For low-income students, choosing the right college or university is often decided by how much money they will give us. We do not have the luxury of choosing a university in a favorable location or by enrollment size. Some of us can’t even choose the one that offers the best program for our major because it doesn’t grant us enough funding. We, low-income students, are faced with limitations when it comes to going to college.
And yes, scholarships are available, and their abundance does inspire us to apply to as many as possible. However, their competitive nature means not all students will receive a scholarship and therefore we cannot rely just on them. In other words, we need our government to keep funding education access for low-income students. Opportunities that come with programs like the Pell Grant.
What is the Pell Grant exactly?
The Pell Grant is a need-based grant awarded to undergraduate students who have not obtained a degree and demonstrate exceptional financial need. It has provided support for about 7 million students each year across 5,000 institutions in the U.S. However, its purchasing power has declined significantly over time. According to the Institute for College Access and Success, the Pell Grant only covers 30% of a college education when it covered about 80% in 1980.
As a Oaxacan low-income student raised in South Central LA and a personal recipient of the Pell Grant, I can vouch that receiving this aid was a significant help for covering my tuition at UC Berkeley during my first two years of college. I felt supported by this assistance and received an additional refund to cover my basic needs like food and housing. However, after my sophomore year, I noticed that my Pell Grant amount was declining as I reached senior year.
This is why we need to build awareness to #DoublePell because it can close the affordability gap for low-income students, leading to higher enrollment and an increase in retention rates. Education Policy Advisor Shelbe Klebs argues that the COVID-19 pandemic has made many students “rethink their post-secondary plans for fall; some may forgo college temporarily or permanently to work to support their families while others may choose to attend a more affordable community college close to home instead of a pricier four-year school farther away.”
Doubling the Pell Grant is the most effective way to make college affordable and available for all students. It can lead to more enrollment of low-income students of color, increase graduate school enrollments with more students pursuing higher education, decrease dropout rates, and restore its purchasing power.
Having this grant available made my college selection process easier because I could choose a good school with the financial aid package that was right for me. I am #ThankfulForPell because I was able to graduate from a 4-year university. By doubling the Pell Grant, I believe more students like me can have greater access to higher education, reach their potential and empower their communities.
uAspire’s College Cost Calculator is a free online tool that helps you compare multiple financial aid offers and calculate the total cost of attending different colleges. With the Calculator, you learn about the financial aid process, build self-advocacy skills, and increase financial literacy.
Why did we create the Cost Calculator?
Financial aid offers, also called award letters or financial aid packages, can be very difficult to decipher. There’s no industry or government standard for colleges to communicate costs consistently or transparently to students. Different colleges use different formatting and jargon for the same types of aid or loans and the information they include varies. Some don’t clearly label student loans and often omit details about the total cost, making it a challenge for students to figure out how much they will have to pay. As a result, it is exceedingly difficult for students and families to make an informed financial decision.
We believe students deserve to be able to better navigate the process of financing college, especially when leveraging their futures with loans to pay for a college degree. College-goers should be able to make apples-to-apples comparisons between schools easily, instead of having to decipher the information from a hodgepodge of offers. This is why we developed the uAspire College Cost Calculator and are providing students direct, free access to a decoding device for better decision-making about college.
Who can use the Calculator?
ANYONE. uAspire’s College Cost Calculator is available for general use, for free. The mobile version is easy to use, like the desktop version, making it accessible for those without reliable internet access.
The calculator is also intended as a free resource for school counselors and financial aid officers to share with their students. High schools and colleges can begin sharing the Calculator with their students immediately.
What are the benefits of using uAspire’s Calculator?
The Calculator empowers students to know and compare the full costs of attending multiple colleges in order to make more informed decisions about where to go to college and how to pay for it while minimizing student debt. The Calculator was developed to:
Help text, images guide students to find and enter info
Data validation reduces entry mistakes
Summary report compares aid, estimated bill, loan projection for each school
Student accounts can be accessed, updated, shared anytime from any device
Financial terms dictionary, tips, next steps, and links to resources
Why do we ask you to create an account?
By creating an account, save and share a one-page summary that compares the aid offer, estimated bill for the upcoming year, and a 4-year loan projection for each school. The report can be downloaded to a PDF and translated to Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese.
You can also save your information, come back to it at a later date, and add more schools to compare as you receive additional financial aid offers.
One of the most memorable events in a student’s life is receiving their college acceptance letter in their portal, or mailbox. In those letters, you receive your well-deserved congratulations, your welcome package, and your financial aid package. This letter now determines where you will be going for the next four years of your life.
One of the biggest deciding factors for college students is the financial aid award letter that comes in that envelope. A financial aid letter determines how much grant money the college/university is willing to offer you, how much you will pay out of pocket, and how much you will possibly have to take out in loans. When applying to more than one school, this information can get lost, misinterpreted, and confusing.
DecidED makes this process a bit easier for students! With this tool, you can create your own account, add schools, and start comparing fit factors and any financial aid packages you’ve received. In addition, you can also get how-to guides from everything on loans to budgeting for indirect college expenses.
All you have to do is head over to DecidED to create and use your DecidED account.
UC and CSU system officials are stating that financial aid appeals are up in both systems, with some campuses seeing as many as twice as many financial aid appeals as they had the year before.
If your financial situation has changed you can file an appeal at any time throughout your college journey. There is a chance your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) might be lowered. If your financial aid office lowers your EFC in response to your financial aid appeal, you may be able to take out additional federal loans or receive additional scholarships.
Financial aid appeal or request is available to qualifying students at all types of institutions offering federal financial aid. Federal law allows your financial aid office to make changes to your financial aid package under certain circumstances. Each school has its own process and requirements.
COVID-19 has impacted our families and communities tremendously. This might be a good time to consider if you qualify to submit a financial aid appeal. There is a free resource that will help you write a financial aid appeal letter – for free.
SwiftStudent is the only FREE, digital resource that provides financial aid appeal letter templates for students. Through SwiftStudent, students can learn about the financial aid appeal process, review eligibility requirements for making an appeal, and customize a financial aid appeal to start the conversation with your college financial aid office.
Being selected for verification regarding your financial aid doesn’t mean you did something wrong.
Sometimes students are selected for something called “verification.” It is very common for students to be selected for verification. If you are selected, you need to submit additional documents or information to the financial aid office at the college that confirms what you wrote on your FAFSA.
Completing this process will ensure you receive all the potential financial aid you are eligible for and that you get your financial aid on time.
Work-study is one of the financial aid options that are available to you if you qualify for it. There are usually on-campus work-study programs or off-campus work-study programs. You must connect with your school to see what options are available for you.
There are several benefits of a work-study job including flexibility with hours, little or no commute since most opportunities are on campus, and easy access to campus resources.
Academic Probation is a term used to describe when a student’s overall, or campus GPA, falls below a 2.0. All students are subject to this rule.
What happens if I am on Academic Probation?
While on academic probation, there are a few things the school will require you to do.
What is the difference between Probation and Disqualification?
Academic Disqualification occurs when a student does not meet their class level GPA. When a student is academically disqualified, they may not be able to enroll in classes and are discontinued from attending the institution.
Can I still get financial aid on academic probation?
Yes, you can still get financial aid if you are on academic probation. Each school has specific rules and procedures to help you stay on track.
How can I make sure I don’t lose aid?
To avoid potentially losing aid, you must have a status of Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) (check with your specific school on how to meet SAP). Failure to meet SAP may result in being ineligible for aid.
Tips on improving academic performance and staying out of probation
Meet with your advisors and professors for advisement
Take advantage of academic resources on campus, like your school’s Learning Center
Being a proactive student
Following a structured schedule for studying and me-time
Financial aid offers from the colleges you have been accepted to oftentimes don’t cover the entire direct cost of college. This means that after financial aid has been applied, there is usually a balance leftover that the student must pay, which is billed by the college. The total amount due for the year is typically split into two or three bills, based on whether the college goes by the semester system, quarter system, or credit hours. The student will receive the fall bill via mail or via the student’s college portal in June or July. Bill due dates will vary by college, but typically must be paid before classes for the new term start.
There are several options for paying the college bill, and it all depends on what works for you and your family. When planning to pay the college bill, students and families should consider these options first:
Family/student savings from savings accounts, and/or college savings plans (such as 529 college savings accounts, if applicable)
Earnings from summer or part-time jobs may help cover part of the college bill or cover indirect expenses like transportation, books, or dorm room supplies.
Outside scholarships can be used at any college or university. Search for scholarships online and pay close attention to deadlines.
Tuition Payment Plans may make the bill more manageable by enabling you to pay the estimated bill over the course of the school year instead of having to pay it all at once and with no interest accrual. You can look at your college’s website for payment plans available and see if there is one that fits your family’s budget.
These are the best options to pay the college bill because they do not need to be repaid in the future. However, studentloans are also another option. If you are considering taking out student loans to cover the college bill, it is advisable to maximize your eligibility for Federal Direct Student Loans or campus-based loans first before looking at private student loans. There are several reasons why federal student loans and campus-based loans may be more beneficial than those you may find on the private market:
Favorable interest rates and terms
Eligibility doesn’t depend on credit history
More flexibility during repayment
May be eligible for loan forgiveness if you work in a certain field
In addition to Federal Direct Loans offered to you, the student, there is also a federal loan option for parent(s) who would like to help their children cover the college bill. The Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS) allows parents to borrow up to the cost of attendance (after existing financial aid has been taken into account) every year of college, with no long-term cumulative limit. In addition, they may postpone monthly payments on the loan until after their child graduates (although interest will continue to accrue on the loan balance regardless). Also important to note, if your parent(s) apply for the PLUS but are denied, you become eligible for an additional $4,000 in Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans for the school year. If you find yourself in this situation you should contact your financial aid office for the next steps in having the extra loan amount credited to your account.
After submitting the CA Dream Act Application, you may be asked to verify the information you provided about your income. Don’t worry, you did not do anything wrong if you are selected; a percentage of all applicants are required to verify income as general practice. If you happen to be selected, follow the steps below!
Know if you have you have to verify your income
Not all CA Dream Act applicants are required to verify their income. You will know if you must verify your income via email or schools’ online portals. If you do not receive any notification about verifying income, then you do not need to take additional steps at the moment.
2. Know if you are Dependent or Independent Student
You are Dependent if you are all of the following:
under 24 years old or born after 1/1/98,
not legally married (single),
have no children or other dependents,
and are pursuing an undergraduate degree.
If you are Dependent then you MUST provide information on BOTH your income and your parents’ income. Even if you do not live with your parents or receive their financial support, you must provide their information. Some exceptions on this may apply depending on school.
You are Independent if you are at least one of the following:
over 24 years old or born before 1/1/98,
have children or other dependents for whom you provide 50% of their support,
a veteran or active duty,
an orphan or ward of the court,
at risk of homelessness,
have a special circumstance,
or pursuing a graduate degree.
If you are Independent, then you will only provide income information about yourself.
3. Know if you and/or your parents are Tax Filers
If you and/or your parents file taxes, be prepared to obtain the 2019 tax return transcript (note: this is different from the tax account transcript). You may request the tax return transcript from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for free online or through the phone. The person requesting the transcript must be the one who signed the taxes; someone else is not allowed.
If you and/or your parents do not file taxes, prepare the following information/documents:
all 2019 household income earned,
financial assistance or benefits (if received),
a copy of W-2 form(s).
Be aware that if you or your parents earned over the IRS income filing limits, you may be required to file taxes in order to receive a financial aid award.
If you and/or your parents do not file taxes because of cash payment and do not have a W-2 form, you must explain the circumstances in the school verification worksheet. You may be required to include proof of non-filing from the IRS.
4. Fill our the Income Verification Worksheet
After you have determined where you stand with dependent/independent status and tax filing status, you will fill out the Income Verification Worksheet. A standard worksheet asks about/for the following:
Household Size: The rules of the CA Dream Application define households as you (the student); the biological or adoptive parents; siblings under the age of 24 in most cases; and/or other dependents for whom the parents are financially responsible (such as an elderly or disabled person). Additional family members or individuals that live within the home, but do not meet these requirements should not be included in the household.
Marital Status: Indicate whether the parent or you are single, married, separated or divorced, or widowed. Parents who are living together, but are not married should choose that option.
Tax Filing Status: Indicate whether you and/or parent or spouse is a tax filer or a non-tax filer.
Financial Aid Received: List the amount of grants or scholarships you received during 2020 and the school(s) attended.
Child Support Paid: List the amount of any child support paid in 2020, including the child’s name, the name of the person who paid child support, and the name of the person to whom it was paid.
SNAP Benefits Received: Indicate whether you and/or your parents received SNAP benefits in 2020 or 2021. Documentation from the agency that issued SNAP benefits may be required upon request.
Certification and Signature: By signing the verification worksheet, you and/or your parent certify that all the information is true. Signing also authorizes the Financial Aid Office to update the student’s California Dream Application per CSAC guidelines and the information provided.
Additional Documentation: An individual college or university has the right to ask for additional documentation regarding household size or income earned if it is necessary to gain an adequate understanding of how household expenses were met for 2020.
Multiple Schools: If you listed more than one school on the CA Dream Application, you will be required to complete income verification at each school individually.
It is natural to feel overwhelmed by this process! Remember that this is standard procedure for a certain percentage of students who apply for the Dream Act. Do not be discouraged. We, and many others, are here to support you through the process!
🎉 Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month 🌟! Join us in recognizing the incredible contributions of Hispanic and Latinx communities to education 📚🎓. Let's #EmbraceDiversity, inspire future leaders, and support higher education opportunities for all! 🌍✨
How do you show up embracing your culture to institutions of higher education?
🎓🌟 Don’t give up this semester, students! 💪📚 Embrace the challenges, conquer your goals, and shine bright! ✨🌈 #NeverGiveUp #StayMotivated #StudentLife #SemesterGoals #SuccessAhead #KeepPushing #YouCanDoIt #RiseAndGrind #BelieveInYourself #DreamBig...
🎉 We are launching a new campaign in LA County to reengage students back to a higher education! LA County residents can now schedule an appointment with a Comeback Navigator if they need support to re-enroll, or enroll for the first time to get that college education! 🎓 Link in bio!
Please tag or share this post with friends who could benefit and reignite their higher education journey! 🎓
🌟 Calling all students of color in California! 🌟 Join the FIERCE Student Fellowship and make a real impact on education policy! 💪✨
📚 Advocate for equitable funding
🗣️ Attend advocacy trainings
💰 Receive $3,000 stipend
🌟 Build your leadership skills
Apply now! Deadline: Sept 22, 2023. 👉 Link in bio! #FIERCEFellowship @edtrustwest
Tag someone you want to share this opportunity with!
#EducationAdvocacy #StudentLeadership 🎓✨...