Student scenarios

These UC students successfully manage their expenses — and so can you.

Every student who applies for financial aid receives two things from each UC campus they're admitted to: a financial aid offer (which can look very different from campus to campus) and a standardized award letter called a "financial aid shopping sheet." See this sample financial aid shopping sheet (pdf) and use it with our student scenarios below to get a sense of how typical UC students pay their college expenses.

As you look at these scenarios, keep in mind:

  • Financial aid amounts and living expenses differ based on the information each student or family reports on the FAFSA or California Dream Act application. (For example, if a student indicates she'll be living off campus, the financial award offer will reflect the typical costs of doing so).
  • UC campuses have different campus-based fees.
  • Each student should find the right mix of working and borrowing for his or her own circumstance.

SAM: Annual family income = $20,000

Status: Freshman

Sam's financial aid shopping sheet:

  • Total cost of attendance: $34,200
    • Tuition and fees: $13,500
    • Housing and meals: $14,500
    • Books and supplies: $1,500
    • Transportation: $2,400
    • University Health Insurance Plan: $2,300

Gift aid: $24,500

Net cost: $9,700

Options for Sam to meet his net cost of $9,700:

  • Federal loans: $5,500
  • Work-study/part-time employment wages (during the school year): $2,700
  • Savings from summer work: $1,500
  • Parents' earnings, savings or loans: $0

Sam's story

Sam's gift aid pays for not just his tuition and fees ($13,500), but also for the majority of his on-campus living expenses (room and board, which includes his meal plan). Because his parents can't help with money, Sam took out all the low-interest federal loans that were available to him and found a part-time work-study job at the library on campus.

By working between 10-15 hours per week ($9.50/hour), using his savings from working during the summer at a department store prior to his freshman year, and taking out federal loans, he is able to cover the rest of his expenses. Sam also cuts down on some of his costs by relying on the free campus shuttles instead of a car to get around.

SONJA: Annual family income = $40,000

Status: Junior, transfer student

Sonja's financial aid shopping sheet:

  • Total cost of attendance: $30,300
    • Tuition and fees: $13,500
    • Housing and meals: $9,800
    • Books and supplies: $1,500
    • Transportation and personal expenses: $3,200
    • University Health Insurance Plan: $2,300

Gift aid: $20,000

Net cost: $10,300

Options for Sonja to meet her net cost of $10,300 :

  • Work-study/part-time employment wages (during the school year): $2,750
  • Private/outside scholarships: $4,950
  • Saving from summer and other part-time work: $2,000
  • Parents' earnings, savings or loans: $600

Sonja's story

Sonja transferred to UC after finishing her degree at a community college. She knew that her tuition and fees would be higher at UC than at community college, so she applied for and received outside scholarships worth $4,950. Sonja also planned carefully to reduce the expenses she could control. To save money while at UC, Sonja chose to share an off campus apartment with some friends she met at her community college who also transferred to UC.

In addition to sharing groceries and the utilities, Sonja and her roommates carpool to campus twice a week when their schedules allow for it or take the free campus shuttle that picks them up a couple blocks away from their apartment. Because Sonja was not awarded federal work-study as part of her financial aid package, she decided to continue working part-time at the bank where she worked full time while attending community college. She decided not to take out federal loans because she is able to meet her net cost through the combination of her scholarship, working at the bank part-time during the school term, using money she saved while working full time at the bank during summer and a modest contribution from her parents.

SALINA: Annual family income = $60,000

Status: Sophomore

Salina's financial aid shopping sheet:

  • Total cost of attendance: $31,900
    • Tuition and fees: $13,500
    • Housing and meals: $14,500
    • Books and supplies: $1,500
    • Transportation and personal expenses: $2,400
    • University Health Insurance Plan: $0

Gift aid: $17,700

Net cost: $14,200

Options for Salina to meet her net cost of $14,200:

  • Federal loans: $5,000
  • Work-study/part-time employment wages (during the school year): $2,200
  • Savings from summer and other part-time work: $2,500
  • Parents' earnings, savings or loans: $4,500

Salina's story

Salina’s gift aid pays for her tuition and fees, as well as some of her on-campus expenses. By living in a dorm on campus, Salina can either walk or ride her bike to classes and only uses the bus to visit her parents who live an hour away. She saves money on books for some of her classes by borrowing books from her friends who took the same classes last year. Salina opts out of the University Health Insurance Plan because she is covered by her parents' medical plan.

To meet her net cost, Salina took out the federal loans available to her and had additional help from her parents. Because Salina worked at the campus’ music department last year for her work-study job, she was able to continue working there as a communications assistant this year, arranging her class schedule so she could work between 15-20 hours and earning a higher hourly rate.

MICHAEL: Independent student

Status: 4th year, transfer student, U.S. military veteran 

Michael's financial aid shopping sheet:

  • Total cost of attendance: $28,000
    • Tuition and fees: $13,500
    • Housing and meals: $9,800
    • Books and supplies: $1,500
    • Transportation: $3,200
    • University Health Insurance Plan: $0

Gift aid: $16,900

Military benefits: at least $11,100

Net cost: $0

    Michael's story

    Michael served three years of active duty in the army. He finished his service and returned home with the goal of becoming a lawyer. He knew that he would be eligible for 36 months of GI Bill education benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, so he thought carefully about how to maximize these benefits while attending community college, UC and eventually law school. Michael used one year of eligibility to complete his community college degree so he could then transfer to UC.

    Now that he's enrolled at UC, he receives gift aid which covers his tuition and fees and some of his living expenses, and his GI Bill benefits cover the rest of his living expenses plus his books and supplies and transportation costs. Because Michael's UC gift aid coupled with his GI Bill benefits cover his total cost of attendance, he does not have to work or borrow while at UC. Once he completes his bachelor's degree, he still will have one year of GI Bill benefits remaining, which he can use to attend law school.

In their own words

"If you have a family, try and get into campus family housing – the prices are reasonable and the proximity to campus is close. If it's not on campus, it's probably less than a mile away, within walking distance or you can take the campus shuttle which is free."
- Dennis, veteran, UCSD

"Most of my older housemates were the same major and so I'd ask them for their books – and they'd give them to me, instead of selling them back."
- Christian, UC Merced

"For my work-study job [on campus], I try to schedule my hours around my class schedule. It's pretty flexible too. They know that schooling is a priority, so if I need to a take a day off, they understand."
- Michelle, UCSB

"If you have a dining hall plan, you should use this, don’t waste this. For off-campus students, plan out your week for groceries and meals for the week, and plan for when you’re on campus so you can bring food with you to save money."
- Stacey, UCSC

"One way that I saved money my first year was by living in a triple, rather than a double; this significantly lowered my cost of attendance by about $3,000. For my second and third year, I'm living off campus in an apartment with two other roommates which saves me a significant amount of money. I also work full time during summer, to save for college expenses during the upcoming school year."
- Michelle, UCSB

"My financial aid award (including all of my loans) allows me to cover the costs of tuition, living expenses, and other miscellaneous items that my family is unable to pay for. Working part-time on campus has helped me save extra money so that I can participate in things that I otherwise would not be able to pay for with my family’s money, such as paying dues to my fraternity, buying clothes and movie theatre tickets, paying for my plane ticket before aid goes through, and being able to front money for apartment security deposits."
- Ashley, UCSB

"When applying for college, my main priority was being able to pay for college myself, as I have a brother and sister above and under me and did not want to burden my parents with the cost. With the help of financial aid, I have been able to pay for my educational costs myself."
- Alexandra, UCSB