Michelle'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 Michelle"After volunteering at an animal shelter in high school, I knew I wanted to work with animals. I talked to my high school counselor and people I worked with at the shelter and they all mentioned a community college a couple of hours away with a great Veterinary Technology program. It's only taken me 2 years to start a career that I love."


Cost: Sticker vs. Net Price

"Sticker" Price

The "sticker price" of a college is it's advertised cost. The estimated average cost of a California Community College is around $2,800 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 college is the total cost 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 Michelle"I waited until the last minute to find a place and most of the cheap apartments were taken. Rent ended up costing me a lot more than I thought."

Tips for Living Off-Campus

  • Find a responsible roommate you know you can get along with to share expenses.
  • Start your apartment search at least 3 months ahead of your anticipated move-in day.
  • Be prepared for upfront costs: first and last month's rent, furnishings, utilities, etc.

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

  • Meet with an academic advisor to make sure you take the classes you need.
  • 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 Michelle"Community colleges are a lot less expensive than four-year universities, but I found that you have to be pretty disciplined to focus on school and get your degree. Working with a college advisor to get the right classes and find work on campus helped me stay on track."


Paying for College

Michelle's Plan: Pluses and Minuses

Michelle applied for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year and got almost 40% of her education paid for through grants (free money!).

Working part-time (under 20 hours per week) reduced Michelle's student loan amount.

Michelle didn't prepare herself for living off-campus and paid more than she expected in rent, cable, and utilities. In order to cover the extra costs, she had to take out more in loans than she would have liked.

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: $34,400. Student Debt: $2,080 = Good Bet.

If Michelle stays on track, she will graduate with little debt in a high-demand field. She's made good decisions throughout her college career and has laid the foundation for a well-paid future in a profession that she loves. She will now have many more options open to her.

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.