One of the exciting yet scary things about starting college is that you begin your adulting phase! Having an accurate and realistic budget can help you pay off your necessities while ensuring you have wiggle room to treat yourself! While budgeting can sometimes be daunting, it is essential as we are now responsible for managing our own money.
Here we will break down how to set a budget that works for you into five phases:
Phase one: Find out what your monthly income is
Your monthly income can come from a regular paycheck, allowance, and side gigs. If you receive a steady paycheck, make sure you are calculating your after-tax income rather than your gross income (before taxes). If you are self-employed or have side gigs, subtract anything that reduces that income, such as business expenses and take in consideration irregular income.
Phase two: Tracking and categorizing expenses
Once you know your monthly income, it is time to figure out your expenses. You can look at your credit card and bank statements to see how you’re spending your money. While doing this, categorize your expenses to determine which are fixed (e.g., rent) and which vary (e.g., groceries, shopping)
Phase three: Setting realistic goals
Before creating a budgeting plan, you need to list short-term and long-term financial goals. Short-term goals should take one to three years to achieve, while long-term goals may take decades. We understand that a decade sounds like a long time, but Diamonds by Rihanna was released a decade ago…
Now that we got that out of the way, short-term goals can be setting up an emergency fund or saving up for a vacation after the school year, while long-term goals could be saving up for retirement. Your financial plans do not need to be official, but knowing them can help motivate you to stick to your budget!
Phase four: Choosing a budgeting plan
There are many budgeting plans, but the most beginner-friendly program is the 50/30/20 rule. The 50/30/20 rule allows you to divide expenses into three categories by percentages. You spend 50% of your after-tax income on your necessities (e.g., rent, minimum payments), no more than 30% on wants (e.g., takeout), and at least 20% on savings (e.g., emergency fund). Check out the 50/30/20 calculator by Nerdwallet to get started. Remember that wants and needs vary by individual, someone’s daily coffee may be a want while another person may see it as a need.
Phase five: Adjust and review your budget
Congrats! You have set a budget. If you go over your budget, it happens! A budget is meant to be flexible because these scenarios do happen. Adjust your budget to ensure your necessities are taken care of first to get back on track. You may need to change your budget, but it should return to normal.
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.
For many students, college is an investment in their future. Along with the costly price of tuition many students have to juggle the cost of living. Students are expected to supply their own textbooks for their classes, many of which come at a heavy expense. However, not all textbooks must be fresh off the bookshelves. There are various ways students can save money on their textbooks all while being sustainable.
One way to save money on textbooks is to utilize campus resources. One crucial library resource is the online databases available to students. They can be an excellent digital resource to find books and sources for school. Another alternative when utilizing the library is renting books. Both of these are great options to save money while being sustainably smart. Library resources may vary from campus to campus.
A great resource when trying to learn on a budget is networking! It is always great to make friends in all your classes. Students can split the cost of a book for the class among each other. This way students can also take turns sharing the books in between assignments. Students can print specific pages for certain assignments and share online access to their books. Making friends can be beneficial, especially if you have friends who have previously taken the class and no longer have a need for the textbook.
A reliable online resource for textbooks is Amazon. Sometimes books will be found cheaper on Amazon, if that is the case most campus bookstores will price match and students can either choose to buy from Amazon or their campus bookstore. There is also a renting option for some books on Amazon where students can rent the book of their choice for a set period of time.
Yet another way to save money on textbooks is opting for the electronic version of textbooks. The digital versions of textbooks are often the most up-to-date versions, cheaper and sustainable. In addition to the perks of digital textbooks is the convenience of being on the go.
There are various apps that offer students great alternatives to a cheaper and sustainable way to get textbooks for college.
ECampus is a great app for students looking to save money on used, rented, and new textbooks. It also offers students a way to rent their own textbooks after they’re done using them.
Campus Books offers students a way to compare textbooks prices across various platforms.
Chegg is a great resource for finding books as well as getting access to books digitally.
There are various expenses college students have to juggle. Textbooks can be one less financial stress through cultivating these resources. Not only are these great alternatives for pricey textbooks, but it’s also a great sustainable way to help the environment.
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.
Scholarships are free money that you do not have to pay back. Scholarships are awarded based on grades, community service, major, class level, where you live, and more. The money that you are awarded can be used to pay for college tuition and other expenses.
Investing in yourself
Most scholarships have similar prompts, so you have the advantage of reworking the same essay for each application you submit. If a scholarship is worth $1,000 and you spend 10 hours writing an essay and submitting your scholarship application, it results in $100 per hour invested! Use the Scholarship Essay Worksheet to improve your essays and ability to receive multiple awards.
Use Immigrant Rising’s Scholarship Lists and additional scholarship databases to identify scholarships you are eligible to apply. Use the Scholarship Search Chart to list the ones you are eligible for, including deadlines, and create an action plan. Remember the more scholarships you apply for, the greater your chances to be awarded.
The creation of the California Dream Loan was first introduced by then-Senator Lara back in 2014. Then in 2018, Assemblymember Ian Calderon introduced AB1895 and it was signed by the California governor. AB1895 provided repayment programs based on someone’s income for the loan. The latest piece of legislation signed by Governor Newson was SB354 by Senator Maria Elena Durazo which expanded the Dream Loan program to graduate students.
How to apply and know you if are eligible
Students are eligible if they are enrolled at a CSU or a UC where the loan is currently being provided and they are enrolled as an AB540 student. Students may also be eligible if they file the California act application with the financial aid office and show that they are in financial need. Students need to keep in mind that the loan is provided on a main campus basis so they have to make sure to talk to their campus because it is not administered by anyone else.
Important details about California Dream Loans
The interest rate that you agree upon in your contract can not change, it is a fixed interest rate and the interest rates are the same as federal student loans.
Just like federal student loans, you have a six-month grace period before you have to pay it back.
There is an income-based payment program that schools have come up with. This is based on what you are making as someone who has entered their career and are you eligible to repay this program.
To learn more about CA Dream Loans click the video below!
Paying for college can be challenging, but as a Californian student, you have several state-based financial aid programs available to help ease the burden. Remember that you will either need to submit the FAFSA or the California Dream Act application by March 2 in order to be considered for most types of financial aid. See our post, “Financial Aid 101”, to learn more about the process of applying for financial aid. Read on to find out more information about the Cal Grant, Middle Class Scholarship, Chafee Grant, and other financial aid opportunities in California.
Perhaps the most well-known financial aid program in California is the Cal Grant. The Cal Grant is a state-sponsored grant program available to eligible California students who attend participating colleges, universities, and technical schools in California. Some key facts about the Cal Grant program are:
The Cal Grant is gift aid and you do not need to pay it back
You need to meet certain financial, academic, and general requirements in order to be eligible for one of the Cal Grant awards
There are several types of Cal Grant awards, based on factors like when you are applying for financial aid, what type of college or institution you attend, and your income level. The following provides brief descriptions of the types of Cal Grant awards:
Cal Grant A or B High School Entitlement: For eligible current high school seniors and recent high school graduates
Cal Grant A or B Transfer Entitlement: For eligible students who plan to transfer directly from a California Community College to a participating four-year college or university
Competitive Cal Grant A or B: For eligible students who are not applying as a high school senior, within one year of high school graduation, or upon transfer from a California Community College to a four-year college or university
Cal Grant C: For eligible students who are pursuing an occupational or technical program
You do not need to figure out which Cal Grant you may qualify for on your own – you are automatically considered for the correct award based on the information you provide when applying.
The award amounts for the Cal Grant program depend on which award you have received and the type of institution you attend
Your FAFSA or California Dream Act application serves as your application for the Cal Grant program. Once you have submitted the appropriate financial aid application, you will need to create a WebGrants 4 Students account to access the next steps and secure your Cal Grant, if awarded. For more information about Webgrants, see our post, “After the FAFSA/Dream Act: Next Steps”.
Keep in mind that students who are current or former foster youth, and students who have dependents, may be eligible for additional funds or increased Cal Grant eligibility.
Important Links and Resources:
Read detailed information about the different types of Cal Grant awards and their eligibility requirements here
Check out the various Cal Grant award amounts by institution type and award type here
Check out the 2021-2022 Cal Grant Program Income Ceiling chart here
Learn more about the Cal Grant B Foster Youth Award here
Learn more about Cal Grant awards for students with dependents here
Middle Class Scholarship
If you are not eligible for the Cal Grant program but still meet certain financial and general requirements, you may be eligible for something called the Middle Class Scholarship (MCS). Unlike the Cal Grant, the Middle Class Scholarship is only available to eligible students at public, four-year universities in California. Some key facts about the MCS are:
In order to be eligible, your family may have an annual income of up to $184,000 and hold up to $184,000 in assets
The Middle Class Scholarship is gift aid and does not need to be repaid
Award amounts for the MCS are sliding scale and may vary by student and institution. This means that you may receive a MCS at one college you have been accepted to but not another
Students who are eligible can receive an award amount between 10% and 40% of the mandatory system-wide tuition and fees at a University of California or California State University campus
At a CSU, awards can range between $574 – $2,298
At a UC, awards can range between $1,257 – $5,028
Like the Cal Grant, your FAFSA or California Dream Act Application serves as your application for the Middle Class Scholarship. Once you have submitted the appropriate financial aid application, you will need to create a WebGrants 4 Students account to manage your award. You will be notified if you have been awarded a Middle Class Scholarship by August.
Important Links and Resources:
Read the top 10 things to know about the Middle Class Scholarship here
In addition to the Cal Grant or Middle Class Scholarship, current or former foster youth who meet certain criteria may also be eligible for another financial aid program in California called the Chafee Grant. If you have been in foster care for at least one day between the ages of 16 and 18, as a dependent or ward of the court, you qualify for this award. If eligible, you can receive up to $5,000 per year (that does not need to be repaid) for five years as long as you attend a qualifying institution in or outside of California.
You will first need to submit a FAFSA or California Dream Act application to be considered for the Chafee grant. If a first-time applicant, you will also need to complete an additional form called the California Chafee Grant application, which you can access through their Webgrants 4 Students account. If the California Department of Social Services is unable to verify your foster status, you will need to complete an additional form to certify your eligibility.
Important Links and Resources:
Find detailed information about eligibility, the application process, and more for the Chafee Grant here
To learn about your rights as a California foster youth as well as resources available to you, visit the California Office of the Foster Care Ombudsperson here
California College Promise Grant
For California residents who attend a California Community College and meet certain financial and general eligibility requirements, there is another financial aid program available called the California College Promise Grant (CCPG). This grant waives all enrollment fees for eligible students and does not need to be repaid. It is important to keep in mind that the CCPG waives the $46/unit enrollment fee for any number of units you enroll in, but does not cover additional student fees or books and supplies – you will need to cover these costs through the use of other financial aid or out of pocket.
There are several ways to qualify for the California College Promise Grant, for instance by meeting the income requirements, providing proof of receiving certain federal or state benefits or showing a certain level of financial need. The easiest way for you to determine your eligibility is by completing the FAFSA or the California Dream Act Application, and submitting the California College Promise Grant Application for the specific community college you attend. The financial aid office will follow up to confirm eligibility and potentially request additional documents as proof.
Important Links and Resources:
For a complete list of links to the California Community Colleges that offer online CCPG applications via CCCApply, click here
To learn more about the financial aid and opportunities available at the California Community Colleges, check out the website icanaffordcollege.com
After you submit your FAFSA or Dream Act there are some additional steps that you should be aware of. For students who complete the FAFSA, there is something called a Student Aid Report (SAR) which is a summary of all information reported on the FAFSA. This summary is usually available to view a few days after you submit the FAFSA. It provides important information about potential issues with your FAFSA such as a mismatch between what you reported on the FAFSA and what the Social Security Administration has on file for your name and social security number. Any issues such as these need to be addressed as soon as possible- otherwise, it could create a delay in receiving your financial aid.
For students who complete the Dream Act, there is a very similar document called the Cal Student Aid Report (Cal SAR) which is a summary of all information reported on the Dream Act, available a few days after you submit your application. The Cal SAR also provides important information about potential issues with your Dream Act application. You should address any such issues as soon as possible to avoid delays in the financial aid process.
The SAR and Cal SAR also will include your official Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is determined by the information entered into the FAFSA or Dream Act such as family income, household size, and number in college. The EFC is an important index number that is used by colleges to determine what type of and how much financial aid you can receive based upon your need. The higher the EFC, the lower the need, and the lower the EFC, the higher the need. The EFC is not the exact amount you will have to pay for college, but instead, it can be thought of as the minimum amount you and your family will need to pay. Colleges will receive your EFC and use it to determine the student’s eligibility for financial aid.
Important links and resources:
A helpful video about how to retrieve and download a Student Aid Report can be found here.
You Might Be Selected for Verification
Another step that you should be aware of is something called verification. Verification is a process in which the federal government and colleges can request copies of specific documents to confirm the accuracy of the information reported on financial aid forms. Some students are randomly selected for verification while others are selected due to conflicting information that the colleges are seeing on the financial aid forms.
Examples of documents required for verification can include any of the following if applicable:
Official tax transcripts or tax returns
Proof of citizenship/residency
Documentation of legal guardianship
This process must be completed in a timely manner! If you receive a verification request from a college you need to respond as quickly as you can so you do not miss out on potential financial aid that is first-come, first-served. Note that these verification requests may come through email, the school portal, and/or the regular postal mail.
Institutional Documentation Service – CSS Profile Submissions Only
For students required to complete the CSS Profile, there is a follow-up step that is similar to verification which is called Institutional Documentation Service (IDOC). If required, this process will also require you to submit additional documentation.
Important Links and Resources:
Watch a helpful video that shows how to request a tax transcript via IRS.GOV to be mailed home here.
To find out you are required to complete IDOC, check out this website.
Created by the College Board, this is a series of slides and videos that reviews the IDOC process that can be found here.
Create a WebGrants 4 Students Account
California students also need to be aware of the steps to take to secure their Cal Grant, Middle-Class Scholarship (MCS), or Chafee Grant, if awarded. For general information about these financial aid programs, see our post “All About Cal Grants and Other CA Financial Aid”. After you submit your FAFSA or Dream Act, you will need to create a WebGrants 4 Students (WG4S) account. This is the online portal that allows you to track the status of your state financial aid, complete required To-Do items and manage their award, and review your state financial aid history and remaining eligibility.
It is crucial that students complete your required steps by the appropriate deadlines, such as:
Confirm your intended school of attendance or make a school change
Certify your high school graduation date, for current high school seniors
Complete the Transfer Entitlement Certification, for community college transfer students
Complete the Cal Grant C Supplement, if being considered for Cal Grant C
Keep in mind that the timelines for you to complete these steps may vary depending on if you are a first-time applicant or renewing your award, as well as what type of award you are being considered for. You should keep track of their deadlines to ensure that you do not miss out on any state financial aid you may be eligible for. Once you have completed all of the requirements on your WG4S account, your intended college will be able to confirm their eligibility and move forward with issuing payment of their award.
Important Links and Resources:
Watch a help video created by the California Student Aid Commission about how to create your WebGrants 4 Students account here
Check out a detailed description of how to complete certain steps on WG4S here.
You have applied for FAFSA, the CA DREAM ACT, scholarships, so now what comes next? Budgeting! Budgeting your aid is a great way to assure all your needs are met while also giving you the ability to plan around how much money you will receive/ have left. Immigrant Rising has conducted a budgeting worksheet to make it easier for you!
On this worksheet, you lay out your cost of attendance, your scholarship money, your CA grant money, and any other methods of income. By laying out your aid, you are able to see which college is the BEST for you by the aid they give you as well as allowing you to petition for even more aid. To access this worksheet and more resources for undocumented students follow the links below!
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