Hello New Bruins!
Congratulations to you, your families, and communities for this accomplishment! My name is Victoria Morales, I am a second-year majoring in International Development Studies and double minoring in Accounting and Film and Television Studies. In addition, I am also a financial aid peer advisor at the UCLA Financial Aid and Scholarships office. I know this is a time to celebrate and make plans to attend the #1 public university in the country. However, I also know that as the excitement and shock dwindles down, you are left with one question: how am I going to afford college?
As a low-income, Latinx, and first-generation student from a single-parent household, I too, was afraid of not being able to afford my dream school. I went to a high school in a primarily agricultural town and growing up no one taught me financial literacy. I knew that in order to attend college I would have to work twice as hard to be eligible for merit scholarships. When the time to apply for colleges came, I was afraid of being accepted into my dream school to then become heartbroken when I could not afford it, if I wasn’t given enough financial assistance. When I first opened that UCLA email and read the “Congratulations” that changed the course of my academic career, I was excited. But then, I read the email following the acceptance letter, my Provisional Aid Letter, and the excitement I felt turned to anguish. When I first read that letter I was dumbfounded as I did not know what any of the terms meant and all I could focus on was the cost of attendance and the amount left over after grants and scholarships. My mom, not knowing what to do, simply said to me, “Mija, que vamos hacer?” and told me to try and figure out what exactly the Provisional Award Letter was saying.
I decided to contact the Financial Aid Office and ask them to explain the letter to me since I had no idea what any of it meant. Part of the reason why I decided to attend UCLA was because of the willingness of the financial aid assistants to help me understand and point me to the resources the school offered in terms of financial assistance. I learned that the total cost of attendance in the provisional award letter varies and is not a fixed amount since a lot of estimates are included in the budget. With this information, I knew that the only thing that was fixed was my tuition and from there, my budget differed based on my housing selection, meal plan, and personal expenses. To pay for this, I was fortunate enough to have been awarded the Pell Grant, Cal Grant, and University Grant, in addition to work-study which is a form of self-help. Thanks to these awards and the financial aid representative who helped me break down my budget to essentially the only things that I actually had to pay, I knew that UCLA was financially accessible to me and my family.
Since I was awarded work-study, which is a form of self-help that allows me to get a job and be paid directly from those funds, I am able to manage any personal and academic expenses. In order to be able to receive those funds, I had to search for a job whether it be on-campus or off-campus. The fall of my freshman year, I was at home when I spontaneously decided to look through the work-study jobs tab in my.ucla because I was extremely bored. I came across a couple of job descriptions that caught my attention and decided to apply to them not thinking I was actually going to get a callback. Nothing came from the first three but then I received an email from a position in the UCLA Financial Aid Office. Becoming a part of this office has shaped the majority of my time in UCLA and has allowed me to do one of the things I love most which is to help people, especially Latinx people, know that higher education is accessible.
Navigating the financial aspect in the road to education is extremely difficult, even more so when you have to do it alone. I, more than anyone understands this which is why I encourage you to visit our office if you have any questions regarding your financial aid worries. I know that each of our circumstances are different and everyone takes a different path when it comes to paying for college but I want you to know that there are resources available to help you. One of which is our scholarship resource center and our general application which can be found on the UCLA’s Financial Aid Website.
No matter where you decide to go, I am sure all of your futures’ will be as bright as each and every one of you are! Do not be afraid to reach out for help and to take up space. You belong in whichever University you decide to attend or wherever it is that life takes you. All I ask is that you be courageous, open-minded, and unafraid to venture into the unknown because sometimes good, and unexpected things can happen. For me, I know that UCLA was the best decision I have ever made and it is the place I feel at home in. I wish that everyone of you finds that place as well!