance rate.
Since you are a Freshman, you have plenty of time to make yourself competitive for UCB.

Here is the 2019 admit stats just to give you an idea of target GPA and test scores. These stats will definitely change by the time you apply but strive to do your best.

2019 UC capped weighted GPA averages along with 25th-75th percentile range:
UCB: 4.23 (4.15-4.30)

2019 Data:
25th - 75th percentiles for SAT totals:
UCB: 1340-1540

25th - 75th percentiles for ACT composite + language arts
UCB: 28-35

Take a breath and don’t stress yourself out about this.

The first thing you need to do is know that you will get through this.

(Also, decrease using full quotes on this post. If you want to direct an answer to a poster, put the symbol in front of their name like this: @aunt bea ).

Your school will have college information nights. Go to them with your parents to find out more information, and to ask questions, specifically for your school and of your counselors.
Your high school counselors will help you with that information.

If you go to the counseling office they should have a published “map”, provided by the public schools (Community Colleges, CSUs, UCs) of how to follow the steps to apply to a university in California. Most counseling offices in California have that and lots of paperwork/ links to free information. Walk into your counseling office often and see what’s new. (Don’t walk in during class because those of us who work in the high schools know that trick).

Take your required coursework in high school.

It doesn’t matter whether or not you like art; you need one year of graded credit in the area of visual or performing arts. It doesn’t have to be art, per se, it can be one year of music performance, drama, painting, pottery, chorus, band, orchestra, guitar, whatever. There are a variety of classes that cover this requirement.

The California Student Aid Commission (CSAC) has a full website of public funding information. Read up on CalGrants. The people who work there are very helpful in answering your questions. Don’t feel intimidated in contacting them.

Lastly, you need to work summers to start earning YOUR college money. The colleges expect YOU to contribute money for your education. If your parents make $82,000 in California, then they probably don’t have a lot of money to spare, so you need to STEP UP and get a job during the summers; hoard that money and use that money to pay for YOUR education.

It doesn’t matter what the job is: you can babysit, you can mow lawns, you can run errands for people, etc. It doesn’t matter. My three children all had summer jobs. When my son couldn’t find a job, he’d run errands for people and earn tips. I had former students who worked at McDonald’s because McDonald’s gives scholarship opportunities. I had students who worked at Subway on the weekends. I had students that worked in Mexican restaurants as bus boys/bus girls. When I went to college decades ago I sewed hems for my classmates. There is always a job that can be done by a highschooler.

Interesting. At my school, taking AP classes will raise your overall GPA if you maintain an A/B grade in them (for example, if you are taking 4 AP’s and have A’s in them, you’ll have a 5.0 GPA at my school.) Is this how UCB would look at it?