Michael'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 Michael"Since I have a family to support, I needed a business program that was close to home. Luckily, there are several colleges in my area that have business programs so I had a lot of options to choose from. After talking to a few of my coworkers, I decided on a local CSU - the program was recommended and the price was right."


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"There were many times I felt I should just leave school for good and enter the workforce in order to support my family, but I knew that having a college degree would be crucial for my future and for the security of my family. If I had to do it over, I'd apply for scholarships - there's a lot of free money out there, but it takes time to apply."


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 thought I could do it all, but working full time and family obligations made it hard to focus on my studies. Some years, I had to go to school part-time or take a semester off. Support from my family and regular appointments with my academic advisor helped me push through and get my degree."


Paying for College

Michael's Plan: Pluses and Minuses

Michael applied for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year and got a student loan with a low interest rate and friendly repayment terms.

Michael thought he could pay for most of his education by working full time and taking out federal loans for the rest. However, working full-time is risky and can actually cost you more if it delays the time it takes to complete your degree.

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: $45,000. Student Debt: $18,600 = Good Bet.

Michael was careful about taking out student loans, using them mostly for academic expenses.

Michael invested wisely in his college education. As a result, he's likely to have broader options for employment, access to higher paying jobs and better opportunities for advancing in his career.

Working full time while in school almost put Michael's degree in jeopardy. Meeting with a college financial advisor might have helped him figure out alternatives.

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.