Sarah'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 Sarah"I didn't feel ready to start at a 4-year university so decided to start off at a good, local community college and transfer after 2 years."

Transfer Tips

  • See an academic advisor early and create a transfer plan.
  • Get good grades - getting into a 4-year university is not guaranteed.
  • Explore scholarships and financial incentives for transfer students.

Cost: Sticker vs. Net Price

"Sticker" Price

The "sticker price" of a university is it's advertised cost. The estimated average cost of a CSU is around $8,700 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 Sarah"Starting at a community college was affordable and helped keep my college costs down - unfortunately, I spent way too much on rent and car payments, which I would not do again if I could change things."

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 Sarah"Things became complicated when I moved out of my parents' house - I became overwhelmed by my finances and didn't focus on school like I should have. I ended up spending 4 years in community college instead of 2."

Paying for College

Sarah's Plan: Pluses and Minuses

Sarah went to community college to complete her general education classes, which saved her a lot of money.

Sarah did not live within her means and took on too many unnecessary expenses while still a student, such as an expensive apartment and a car payment.

Sarah took out the maximum amount of loans to pay for living expenses. Loans should only be borrowed to pay for school expenses such as tuition, books, fees, etc.

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

Starting Salary: 26,500. Student Debt: $28,480 = Risky.

Sarah had many challenges but was able to complete her degree. Her future earnings are likely to be much higher than if she hadn't graduated from college.

At almost $30,000, Sarah's student debt is considered risky, especially since her starting salary will likely be moderate. Borrowing the maximum student loan amounts offered "just because" and using the money for unnecessary expenses may create a high monthly payment once you graduate and cause unnecessary financial hardship.

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.