A is for Aid: Your starter guide to college finances

College finances are overwhelming. Getting bills with numbers that are higher than anything you’ve ever seen before is scary. However, nothing is more frustrating than not moving, stuck amongst an endless sea of confusing acronyms and unfamiliar topics because you don’t know where to start.

While I can’t provide you with all the answers you are looking for, treat this starter guide as your first college course — College Finances 101. Here you will only find helpful advice and tidbits of information (and, yeah, that’s a dig at every high school teacher who thought it was better to teach us that mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell versus how to open a savings account — of course if you’re a biology major, I kid) that will leave you feeling confident and prepared to dive into the first real challenge of your new life, paying for college.

Introducing your admissions insider, Isabella Beristain

Isabella Beristain returns to UC Davis, as a staff writer and editor, after graduating in 2022. She works closely with the UC Davis Undergraduate Admissions team and partners, to bring you the inside scoop on admissions info. With over five years in marketing and a knack for storytelling, Isabella ensures your start to college is both entertaining and enlightening.

A- Applying for aid

Whether you get a grant, scholarship or loan to pay for college, chances are you need to fill out some paperwork. At UC Davis, navigate beginning funding for entering undergraduate students to learn how and where to apply for aid.  

B- Budget breakdown

Life costs money and those costs can get out of hand fast, especially when you're having fun. If this is your first time living away from home, take a deep breath and a seat, grab a pen or your computer and create your college budget.

C- California Dream Act

California Dream Act is a vital aid resource for eligible AB540 and undocumented students pursuing higher education in California. Apply by March 2 for maximum financial aid consideration.

D- Debt dilemmas

No one wants to get saddled with debt. Manage your debt head on, borrow responsibly, stay on budget and use credit cards wisely.

E- Evaluating financial aid offers

As you receive financial aid offers, take the time to explore what works best for you and your financial situation. Don’t rush the process and determine which aid package will benefit you most in the long run.

F- FAFSA fundamentals

Eligible students are encouraged to apply to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid each year. Follow the steps in the FAFSA checklist to get started and apply by April 2 (for the 2024-25 application) for state and university grant consideration.

G- Grants galore

Everyone loves free money! Grants are need-based gifts that don’t need to be repaid if you maintain eligibility. If you receive a grant at UC Davis, it appears in MyAwards (your financial aid portal) along with its requirements.

H- Handling unseen college costs

Handling potential unseen costs, associated with attending college, is crucial in sticking to your budget. To prepare, ensure that you know what is covered in your tuition bill and plan to pay for those unexpected course material fees or obscure charges that you must budget for.

I- Income ideas and how to supplement

Exploring creative ways to supplement your income during college is a smart financial move. However, sometimes diversifying your income can only go so far when you’re busy studying for midterms and writing multipage papers. At UC Davis, there are many ways to get your basic needs met during your time here.

J- Juggling jobs and studies

Juggling a job and your studies takes time and energy. Maintaining that balance is your key to success. On-campus student jobs are great opportunities to jumpstart your career and make some extra cash in an understanding and part-time environment.

K- Knowledge is power

Knowing how to budget your money and make it work for you is worth it! All UC Davis students get access to the Aggie Blue to Gold Financial Wellness Program, which provides students and families with endless resources like peer advising opportunities, virtual webinars, workshops and online courses geared at strengthening financial literacy.

L- Loan lingo

Loans are a form of financial aid that must be repaid. Educational loans have varying fees, interest rates (yes, unfortunately this means money that you will have to repay on top of your original loan amount), repayment terms and borrower protections. Before you borrow it is important to understand everything about the loan you are borrowing from.

M- Maximizing aid

You get the most bang for your buck, if you maximize your aid. This means applying to various scholarships and seeking out additional grants all while creating and sticking to a budget.

N- Nifty savings

Can you kill two birds with one stone when it comes to saving? No, you don’t think so? Well, actually you

can because personal sustainability and saving money go hand in hand. Saving the environment and your wallet, now that’s nifty savings!

O- Outside scholarships

Need more help building your aid package? There are almost an endless amount of grains of sand here on Earth and lucky for you, there are a similar number of outside scholarships waiting for you to apply to.

Two students photographed in the Tercero dining commons, during a mealtime.
Your tuition goes to more than just your education! It also goes to providing you an awesome college experience, with part of your bill allocated to student facing services like our dining commons! (UC Davis)

P- Personal statements

Perhaps the most critical piece of many scholarship applications is the personal statement. This is your time to let your personality shine through and make your case to get your coin.

Q- Quick tips for financial success

There is a lot to know about money management and college finances. Let’s make this quick. Here are 40 money management tips every college student should know.

R- Repayment realities

After graduation, you’ll likely begin repaying your loan (if you take one out). Understanding these realities now will help you manage your payments in the future.

S- Start with the basics

Is this starter guide feeling overwhelming? UC Davis has partnered with CashCourse to provide Aggies with tools to learn money basics.

T- Timeline tactics

You need to apply to some aid every year, like the FAFSA, some you don’t, like one-time scholarships. Understanding each aid sources' specific and unique deadlines and staying organized will ensure you are prepared.

U- Understanding interest

Interest is the cost of borrowing money. Before you borrow you need to know what type of loan you are borrowing and who your lender is to understand how your loan interest will affect you.

V- Visioning

To plan what aid package or sources work out best for you and your family, it’s crucial to make most educated decision you can. Look at how much you'll spend over your time at college and adopt a vision that aligns with your future money goals and aspirations.

W- Work-Study wonders

Work-Study is a needs-based offer. It is more than just a job and financial support for your education. Participating in work-study offers you a double bonus — education plus job experience in an increasingly competitive job market.

X- (e)Xtra cash ideas

You might not have time to commit to an on-campus job or paid position, but everyone needs some spending money, right? Think about other smaller gigs you can pick up to supplement your income, like dog walking, babysitting or even selling your class notes!

Y- Yearly financial checkup

Your financial situation might change throughout your college journey and that’s okay. Whenever that happens, fill out an appeals form to inform financial aid officers of your situation and see what they can do to help.

Z- Zeroing in on financial success

Let’s get real, financial wellness takes time. It’s a skill you grow. Everything in this starter guide won’t apply to you or your unique financial situation; but learning the basics is a great place to start to zero in on financial success!

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