Jennifer's Details

What's the Best Fit for Me? Choosing a College

Make Sure You Know Why You're Going

Examine yourself and your reasons for going to college before you start your search. Why, really, are you going? What are your abilities and strengths? What are your weaknesses? What do you want out of life? Talk with your family, friends, and high-school counselors as you ask these questions. The people who know you best can help you the most with these important issues.

Know Yourself and Find a College that's a Good Fit

Choosing a college because your friends are going there or because of where it ranks on a list does not take into account who you are and who you will become. Finding a good fit requires time and thoughtfulness.

Visit college web sites and learn about events, who visits as guest speakers, and how to get in touch with current students and faculty. Or, plan a visit to your top choices and make time to sit in on classes, eat in the dining hall, and hang out in the student center or other high traffic areas.

You Can Afford to Go to College

If you make the assumption that you cannot afford college based on the "sticker price" of tuition, you will miss out. It is difficult to talk about money, but if you investigate all of your options and ask for help and advice, you will find affordable choices.

Take Action:


photo of Jennifer"I was raised by a single mom and wanted to stay nearby since we take care of each other. We live close to a UC that I've always pictured myself at, so it was an easy decision once I got accepted."

Cost: Sticker vs. Net Price

"Sticker" Price

The "sticker price" of a university is it's advertised cost. The estimated average cost of a UC is around $14,750 per year for a full-time student. Costs include tuition, fees, books and supplies. You will also need to factor housing, transportation, and personal expenses into your costs.

"Net" Price: Most Families Pay Less than Full Price

The net price of a university is the sticker price minus scholarships and grants you receive - this can greatly reduce costs for many students.

Net college cost based on family income

Find out how to calculate your 'Net Price' (1:14)

Take Action:

photo of Jennifer"Once I started college I quickly lost focus on school and prioritized work.  I've always had to work to help my mom pay the bills, so I think I made excuses for myself and worked too much."

Time to Degree

Do Everything You Can to Make Sure You Graduate on Time

Taking too long in college can cost you thousands of dollars and decrease your graduation chances.

graph showing that after 6 years in college, graduation chances decrease and cost steadily increases. Taking longer than 6 years to graduate is high risk.

Source: Complete College America

*Note: Federal and state financial aid programs have maximum limits so be sure to understand your financial aid options if you plan on attending college for more than 4-5 years. The Cal Grant maximum is 8 semesters, the Pell Grant maximum 12 semesters, and federal loans have aggregate limits.

Take Action

  • Make sure your ready for college-level math and English before arriving on campus.
  • Plan your schedule: Read the College Board suggestions for how to schedule your first year of college classes.
  • Take a full load of classes.

photo of Jennifer"I withdrew for a couple of semesters because I thought it would be better to work full time, but I lost my focus and never really felt connected to the campus. It probably would have been better for me to live on campus so that I would have had more support."

Paying for College

Jennifer's Plan: Pluses and Minuses

Jennifer applied for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year and qualified for grants (free money!) and federal student loans with a low interest rates and friendly repayment terms.

Jennifer did not pay attention to how much she was borrowing and dropped out because she reached the maximum aggregate limit on student loans and could no longer afford to continue paying for school.

Jennifer did not ask for help from her campus financial aid office and did not apply for scholarships. Talking to someone would have helped her create a plan so she wouldn't have had to take out so much in loans.

Education is an investment in yourself and your community. Be proactive to ensure you get the most out of your financial aid!

Ways You Can Pay

Income/Debt Ratio

Current Salary: $11/hr. Student Debt: $32,500 = Risky.

Without a degree, Jennifer's earning potential and job possibilities are much lower than if she completes her degree.

At $32,500, Jennifer's student debt is considered extremely risky, especially since she did not complete her degree. With an income near minimum wage, her future is in serious jeopardy.

Jennifer can still turn things around by talking to an academic advisor, creating an academic plan, and completing her degree. The decisions she makes now will have a huge impact on her future.

As a general guideline, the total debt for your degree should not be more than what you will likely earn your first year working in your field.

Take Action

  • Explore careers and salaries at O*Net Online.
  • Make sure you understand the terms of your loan such as interest rate and repayment terms.
  • Budget your time and money carefully in college so that you don't have to borrow the maximum loan amount.