Cecilia'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:

Source: npr.org

photo of Cecilia"Because I'm the first person in my family to go to college, my parents couldn't help me with the application process. I was lucky to have had college prep classes in high school where I learned about all of my college options. Ultimately, I decided to go to a local CSU because tuition was affordable and I could live at home."


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 Michael"Living at home with my parents was the best decision I made. I saved an outrageous amount of money since living expenses in the Bay Area are so high. I also took public transportation and lived frugally, like a student."

Tips for Living at Home

  • Connect with campus resources to get the academic support you will need to stay focused.
  • Work as little as possible and focus on your studies.
  • Carve out time to study in a place where you will not be distracted by family obligations.

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 Michael"I had a pretty good plan and really wanted to graduate in 4 years but couldn't always get the classes I needed. Still, I'm glad I was able to graduate in 5 years - it gets harder the longer you're in school."


Paying for College

Cecilia's Plan: Pluses and Minuses

Since many types of financial aid are on a first-come, first-served basis, Cecilia applied for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year as early as possible.

Cecilia applied for at least 10 private scholarships every year and was awarded several during her college career.

Living frugally helped Cecilia avoid student loans and graduate with ZERO debt.

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: $41,700. Student Debt: $0 = Good Bet!.

Cecilia qualified for student loans but decided not to take them unless she truly needed them.

Cecilia took advantage of the many career and academic resources available to her at college including internships, resume writing seminars, and academic counseling. She was able to get a job in her field shortly after graduation, and has laid the foundation for a solid financial future with many possibilities.

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.