Skip To Main Content

Financial Aid & College Costs/Budgeting

The FAFSA, Dream Act, and CSS Profile will open in October 2023

It is state law as of 2022-23 that all Saratoga families complete the FAFSA or California Dream Act, unless they opt out in writing. More information will be coming via ParentSquare in the Fall.

To have on hand:

* parent/guardian federal tax returns for the -->2020<-- tax year

* parent/guardian W-2 forms

* untaxed income, such as welfare benefits, social security benefits, or child support payments

* parent/guardian Social Security Numbers, if available

* parent/guardian dates of birth

* parent/guardian marital status and date of marriage or date of divorce, separation, or widowing (month/year)

For the FAFSA, you will need an FSA ID!

Get the free MyStudentAid mobile app for your phone!

Which one do you fill out?

FAFSA: US citizen, or Permanent Resident (green card)

CADAA: undocumented, with or without DACA, TPS/Temporary Protected Status, "U" Visa Holders

Some financial aid basics: 

4 types of aid: 


Money provided mostly by colleges, businesses/organizations, or individuals, that does not need to be repaid.  Scholarships can be based on academic, arts, athletic, leadership, race, sex, nationality, LGBTQIA+, religion, what you plan to study in college, or other considerations.  Note: never pay money to fill out a scholarship application!  

Middle Class Scholarship: provides students with family incomes and assets up to $191,000 a scholarship to attend a UC ($5,028) or CSU ($2,298) 

See link at upper left of this page for Saratoga's detailed scholarship page (also listed in Naviance)! 

And know that many scholarships from colleges and organizations are available to students who have excelled at volunteering and community service!  Of course, not that you should do it just for college scholarship money, but it could be a nice reward for all of your efforts to make your community and peoples' lives better...and then continue doing so in college!  See the volunteering page at upper left for opportunities to get involved! 


Money provided mostly by colleges, that does not need to be repaid. 

Cal Grant  Free money that does not have to be repaid (note: it is only valid to be used at California colleges & universities).  

     * Cal Grant "A" is available for students who have at least a 3.0 GPA, and covers tuition and fees for up to 4 years at eligible California colleges; up to $12,570 at UC's, $5,742 at CSU's, and $9,220 at private colleges.  

     * Cal Grant "B" is available for students who have at least a 2.0 GPA, and covers tuition and fees for years 2-4 at eligible California colleges; up to $12,570 at a UC, $9,220 at private colleges, $5,742 at CSU's, or $1,648 at a community college. 

     * Cal Grant "C" is available for students pursuing an occupational or technical program of 4-24 months; there is no minimum GPA requirement; up to $2,462 at any Cal Grant eligible private for-profit or private non-profit institution, up to $1,094 at any California community college (CalGrant C is not available for UC, CSU, or private colleges).

Family income ceilings apply (not all students are awarded a CalGrant, if family income is too high based on FAFSA/CADAA).  GPA Verification Form will be uploaded by SSFHS.  You must fill out a FAFSA or CADAA to be eligible for a CalGrant!

Pell Grant: federal government aid that is based upon family income, up to a maximum of $6,495 per year (for the 2021-22 academic year); about 2/3 of Pell recipients come from families earning total annual income less than $30,000, though some families making up to about $50,000 may qualify for some Pell assistance.  

FSEOG (Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant): federal government aid, up to $4,000 depending on a student's need.  Applying early increases your chances of receiving FSEOG aid!

Chafee Grant for foster youth: If you are or were in foster care for at least one day, between the ages of 16 and 18 as a dependent or ward of the court and have financial need, you may qualify for up to $5,000 a year for career and technical training or college.  You don’t have to pay this money back.  You may also be able to use your grant to help pay for child care, transportation and rent while you’re in school.  You can use your Chafee Grant at any eligible California college or university or career or technical school, as well as schools in other states.  Further, you may also qualify for an additional $6,000 for non-tuition expenses!

Promise Grant: the California Promise Grant waives tuition at any community college in California.  Fill out a FAFSA, or apply here.  There is no deadline, and there is no limit to the number of college credits it applies for.


A job provided to you by your college - such as in Admissions, athletics, the bookstore, the cafeteria/dining services, the Office of Financial Aid (which could be very helpful!), the library, or tutoring other students - where the money you earn goes towards your tuition: generally 10-15 hours per week.


Money provided mostly by colleges, banks, or credit unions, that must be repaid, including interest and any fees.

Subsidized versus unsubsidized loans:

* subsidized loans are based on financial need (the amount of the loan cannot exceed your financial need), and there is no interest charged until about 6 months after you graduate from college

* unsubsidized loans are not based on financial need, and start to charge you interest from when you sign the agreement

Note that some colleges offer loan-free financial aid!  In other words, all of the aid that you receive is in the form of grants and loans, with nothing to repay after graduation!  

Beware of the Parent PLUS loan: it can be used to borrow your entire remaining cost of college after everything else above...but the parent/student are still required to repay all of the PLUS loan back, plus interest.  For example, if you don't receive enough aid through scholarships, grants/CalGrants/Pell Grants/FSEOG, work-study, federal subsidized and federal unsubsidized loans (which you already have to pay back), and still need $100,000 more to pay for 4 years of college, you could borrow that through the PLUS loan...but you'll have to repay that, and that's a lot of money to have to repay...on top of possible federal subsidized and federal unsubsidized loans.  

In short, loans aren't a bad thing unless they're too much: keep them manageable, and also consider what you intend for a job after college, whether it will be well-paying enough to help you pay back your college loans!

Your financial aid offer from a college is generally determined by: 

* family size: the number of members in your household, supported by your parent(s)

* the student's total income and assets

* parent total income and assets

* the number of siblings in your household simultaneously enrolled at least half-time seeking their first undergraduate degree
* note: the FAFSA does not take into account a family's retirement savings or home equity in calculating how much the family can afford to contribute to college expenses


Need-based aid, versus merit-based aid: need-based aid is dependent on the family's financial circumstances.  Merit-based aid can be awarded based on talent in academics, the arts, athletics, community service, leadership, and so forth, regardless of the family's financial need.  

Net price: the net price of a college is what the family will pay, after subtracting grants and scholarships.

Net Price Calculator: colleges offer their own calculators so that families can estimate about how much that college might cost them to attend.  This link allows you to access them from one website!
Cost of attendance: tuition, room, food/"board", transportation to & from campus, fees, books & supplies, & other personal expenses (see below for examples)

EFC/Expected Family Contribution: the amount the family will be expected to pay from parent income & assets; and student income & savings.  Also influenced by family size; age of oldest parent; number of children currently attending college.  Other considerations include health-related expense; loss of property; or death in family.
Demonstrated need: a college's cost of attendance, minus your EFC

"Need-aware" college admissions: many colleges review your college admissions application in conjunction with your financial aid application.  In other words, whether or not you can afford their college will have a bearing on their decision whether or not to admit you.

"Need-blind" college admissions: many colleges review your college admissions application separately from your financial aid application.  In other words, whether or not you can afford their college will have no bearing on their decision to admit you.

"No-loan" financial aid: many colleges award 100% of their financial aid in the form of free money, like grants, scholarships, and work-study.  You will never have to pay back a penny of their aid!  This is a great thing!

Some costs during your college years include:

* tuition: what you pay for each class you take

* room/housing (on-campus, vs. off-campus; dormitory/residence hall, apartment, condo, townhome, house)

* "board" (food), which is basic food, plus also optional occasional eating out/takeout/delivery, which is more expensive

* books

* electronics: laptop, cellphone, monthly phone/internet bill

* supplies: paper, pens & pencils; room decor, if living in dorms, residence halls, or off-campus apartments etc

* personal expenses (clothes, concerts, museums, or other arts/athletic performances, membership fees for college clubs)

* on-campus parking lots/garages/meters

* gas for car, car maintenance (oil changes, tires, battery, major servicing for engine/transmission/brakes etc), possible tolls

* transportation/travel costs:

- 4-year college away from home: plane/bus/train/car: arrival in August/September; holiday/December break; winter/February break; spring/March/April break; departure in May/June

- Santa Clara, San José State, Stanford are directly accessible by CalTrain; SF State, UC Berkeley & Cal State East Bay by BART (and St. Mary's by BART + a bus)

- 2-year community college close to home: bus/train (BART/CalTrain)/car for your drive to and from campus, up to 5 days per week

* healthcare (health, dental, vision insurance)

Also, be sure to check the college's 4-year and 6-year graduation rates, to help you plan.  For example,

        * a less-expensive college that takes you 6 years to graduate, versus... 

        * ...a more expensive college that takes you 4 years to graduate

Each semester/year longer that it takes you to graduate from college, is a year of future job earnings you have forever given up.  For example, if you make $50,000 in your first year of work, you just lost that $50,000 by taking 1 more year to finish college.  

Note: to graduate on time - within 4 years - take at least 15 credits per semester!  Your financial aid might not be valid for more than 4 years.  

To determine how much to borrow/pay for college, consider your expected starting salary/pay after graduation; a common rule of thumb is not to borrow more than you expect your starting salary to be (ie - if you borrow $50,000 to pay for college, you should expect to be making at least $50,000 in the first year of your first job after college)

The big three financial aid forms are:

1) FAFSA (Free Application For Federal Student Aid)  Qualifies students who are US citizens or permanent residents/green card holders for aid from the federal government.  Seniors can start filling out the FAFSA in October: opens October 1, due March 2nd (but do it as early as possible!).  Only fill out the FAFSA or Dream Act: not both!

     * you must list each UC and CSU separately!

     * report both of your parents if they are married, or living together but unmarried

     * if parents unmarried, living apart: report who you live with more (if 50/50, who supports you more $$?)

     * step parents must be reported, if your parent has remarried

     * use the IRS DRT/Data Retrieval Tool (unless parents are married, filing separately, or if no SSN)

     * parents' FSA ID remains the same for multiple children

     * email address: students, use your personal email, not SSF, because you will lose your SSF one after grad!

2) California Dream Act (CADAA)  Permits undocumented / Dreamer / DACA / AB540 / TPS students to receive financial assistance for college!  Seniors can start filling out the Dream Act in October: opens October 1, due March 2nd (but do it as early as possible!).  CADAA never shares student data, beyond using it for the express purpose of eligibility determination for California aid.  

Only fill out the FAFSA or Dream Act, not both!

3) CSS Profile  (College Scholarship Service)  The financial aid application to fill out for aid from over 400 private & out-of-state schools, and some scholarships.  Available October 1.  Fill out in addition to FAFSA.  Costs $25, and includes one college for free; $16 for each additional college...but makes thousands of dollars of aid available to you!

Non-custodial Parent form: students and parents will need to fill out this form if one or both of their biological parents are deceased, divorced, or separated.  If the student has no contact with that parent, they can ask for a waiver of the Non-custodial Parent form.

WUE/Western Undergraduate Exchange

About 160 colleges in 17 Western states/territories will charge you no more than 150% of their in-state tuition, instead of out-of-state!  (for example, if their tuition for in-state residents is $10,000, you pay no more than $15,000). 

WUE colleges include:

* Southern Oregon, Western Oregon, Portland State

* Washington State (main), Western Washington, Evergreen State, Central Washington, Eastern Washington, Washington State (Vancouver, WA)

* UNLV and UN-Reno

* Colorado State, Colorado Mesa, Fort Lewis, Northern Colorado, University of Colorado-Colorado Springs

* University of Arizona, Northern Arizona

* Hawai'i-Hilo and Hawai'i-Manoa

* Boise State, Idaho State, and University of Idaho

* Montana State and University of Montana

* Southern Utah, University of Utah, and Utah State

* University of Wyoming

Note that you must apply for WUE status with your college, as it is not automatically granted by all colleges.

Other Financial Aid Information is an excellent financial aid overview is where you will go for your personal CalGrant information, available about 1 week after you submit your FAFSA

California Student Aid Commission  general California student aid information

NACAC application fee waiver for many private/out-of-state schools 

Money magazine's best-value colleges

The College Solution: excellent advice about paying for college!