Focused on Scholarships

By Michelle Sandoval
Program Director
Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera

We all know that the costs of college can be shocking, but don’t let financial hardship prevent you from going to your dream college. There are lots of scholarships available to help supplement the costs. While I know you may feel tired from filling out applications and writing essays, now is not the time to slow down. The perfect mix would be to apply for a combination of smaller $250-$500 scholarships, as well as larger ones that are $1,000 and more. The more you apply for, the better chance you’ll have at securing funds for your college tuition. I recommend applying for at minimum FIFTEEN scholarships. However, applying to 20 to 25 scholarships would really show your commitment to getting to college and not having to worry too much about financial assistance. Remember, every dollar adds up.

Here are some basic tips to keep in mind:

1. Create a professional email address

Don’t forget to create and use a professional email account. For example,,, or are all variations of my name that look professional. You can add middle initial or middle name if your preferred name is taken.

2. Apply for national, statewide and local scholarships
A great place to start is College Greenlight, which matches your personal profile with a list of national and regional scholarships. For local scholarships, check with your campus’ College & Career Center, local media websites, and community pages. Most local scholarships tend to come from individual/family donors as well as local organizations, such as the Rotary Club, Women’s Club, Elks Lodge, and Alumni Associations.

3. Apply to as many scholarships as possible
The top two things that increase your chances of securing several scholarships are: (1) Applying to scholarships that require more work AND (2) applying to scholarships with smaller award amounts. Why? These two types of scholarships often cause THOUSANDS of dollars to go unclaimed every year. For example, students overlook smaller scholarships because the ones with larger amounts are obviously more appealing. However, smaller scholarships tend to have fewer applicants. Remember, those “small” scholarships can be used to pay off important items such as health insurance, books and even bus passes for daily commutes. Also, those applications that require a portfolio, long essay, or additional media examples tend to be seen as more “work” by so many students that the several who do submit a completed application have a much higher chance of winning!

4. Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle Your College Application Content
Many high school students don’t realize that they can recycle parts of their different college application essays to use in their scholarship applications. Reduce your workload…you do not have to start from scratch. Reuse by taking a second glance at your Personal Insight Questions (used for University of California applications) or your Personal Statement (used for the Common Application) and select the parts that best reflect your personality. Recycle by mixing and matching content from different college applications if you have to, just make sure to tie them together well and make sure you’re answering the scholarship question at hand.

5. Back to basics
Proofread for grammar, don’t use quotes/cliché statements, double-check to make sure you have met all of the requirements, stay under the word limit, and do not wait until the last day to submit! (Technology is amazing, but a large amount of visitors on the day of the deadline might cause a website to crash).



The Long Road Traveled – How I Got to My Dream College

Recently I was invited by University of Southern California (USC) to keynote their Annenberg High School Day, where they invite youth from different schools in the Los Angeles region to listen to inspirational leaders. It got me thinking about my path to college and how I ended up at the school of my dreams.

When I was in my junior year of high school, I was walking with my friend talking about college and what we wanted to major in, and she mentioned the word “journalism.” I thought, “What’s that?” I had never heard of the term before and she said, “You know, the news?” I loved hearing stories, storytelling and being in the mix of everything, so I was excited to learn that there’s a job that I knew I would love doing.

As I researched colleges, USC ranked as one of the top journalism schools in the nation, and I wanted to go to the best. The only problem was I knew my parents couldn’t afford to send me to USC, so I didn’t apply, and instead put in my college application for a University in California (UC).

When I arrived at the UC I felt overwhelmed, out of place, and knew in my heart that the school wasn’t for me. Needless to say, my freshman year was very difficult. Each weekend I would drive more than four hours to go home and then back to campus, and I fell into academic probation. By my sophomore year, I decided I needed to be fair to myself and give the school a fair shot to see if the university was really for me. I got very involved on campus, studied hard, and managed to pull myself out of academic probation. But I still felt that the campus just wasn’t for me. I really wanted to go to USC.

By the second quarter of my sophomore year, I left the UC on good standing and headed back home. By the following summer, I enrolled at Fullerton College and for the next year I would take general education classes and retake classes I didn’t do so well in at the UC, all in hope to get enough credits to transfer to USC. I was determined. In fact, I was so eager to attend USC, I applied with my low grade point average from the classes I didn’t do so great in while at the UC. Of course, my application got denied, but it was more fire under my bite to get in. I developed a rapport with the USC admissions counselor who helped outline the classes I needed to take to transfer in.

After completing the classes I needed, I applied a second time and got denied again. This time I was shook. After turning my grades around, making up classes and really doing well, I couldn’t believe I got denied. I spoke to my admissions counselor and she advised that I needed just one more “A” to push my grade point average a little higher. Still determined, I did what she recommended, studied hard and earned that “A.”

Finally, confident that this third time I would get in, I submitted my application. I was shocked when I received yet another denial letter. This couldn’t be right. I knew I earned the “A” I needed to get in, so I called the professor to contest my grade. Fortunately, I had kept a paper trail of every single quiz, paper and document with a score or some sort of grade on it to use as proof (I highly recommend all students to keep records like this). As the professor looked into the situation, I resolved to enroll at Cal State University of Long Beach (CSULB). As I was leaving my house to head to CSULB to register for classes, the mail carrier handed me our stack of mail and in it was a letter from Fullerton College. It turned out that the system at Fullerton had a glitch that made errors in many students’ grades, including mine. In my hand was a letter proving that I had indeed earned the “A” I needed to get into USC.

Not long after I was finally registering for classes at USC. I could only register as a part-time student during my first semester, because that’s what my parents could afford to put on a credit card (which by the way, I highly advise to NEVER put college tuition on a credit card). By the following semester, I secured student loans and worked two jobs to pay my way through college.

While I took the long way to get to my dream school, I was determined and I did it. In hindsight, I realize I approached my college-going experience the wrong way. I should have toured the UC before accepting so that I could get a feel for the campus. It’s so important to make sure that the campus life and energy feels right to you before you commit. Confidence in your choice makes a huge difference in how you’ll succeed at the school. I also shouldn’t have excluded applying to USC just because of financial reasons. There are so many scholarships and different types of financial assistance to help students afford college, especially now, so don’t limit yourselves. Go big, follow your gut and if it doesn’t work out the first time, don’t give up. It’s okay to take a step back, enroll in your local community college, while you figure out a new pathway to your dream college. The key is to not stop moving until you get there.

Jacki Cisneros

Catching Up with Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera Alum, Armando Godoy

We caught up with Armando Godoy, who graduated from El Rancho High School in 2017 and is a Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera (G1DPR) alum. The last time we featured Armando he was spearheading a series of monthly solar workshops at the STEAM Academy at Burke Middle School and was recognized for his leadership by ABC7’s “Cool Kids.”

Now in his sophomore year at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), Armando shares his college successes, which he credits to the workshops and support of G1DPR. Here’s what he had to say…


Tell us about your freshman year at UCSD. Any tips on how to transition from high school to college life?


The summer before freshman year, I attended UCSD’s Summer Engineering Institute. It’s similar to a summer bridge program and designed to help engineering students get use to college courses and life on campus. During the session, I had an opportunity to network with other students, attend workshops on how to access and take advantage of resources on campus, and learn how to manage my time between studying and activities. Once school started, I didn’t feel like a freshman at all. I already had a feel for the classes and campus and met some of my best friends I have today. The program really helped to set up my foundation for college, so I’d recommend that students transitioning to high school definitely go to any type of summer bridge or transition program.


What other activities have you participated in to stay engaged on campus?


During the Summer Engineering Institute, I was able to get to know the faculty and have them guide me as a mentor. One faculty member does research at UCSD’s structural engineering lab and asked if I wanted to be on a research team with Stanford, Berkeley and UCSD called the “Cripple Wall Research Project.” I knew it was a great opportunity, so I joined during the winter and spring semesters during my freshman year. It gave me an opportunity to work with PhD students that helped guide me in labs, get to know the teacher assistants from my classes better, and gain hands-on experience building walls and reinforcements. It was a cool opportunity that built on my experiences and confidence in engineering.


I also applied to be a peer mentor for the Summer Engineering Institute the summer before my sophomore year. I served as a mentor and RA (resident assistant) to 120 incoming freshman, guided workshops, provided tips and resources and more. I just felt like the program gave me so much when I attended, that I wanted to give back to the incoming students.


Sounds like you’ve really immersed yourself on campus! Looking ahead, what’s next for you?


Last quarter there was a career fair for construction management. I heard about this career fair at the very last-minute, so I rushed to get my resume printed, got dressed and headed over to the fair to see if I could find an internship for the summer. The first company I talked to was rough. But then I spoke to a company representative for another company and he really liked me. They passed my resume to the engineering team, and I got an email the next day requesting an interview. I drove up to Los Angeles for the interview and they offered me an internship as a project engineer right on the spot. I really didn’t think I would get the job. There are so many smart kids–many from private schools–that don’t have internships, but I think what set me apart was the interviewing skills that I learned through the workshops offered by G1DPR.


Thinking back to G1DPR, can you talk about how the program has helped you in college?


The Summer Boot Camp I participated in the before my high school senior year through G1DPR is where I really learned all of my professional skills that have helped me throughout college. For example, learning how to write professional emails, the mock interviews and the resume workshop–the resume workshop is what allowed me to be prepared for the college fair. I’ve kept my resume updated since G1DPR and that’s why I was able to print and go to the career fair on campus at the last minute. The mock interviews were very helpful too! At job fairs I can thrive. All of that practice made me comfortable having conversations and not nervous at all. Because of that, I can be myself and the recruiters can get to know my true character. I’m really thankful for all of those G1DPR workshops because it helped me land my summer internship and learn skills I just keep building on.


Any closing thoughts on G1DPR and the success you’re experiencing at UCSD so far?


I like to think that I used all of my resources from high school to the best of my ability through college. Current students at El Rancho High should take advantage of what G1DPR has to offer because they really do make you stand out and be competitive once you’re on your college campus. I hope that motivates ERHS students to be involved with the program and take what they learn to their college campuses.

Your Future Is Bright, But All You See Is Darkness

Andrew Sepulveda shares his journey from El Rancho High School to MIT, while battling depression.


You made it! You pushed through your rigorous high school classes, completed all of your college and scholarship applications, and now, as class valedictorian, you’re making your way up to the graduation stage to deliver a speech to the class of 2018.

It’s a speech students and faculty will remember for years. It’s honest and it’s emotional. The crowd cheers you on in support and in that moment, everything is all right. In the Fall, you’ll attend MIT—rumor has it that in the history of El Rancho High School, you’re the third student to be accepted. Your future is looking bright, but all you can feel is darkness.


This was the sentiment of Andrew Sepulveda, a Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera and El Rancho High School alum, as he graduated from high school last June. And while the buzz of the summer embodied his classmates, who probably spent summer hours working a part-time job, hanging out with friends, and soaking in the last few weeks of Pico Rivera before they started college, Andrew spent his days in therapy trying to resolve the burden of his deep depression.


“It all started in late April,” recalls Andrew. “My boyfriend was gone, my sister was away, and I was working through issues with my family. The reality of not getting accepted into top schools such as Harvard and Yale began to sink in, and rejection letters for scholarships heightened my worry about my $72,000 cost of tuition. I felt very lonely, sad and disconnected. Everything added up at once and it was too much for me to handle.”


After graduation, Andrew hit an all time low with his depression. He quit his job to focus on going to therapy, but even with daily 2-hour sessions, his loneliness and depression still haunted him. After two suicide attempts, Andrew’s therapy sessions were bumped to 8-hour daily sessions and an increase in antidepressants.


“I would wake up, go to therapy, come home and sleep. My mom was concerned about my safety. I felt like I had no purpose. At one point, my family and I decided that I was too depressed to move 3,000 miles across the country. I was going to give up my spot at MIT.”


Andrew did experience ounces of hope during his depression. Simple things such as getting Boba drinks with friends and hanging out helped ease his mind. “When I was alone, it made me overthink. Being with friends or company was the best distraction.”


Through faith, therapy and talking more with his family, Andrew decided that he had to push through and make his way to MIT. In late August, he flew across the country and stepped onto MIT’s campus. The thoughts of what to expect of his roommates, classes and the overall environment made him anxious, but within the first week, Andrew felt alive and well.


“Through all of this I learned that I am resilient. I realize now that not getting accepted into Harvard and Yale was a good thing. Then I would have agonized over selecting which college to go to and I may not have chosen MIT. Now that I’m at MIT, it all makes sense. I was meant to be here. The courses are incredibly hard but there’s a shared sentiment that no one is going to succeed here by doing it alone. Even strangers walking by who see what you’re working on will stop by and offer help. It truly is the best place for me…my mind is constantly being challenged with academics and I never feel alone.”


For fellow DONS and students suffering from depression, Andrew recommends being honest. “Tell people about it. Let them know you’re feeling alone and need someone to sit with you or listen.” For parents, Andrew recommends that parents lend an open ear to listen but not give advice. “Sometimes we just want our parents to ask us how we’re doing so we can open up to them, but not have to hear their judgments or advice. We just need to know that they are listening.”

Andrew is not alone in his depression. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 3 million adolescents ages 12 to 17 have had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. Teen depression appears to be on the rise equally among urban, rural, and suburban populations. First-and-second generation Hispanics are significantly more likely to exhibit symptoms of depression than immigrants, according to research conducted by faculty members at New York University. Additionally, the prevalence of depression in Latino women is higher (46%) than Latino men (19.6%), according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.


Self-harm is often associated with depression. Never ignore comments or concerns about suicide. Always take action to get help for a friend or loved one. If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, there are many resources available to help teens and young adults, including:


  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or use its webchat on
  • The It Gets Better campaign and The Trevor Project, which provides a national, 24-hr, toll-free confidential suicide hotline for LGBTQ youth at 866-488-7386. The Trevor Project also provides an online chatand confidential text messaging—text “Trevor” to 202-304-1200.


“When you’re in a depressed state, you think you’ll never be happy again,” says Andrew. “Just know that you have a purpose. Get help and work through it because there’s something great waiting for you.”

“BECOMING” with Mrs. Michelle Obama

On Thursday, November 15th, after a long day of touring the college campus of UC Irvine, and a bus ride during rush-hour traffic, many of the Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera students made their way through the doors of the Forum in Los Angeles, to hear Former First Lady Mrs. Obama talk about her new biography, “BECOMING.”

The opportunity was made possible through a partnership with the Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros and Better Make Room, a movement launched by Mrs. Obama to support and inspire students to aim for higher education.


As part of her book tour, Mrs. Obama made it a point that her BECOMING events be accessible to as many people as possible, and not just those with means or who happened to be by a computer when the tickets went on sale. In partnership with Live Nation, Mrs. Obama gave away thousands of complimentary tickets to people around the country, particularly to young people growing up in communities like she did.  Mrs. Obama wanted everyone, especially young people, to see them in her story—to see the value in the fullness of their stories and to imagine who they might become in the years ahead.


As Mrs. Obama spoke in earnest of her youth and life leading up to the White House, many students nodded their heads in agreement as she shared her experiences, laughed at her jokes and candid responses, and were mesmerized by her words.  It was truly a moment those in attendance will never forget and will also be inspired by.




Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera – A Year in Review

With each year that goes by, we gain more momentum in fulfilling Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera’s mission of reaching one college degree in every Pico Rivera household. This year seemed to have gone by fast and we have much to reflect on and celebrate.


We began 2018 with another one of our students being recognized by ABC7’s “Cool Kids.” Julio Ornelas, who collected toys for children with cancer, was featured on the Los Angeles news station’s segment that highlights students who are making a difference in their community.

We held our first G1DPR club meeting for the class of 2019—this is the time and place where students discuss how they are going to dominate the college admissions process in the coming year. We also hosted workshops for the graduating class of 2018, which focused on topics to keep our students well prepared to ace exams in college, financial management and more.

Generation 1st Degree – Pico Rivera

In February, Julio Ornelas received news that he was awarded a Coca-Cola Scholarship, becoming the first student from Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera to be named a Coca-Cola Scholar!

In honor of Dr. Seuss’ birthday in March, I participated in Read Across America as a VIP reader. I’ve always believed that reading is the foundation to student success in school, so it was an honor to participate in this national event.

As Spring break rolled around, students made their way north for our annual Northern California college campus tours. The first stop was Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, followed by Notre Dame de Namur University, Stanford University, The West Coast Ivy, San Francisco State University, San Jose State University and UC Santa Cruz. The group also had an opportunity to make a quick stop to Fisherman’s Wharf!

In May, we participated in Better Make Room’s College Signing Day—a nationwide event that was launched by Former First Lady Michelle Obama that asks the many first-generation high school graduating students to take a pledge to higher education.


The Class of 2018 walked the graduation stage in June, and by July we celebrated our graduates at our Summer Send Off Luncheon. Students were matched with college alumni for a round of Q&As.  Parents were also invited so they could ask questions about college life and feel more at ease about sending their child away to college. And I had a lot of fun raffling off fun prizes from computer printers to microwaves and toilet paper and other fun college survival necessities!

Summers don’t slow down for this group. In July, Michelle Sandoval, our program director, lead several workshops for class of 2019 members. During the month of July, students participated in workshops focused on personal statement, college application, resumes, practice interviews and more.

Once school was in full session by September, club meetings were back on track. September’s meeting had a huge turnout—a testament that the work we do with the students at El Rancho High School is sought after and appreciated.


To close out the year, were two very special events. In October, Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera and its volunteers came together to donate 10 books to every kindergarten student in Pico Rivera—typically over 800 books in all! It’s a fun event that gets our future college grads excited about reading and starting or adding to their own personal library at home.

And just last month, through the Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros Foundation’s partnership with Michelle Obama’s Better Make Room, we were able to offer an opportunity for our G1DPR students to attend Mrs. Obama’s “Becoming” Book Tour at the Forum in Los Angeles.

As we close out 2018, I want to express gratitude to the students, their parents, staff and faculty at El Rancho High School, our program director, Michelle Sandoval; and our partners for helping us continue to provide experiences that influence and encourage our Pico Rivera youth to aim for higher education.


Wishing everyone a Happy 2019!



Jacki Cisneros



G1DPR Alumni, Karen Lopez, Cheers on Class of 2018 with Mrs. Michelle Obama

In 2016, Karen Lopez, who was an El Rancho High School and Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera student, had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. to attend the then First Lady Mrs. Michelle Obama’s Reach for the Top: Beating The Odds summit at the White House with G1DPR founders, Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros. The summit was one of the former First Lady’s programs that helped underrepresented students gain “the tools and strategies to help them successfully transition to college and complete the next level of their education.”

Karen graduated from El Rancho High in 2016, celebrated College Signing Day, and made her way to George Washington University, in D.C. She was awarded a Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute scholarship, and through the Cisneros Foundation and G1DPR’s partnership with Mrs. Obama’s Reach Higher initiative, she was offered an opportunity to apply for an internship with the Better Make Room campaign.

Since September 2017, Karen and her fellow interns have been part of the Better Make Room task force. The task force mentors high school students across the nation pursuing their pathway to college and supports them with college applications, questions about FAFSA and more.

On May 2, 2018, Karen embarked upon a second opportunity to be under the same roof with Mrs. Obama. She and her Better Make Room task force were invited to hear Mrs. Obama address thousands of Class of 2018 students attending the College Signing Day celebration in Philadelphia, and cheer them on as they made their promise to higher education.

Even more thrilling was the opportunity to meet Mrs. Obama during the event, and be in the same room with celebrities including Bradley Cooper, Rebel Wilson, Zendaya, Robert De Niro, Camila Cabello, Questlove, Anthony Mackie and Janelle Monae.

“Meeting Mrs. Obama was an experience I never imagined could happen,” said Lopez. “Her words are always inspiring, and they reminded me to continue to set the bar high for myself and to encourage my peers to do the same. I’m grateful for my experience with Generation 1st Degree, the support of the Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute and the opportunity to intern with Better Make Room. All of these experiences have encouraged me to strive harder. If it weren’t for this support system, I know I wouldn’t have challenged myself to go to college out of state, which has provided me with the most valuable experiences. As a first-generation student, I’m speechless when I think about how far I’ve come from Pico Rivera.”

We asked Karen, Who initiated the hug when she met Mrs. Obama?: “When it was my turn to meet her, she opened up her arms, so I went in for a hug. She’s a really good hugger and gives a very heartwarming hug.”


Former first lady Michelle Obama hugs Karen Lopez while participating in College Signing Day, an event honoring Philadelphia students for their pursuit of a college education or career in the military, Wednesday, May 2, 2018, at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA.
(Photo: Chuck Kennedy)

Generation 1st Degree Participates in Mrs. Michelle Obama’s College Signing Day

Earlier this month, Gilbert and I were honored to take part in the 5th Annual College Signing Day, hosted by Former First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her Reach Higher initiative at the Temple’s Liacouras Center, in Philadelphia.

As we walked into the center, we could feel the energy of the 5,000 students, mainly from all over Philadelphia, proud and excited to take the pledge to pursue higher education. We were lucky to bring 18 Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI) scholars to experience the celebration, including Generation 1st Degree and El Rancho High School alumni, Karen Lopez, who is currently enrolled at George Washington University and a Better Make Room intern.

Karen joined several Better Make Room interns and CHLI scholars to meet Mrs. Obama during the event, and rub elbows with celebrities including Bradley Cooper, Rebel Wilson, Zendaya, Robert De Niro, Camila Cabello, Questlove, Anthony Mackie and Janelle Monae. I’m grateful that through the partnerships we’ve developed through the Cisneros Foundation and Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera, we can provide inspiring and life-changing experiences to our students, such as College Signing Day and meeting Mrs. Obama.

Nationwide, 600,000 students were registered to participate, with events happening in 2,000 locations, including right here in Pico Rivera, where El Rancho High also celebrated College Signing Day. Nearly 140 of our Generation 1st Degree students are continuing on to college. Gilbert and I have dedicated the last several years to creating programs and opportunities for our students to reach higher, and it’s very rewarding to see our students like Karen thriving at their colleges, and our current senior high school class committing to higher education. You all did it! I am so proud of all of your accomplishments and the road ahead. Congratulations Class of 2018!

Jacki Cisneros


Former first lady Michelle Obama posing with Cisneros Scholars while participating in College Signing Day, an event honoring Philadelphia students for their pursuit of a college education or career in the military, Wednesday, May 2, 2018, at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA.
(Photo: Chuck Kennedy)


Former first lady Michelle Obama hugs Karen Lopez while participating in College Signing Day, an event honoring Philadelphia students for their pursuit of a college education or career in the military, Wednesday, May 2, 2018, at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA.
(Photo: Chuck Kennedy)


Former first lady Michelle Obama with Gil Cisneros as they participate in College Signing Day, an event honoring Philadelphia students for their pursuit of a college education or career in the military, Wednesday, May 2, 2018, at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA.
(Photo: Chuck Kennedy)


Generation 1st Degree Students Accepted To Nearly 85 Colleges & Universities, Nationwide!

Congratulations to El Rancho High School’s graduation class of 2018! Approximately 140 G1DPR students have committed to pursuing higher education after graduation. We’re proud that our students were accepted to nearly 85 colleges and universities all over the country. GO, DONS!

These are the colleges and universities where you will find Class of 2018 Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera alum this Fall:

Cal State Universities:
California State Polytechnic University,
California State Polytechnic University,
San Luis Obispo
California State University, Bakersfield
California State University, Channel Islands
California State University, Chico
California State University, Dominguez Hills
California State University, East Bay
California State University, Fresno
California State University, Fullerton
California State University, Long Beach
California State University, Los Angeles
California State University, Monterey Bay
California State University, Northridge
California State University, Sacramento
California State University, San Bernardino
California State University, San Marcos
California State University, Stanislaus
Humboldt State University
San Diego State University
San Francisco State University
San Jose State University
Sonoma State University

University of California:
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Davis
University of California, Irvine
University of California, Los Angeles
University of California, Merced
University of California, Riverside
University of California, San Diego
University of California, Santa Barbara
University of California, Santa Cruz

Independent Colleges
Arizona State University
Azusa Pacific University
Biola University
Boston University
California Lutheran University
Chapman University
Concordia University Irvine
Daemen College
Dean College
Dixie State University
George Washington University
Grand Canyon University
Hawaii Pacific University
Johnson & Wales University
Loyola Marymount University
Malone University
Mary Baldwin University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Montana State University
Mount Saint Mary’s University
New Mexico Highlands University
New York University
Northern Arizona University
Notre Dame de Namur University
Pacific University Oregon
Pepperdine University
Portland State University
Regis University
Roanoke College
Santa Clara University
Sarah Lawrence College
Seton Hall University
Sierra Nevada College
St. Louis University
Syracuse University
University of Arizona
University of Hawaii
University of Illinois
University of La Verne
University of Maine – Fort Kent
University of Nebraska – Lincoln
University of Oregon
University of Redlands
University of San Diego
University of Southern California
University of the Pacific
Vanguard University
Washington College
Washington State University
Wells College
West Washington University
Whittier College
Woodbury University
York College


Decoding Scholarship Award Letters

By Michelle Sandoval

Over the next few months, students who applied for scholarships will begin to receive letters outlining if they’ve been awarded and how much they will receive—a very exciting time for recipients and their families. As you begin to read through the letters, you may find that they are sprinkled with terms that are new to you. Since it’s common for many students to have questions about their letters, I put together a quick overview of the four important terms you should know and what they mean:

1. Total Cost of Attendance
This is the yearly amount that a school estimates it costs to attend their institution. Direct costs reflect those necessary charges for school enrollment, such as tuition and fees, and room and board. This amount can be found on most school’s main financial aid websites.

Good to know: Sometimes, the amount that a school provides as their Cost of Attendance (COA) includes more than just the “direct” costs and can include “indirect” costs such as books, supplies, health insurance, transportation, and other personal expenses. These costs vary from student to student depending on their personal circumstances (i.e. if you are living on or off campus and if you have a dining meal plan, etc.). The most accurate COA is that which only includes direct costs; however, students must still account for possible changes in that amount.

2. Free Money
Keywords such as: “scholarship,” “award,” or “grant” are considered “free money.” These are awarded to students who have applied for the award and does not require the student to pay back the amount. The total amount of a student’s free money can be subtracted from the total COA, and can include federal, state, and institutional awards.

Good to know: In order to receive most of the promised “free money,” students must complete the FAFSA and any other paperwork that the school asks for, including maintaining certain GPAs for those scholarships based on merit.

3. Loans
Loans are set amounts of money that a student or parent borrows from a financial institution with the agreement that it will be paid back, often with interest. Based on your FAFSA, a school can determine your eligibility in receiving “borrowed” money to help pay off your school costs. These come in all types and are seen in the form of loans, which can be subsidized, unsubsidized, federal, or parent PLUS.

Good to know: This money is not free and must be paid back, and usually with added interest. It is up to the student to compare the different interest rates between the types of loans being offered in their award letter. A student does NOT have to accept any loans offered and can shop around for the best loan for their situation. Sometimes a student is not offered loans through the institution and must look elsewhere for more money to cover remaining costs, such as a bank loan (which might have significantly higher interest rates).

Your Estimated Out-of-Pocket Cost
Your estimated out-of-pocket cost is the remaining balance due to the institution, once you’ve applied all scholarships, financial awards, grants, and loans to the total COA. Students and their families should understand the formula used to calculate just how much the first year in college would cost. Here’s what you’ll need:
1. First, determine the college’s cost of attendance (COA), as described above.
2. Then total up the amount of “free money,” such as scholarships, awards and/or grants.
3. Next, total up the amount of loan money you and your family have chosen to accept.
4. Finally, apply the equation: Take the total COA and subtract the total amount of “free money” and the total amount of all “loans” from that total.


The Bottom Line
What’s left at the bottom of the line is your estimated out–of-pocket cost, which the student is responsible for covering. To reduce the remaining out-of-pocket cost, students can apply to local and state scholarships, work part-time jobs, or use personal savings accounts. A school may offer the student the opportunity to find an eligible Federal work-study job. If the opportunity is presented, the student still must apply and interview for the position. These positions typically provide hourly wages that vary depending on the job. In one year, a student can work and receive UP TO the amount stated in your work-study award letter.

Good to know: The amount stated in the “federal work-study” category is not a one-time check and should therefore not be viewed as automatic financial aid given to the student. Sometimes, schools do not offer work-study to a student; in these cases, a student can still work but will have to go through the regular steps of finding employment on their own.

The key to making attending your dream college come true is to apply for as many scholarships, grants and awards (“free money”) as possible. Receiving several small amounts can total up to a larger amount. For example, if you receive four $250 awards that’s $1,000 shaved off of your total COA.