How I Found Money for College

My name is Andrea Noguez, and I am a first-generation, fourth-year student at UC Davis. I come from a low-income, underrepresented minority community in Southern California. My schools were never highly ranked, and in all honesty, the lack of resources was astonishing. In my community, most students didn’t go to college so I never even thought about applying.

Unfortunately, my reality is the same for many students. In high school, I did a project where I had to research a university and present it to the class. This project made one thing clear — I would never be able to afford to go to college. 

But here I am, a successful UC Davis student about to graduate with a bachelor's degree! So how did I get here?

Join a College Prep Program

Though I had no plans of attending college, I joined a college prep program in high school. This program helped me learn about the financial aid process, which showed me how to apply for financial aid and gave me the support I needed.

If you’re anything like I was in high school, you’re probably thinking about how time consuming it must be to join these types of programs. I’ll be honest: yes, the program was sometimes time consuming and had some extra work here and there. However, I can truly say that I would have never attended college without this help. 

For example, in April of my senior year I still hadn’t submitted my FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. (If you’re a Dreamer, complete the California Dream Act Application, or CADAA, instead.) This is important — the priority deadline is March 2 and the Statement of Intent to Register committing to your chosen college is due at the beginning of May. One of the counselors in the program sat down and took the time to help me fill out my FAFSA, step-by-step.

If you have college prep programs available to you, please join!

Submit Your Financial Aid Application on Time!

There are many financial aid options offered to students like myself at UC Davis, and at many colleges around California and the United States. To receive aid, the first step is to file a FAFSA or, for certain eligible California nonresidents, the California Dream Act Application. All the schools you apply to will use the information in your application to calculate how much aid you are eligible to receive.

Both applications have a priority deadline of March 2. You should plan to have your application filed by that date. Everyone should fill out an application — you never know what kind of aid you might be offered. As you can see from my own story, students can still file after the priority deadline, but your aid will be limited based on remaining funds. Take it from me, make sure you file on time!

The California Dream Act Application may be filled out by eligible students who don’t qualify to file the FAFSA. This is most often used by undocumented students. You must meet the eligibility requirements for a nonresident tuition exemption under AB 540.

Students who file the California Dream Act Application generally aren’t eligible for federal aid, including the Pell Grant. That being said, students whose CADAA is approved can be eligible for the University Grant, Cal Grant, California Dream Act Service Incentive Grant Program and University Student Loan. If you filed the CADAA you might also be eligible for a California DREAM loan.

Understanding Your Aid and EFC

Once you are accepted at a college, your financial aid will be awarded. At Davis, you can expect to receive your UC Davis financial aid letter in early spring, around the time that you are admitted. You will log in to an application called MyAwards to view it. 

There are a couple of things to look at in your financial aid award. Look at the Total Estimated Cost of Attendance, the Total Estimated Contributions and the Estimated Financial Need. The Total Estimated Cost of Attendance gives you an idea of how much it will cost to attend UC Davis for the entire academic year. It includes things like books and supplies, tuition and fees, room and board, personal expenses, health insurance and other miscellaneous expenses.

Next, you will want to look at the Total Estimated Contributions, also known as the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This amount is calculated based on the information on your FAFSA or California Dream Act Application. It’s not necessarily the amount your parent or guardian is expected to pay, but it is used to determine your financial need. The Estimated Financial Need is the difference between the Total Estimated Cost of Attendance and the Total Estimated Contributions, or EFC. This is the amount of need-based aid you are most likely to be awarded. 

Colleges will usually give you a deadline to accept or decline offered aid. When you accept specific awards, there will be requirements that must be completed. In MyAwards, the Requirements tab is where you will find any requirements needed for your awards. You can lose your financial aid eligibility if you don’t complete the necessary steps, so be sure to track requirements and deadlines closely.

Grants and Loans (and Scholarships, Too!)

Students attending the University of California, Davis, can receive various types of aid depending on the EFC. For example, a California resident student such as myself, with a low EFC, is eligible for most grants. Remember, grants are great because they do not need to be repaid (as long as you comply with all the grant requirements).

If you are gifted with a federal Pell Grant or a state Cal Grant, keep in mind that you do have to be registered into 12 academic units or more to receive 100% of the award. Waitlisted units do not count.

The University of California offers the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan for students attending a UC campus. The Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan ensures that eligible California undergraduates with an annual family income of less than $80,000 will have their systemwide tuition (also called “base tuition”) and fees covered by gift aid. You guessed it, I am also a part of this plan. It has helped immensely to alleviate concerns regarding how to cover the cost of tuition and is a great offering from the University of California.

Now let’s move on to loans. Loans can be scary at first. Most of you reading this have probably never taken out a loan, and even worse have only heard about the dangers of debt. Guess what, me too! I had no idea what an interest rate was, much less the difference between a subsidized and unsubsidized loan. The amounts offered were a little daunting, but with more information and careful consideration, I learned.

The most important thing to remember, when and if you are offered these loans, is that you are not obligated to accept any. It is completely your choice whether you do or don’t. These loans might be placed into your financial aid letter as offered aid and as a means to help you pay for college, but they are not mandatory.

The other important thing to remember is that, if you accept any loans, they do need to be repaid, and they have to be repaid with interest, meaning you will pay back more than the amount you borrowed. The interest rate for student loans is usually low compared to other loans, but you will need to set up a repayment plan once you stop attending college.

The most common types of undergraduate loans for students with a low EFC are the Federal Direct Subsidized Loan, the Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan and the University Student Loan. Here’s what “subsidized” and “unsubsidized” means:

Subsidized loans: The U.S. Department of Education covers the interest on the loan during the time that you are attending classes (must be at least half-time).

Unsubsidized loans: Interest for these loans is not covered during the time that you are attending classes, meaning interest will add up while you are enrolled in college.

The good news is that both loans offer a six-month repayment grace period, meaning you don’t have to start paying off the loan until six months after you stop attending classes — either because you graduate, drop out or fall below half-time status

Students may also be offered a University Student Loan. This loan works the same way as a Federal Direct Subsidized loan with the difference that the loan has a slightly higher interest rate. This loan can be offered to students who have filed the FAFSA or the CADAA.

Still have questions? Here is even more information regarding federal loans and other types of loans offered to undergraduate students.

Remember, scholarships can help you pay for college as well! While the UC application is also your application for UC Davis scholarships, we do have resources to help your outside scholarship search. And a final note: Once you are a college student, keep paying attention to scholarships as many of them are only available annually, so don’t forget to apply every year.   


As part of your award, you may be offered a Work-Study award. Work-study is awarded to students who filed the FAFSA or CADAA, and have an EFC of less than or equal to $20,000. It is granted on a first-come, first-served basis. Work-study jobs are like any other job, but you are paid through the work-study program. Students are eligible to have a work-study job up until they earn the complete amount of work-study aid they were gifted or stop attending school.

I work at UC Davis using work-study. I mentioned earlier that loans can be part of your aid award, but it’s completely up to you whether you accept them or not. Well, I chose not to accept loans and instead use the work-study I was offered. Work-study has helped me pay for expenses such as groceries and gas for my car. It’s a great option for students who are looking for other ways outside of loans to pay for and live through their college experience. 

Ask for Help!

Now, I know that was a lot of information. I think back to myself in your shoes, just having received or waiting to receive my financial aid letter. It was scary. It was daunting. But back then, I didn’t have nor completely understand all the information I just laid out, and I still made it! 

My experience at Davis has taught me that although I come from a family that could never afford to send me off to college, there are a lot of opportunities for students like me to receive financial help. Hopefully, in some small way, I have helped you understand the financial aid process better, and calmed some fears about affording college.

There are people willing to guide you, you just have to look for it. Don’t be afraid to seek and ask for guidance. Taking it all on your own, like I felt I had to do as a first-generation student, is not how you have to do it. I wish I had known that.

If you have any questions or concerns about financial aid, please talk to your college counselor or call the financial aid office of the schools where you were accepted. Ask them to explain the financial aid award letter to you. Ask and ask and ask, until you understand and have a plan.

Good luck, no matter what college you choose. And if you end up joining our Aggie family this fall, I hope the best for you in your time at UC Davis!


Andrea Noguez is a fourth-year double major at the University of California, Davis. She has been using work-study throughout her four years at Davis, and she is currently working at the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office.


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