How aid works

Financing your UC education is a partnership between you, your parents and UC.

When thinking about financial aid, keep in mind that there are two main types of aid: gift aid (like grants and scholarships) that help reduce the cost of attending college, and self-help aid (like loans, work-study and part-time employment) that help you cover the net cost (costs that aren't paid for by gift aid). Your financial aid offer will likely include a combination of both types.

No matter what mix of financial aid you receive, you, your parents and UC each has an important role in paying for your education:

  • Students: UC expects you to cover part of the cost of attendance through working and borrowing.
  • UC covers the remaining costs with gift aid from a variety of sources. Each campus determines your total grant eligibility and meets it using federal, state and UC's own gift aid programs.

To get a better understanding of how this all works together, it's helpful to understand the following equation:

Total cost of attendance

The total cost of attendance is UC’s estimate of your annual budget while attending UC. This figure is based on information you provide in the financial aid application and includes tuition and fees, as well as books, housing, food and other living expenses.

See UC’s tuition and cost of attendance for more information »

    Gift aid (free $)

    Think of gift aid as free money that you can use to cover your educational expenses. Grants and UC scholarships fall into this category and help cover your cost of attendance (which includes tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, health insurance, transportation, and personal expenses).

    Learn more about grants and scholarships »

    Net cost

    The net cost — the portion you and your parents have to pay — is the total cost of attendance (or “sticker price”), minus the gift aid you receive. This amount is the most important factor to consider when you compare your UC financial aid offer to offers from other colleges.

    Paying the net cost:

    Student contribution

    UC expects every undergraduate seeking financial aid to help cover his or her net cost through a manageable combination of work and borrowing. This is what we call self-help aid: a combination of loans and wages earned from jobs during the academic year and summer.

    Learn more about working and borrowing »

    Parent contribution

    The amount your parents are expected to pay is determined based on information you provide on the FAFSA or California Dream Act Application. For very low-income families, there may be no parent contribution expected.

    Some families use a combination of current earnings and savings to cover their share. For many families, though, the combination of savings and earnings isn't enough to cover all their net costs. In these cases, families can explore student and parent educational loans. 

    Learn more about federal parent loans (PLUS) »

    Students who are deemed to be financially independent from their parents have no expected parent contribution.

    Learn more about independent or dependent status »

    See how to estimate what your aid might be, and view scenarios for how typical UC students cover their expenses.

    Will my financial aid offer cover ALL costs of attending UC?

    While many students receive financial aid that covers the cost of tuition and fees, all financial aid applicants are expected to pay for a share of their cost of attendance through working and borrowing.

    What if my parents can't or won’t pay their expected contribution?

    UC will attempt to help you find additional loans so you don't have to work more than part-time during school. Sometimes these will be non-federal, private education loans.

    Myth or fact?

    Parents: "If we haven't saved, UC is out of reach for my kid."


    Fact: UC isn't out of reach! Even if you haven’t been able to save for college, there are other ways to pay.

    Families with lower incomes will likely find their expected contribution is quite modest. And, if you don't qualify for financial aid, low-interest parent or student loans and tuition payment plans can help.

    See how families and students with different financial resources meet the net cost »