The Best College Towns in California

From ocean-side towns to urban and metro cities, California has hundreds of college towns for students and residents alike to select from and call home. Check out our report card to learn what California college towns have to offer.

California is home to more than 700 public and private universities and community colleges. That means the Golden State has a variety of great California college towns.

So, what are some of the best college towns in California and what makes them so desirable? We’ve done our homework and put together a report card of the best California college towns to live in. Extra credit — people other than students can live in these areas, too!

10 best California college towns

Whether you’re a freshman just starting school or looking to relocate with your family, these college towns in California offer something for just about everyone.

1. Los Angeles

UCLA in los angeles

UCLA in los angeles

You may not immediately think of Los Angeles as a college town, but the city is home to 63 colleges. Some of the most well-known schools include the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of Southern California (USC) and Loyola Marymount College. These are just some of the great schools with diverse student populations.

In addition to having several colleges to choose from, there’s so much life in the city of L.A. What’s not to love about living in Los Angeles? You’ll have access to world-class entertainment, countless restaurants and bars, great shopping and hundreds of outdoor parks. L.A. is the center of entertainment so you might even spot a celebrity walking the sunny streets of L.A.

People love L.A. for the year-round, mild climate. There are great hiking trails — like Runyon Canyon Loop or Griffith Park Trails — and outdoor parks to enjoy. Also, you’re also close to beaches like Santa Monica or Long Beach.

Los Angeles is a city that gives you a little bit of everything. You have access to one of the largest cities in the world so you can get your fix of city life while also escaping to the beach or trails. There are many neighborhoods and apartments in Los Angeles, so college students and other renters have plenty of options when looking for their next home.

Renters can expect to pay between $2,700 and $3,600 for a one or two-bedroom apartment.

2. Palo Alto

palo alto, a california college town

palo alto, a california college town

While not technically an Ivy League school, Stanford University is a prestigious, private school that’s comparable to an Ivy League. Located near the city of Palo Alto, Stanford itself is actually the town in Santa Clara county. Home to roughly 16,000 students, Stanford is one of California’s best college towns. Living here, you’ll enjoy mild weather and have access to a variety of great outdoor activities. This entire area is known as the “birthplace of Silicon Valley,” so you’ll be surrounded by tech and innovation.

When you’re living in Palo Alto, you’ll want to check out some of the sights like Hoover Tower or Cantor Arts Center. You can also enjoy the Palo Alto Baylands Natural Preserve. Once you’ve settled into Palo Alto and hit the major spots, ease into hikes, explore the neighborhoods and walk around Stanford Campus on your evening walks. You’ll be a local in no time.

The neighborhoods are beautiful and the climate is great but the rent is steep. Students and renters living near Stanford in Palo Alto will enjoy a great college town but should know that rent here is much higher compared to other cities in California. For instance, rent ranges between $3,700 and $4,300 depending on the size of the apartment. However, if you’re the next Steve Jobs and are ready to change the world with your tech start-up, this is the college town to live in.

3. Riverside

riverside, a california college town

riverside, a california college town

Riverside is home to UC – Riverside, a college that’s part of the 10 University of California schools. With roughly 21,500 students attending each year, this is a great school for students in the Palm Desert area of California. Riverside is one of the best college towns in California for its diverse student population, dedicated researchers and abundance of activities for students and their families.

People like living in the city of Riverside as it’s a vibrant community with mountains, deserts and coastal areas close by. It’s less expensive compared to other Southern California cities, yet you get the perks of California with the rolling hills and close access to beaches in this city.

Riverside is home to the citrus industry, so if you like navel oranges, you’re in luck. If that’s not your thing, don’t worry. Riverside is a sprawling urban area within 60 miles of L.A. Students and residents alike will enjoy the lower cost of living in this city while still having access to everything that makes sunny California great.

The cost of rent averages $1,800 for a one-bedroom apartment and approximately $2,000 for a two-bedroom apartment.

4. Berkeley

berkeley, california

berkeley, california

The college town of Berkeley seems to have it all — a diverse population, great bars and restaurants, a thriving nightlife, great schools from Kindergarten on up, dedicated students and a variety of housing options. Renters are within close proximity to the University of California, Berkeley campus, which is a public land grant university.

People like Cal Berkeley for the diverse higher education programs offered. From liberal arts education to STEM-based degrees, the school offers it all. Renters in Berkeley will love this college town that has a healthy blend of student-related activities near campus and a thriving city apart from the college itself.

Ranked one of the healthiest cities in the nation, Berkeley has great food, fun shops and restaurants and a vibrant live music scene. There are plenty of bike-friendly trails so you can cycle yourself from place to place. It’s a liberal, easy-going area that residents love to call home.

Rent ranges anywhere from $1,850 to $5,100 but rent has decreased by 22 percent overall year-over-year in this college town.

5. Orange

orange california

orange california

Chapman University is in the city of Orange, California. This is a small, private school in a college town located only 15 miles from the beach. The school itself has approximately 10,000 students enrolled but the city of Orange has 139,000 residents. If you live in this California college town, you’ll live near a school dedicated to liberal arts (they’re famous for their film school!) while also getting to enjoy a bigger city atmosphere.

Ninety-two percent of students live on campus during their first year, so as a student, you’re sure to make friends with your dorm buddies. However, if you move off campus you’ll have plenty of rental options and will love living in this vibrant Southern California beach city.

Whether or not you’re a student, residents alike can meander through Hart’s Park or catch a ball game at Angels Stadium. All public schools are highly rated, so it’s a great city for families to settle down. You’ll have access to great parks and the neighborhoods are family-friendly. A lot of young families and professionals settle down here as there are good job prospects, relatively affordable cost of living and easy access to fun things to do.

Rent averages $2,100 to $2,400 for studios, one-bedrooms or two-bedroom apartments.

6. Malibu

malibu, california

malibu, california

Pepperdine is a very small, private university with 9,000 students enrolled annually. Malibu itself is fairly small when compared to other California towns, with 13,000 residents. Pepperdine is a great college town because of the proximity to amenities in Malibu and the tight-knit community on campus. The Pepperdine student community is strong and students can live on or near campus and participate in a variety of student-led activities.

Outside of the campus itself, the city of Malibu is a glamorous Southern California city known for its beaches, amazing climate and frequent celebrity sightings. If you’re a renter looking for a mix of student life nearby and picturesque California glam, Malibu is the college town for you.

Keep in mind that Malibu is as expensive as it is glamorous. Rent is between $4,900 and $5,500 a month. While you’ll pay a pretty penny to live here, residents all love it. There are ample beaches to enjoy, safe neighborhoods with low crime rates and an amazing school system.

7. San Francisco

san francisco, ca

san francisco, ca

The University of San Fransisco is one of the colleges located in this famous tech city. Students and renters will enjoy calling San Francisco their college town while having access to campus life, too. San Fran is known for its liberal and diverse population and the university prides itself on its commitment to inclusiveness, equality and social justice.

Other benefits of living in this college town are your access to the San Francisco Bay, Golden Gate Bridge and the amazing downtown scene. You’ll enjoy cooler weather and more foggy days but also have sunny days to enjoy the outdoors. This big college town offers everything from outdoor adventures to downtown life.

San Fran residents love this area. You have a metro downtown with amazing restaurants and shops. There’s access to world-class destinations like the Golden Gate Bridge. You can enjoy an afternoon at Golden Gate Park and then head to the city for dinner that night.

San Fransisco is one of the most expensive cities in the world, though, so keep that in mind before deciding to settle in this California college town. You should plan to budget anywhere from $3,400 to $4,500 to live in the Bay Area.

8. Santa Barbara

santa barbara, a college town in california

santa barbara, a college town in california

Located on the coast, UC Santa Barbara is a college town in — drumroll please — Santa Barbara, CA! The school itself has nearly 24,000 students enrolled each year, making it a large public school in the state. It’s one of the top-rated universities in the country and has produced several Nobel Prize winners.

Not only is it a great college, but the city of Santa Barbara is also top-notch. Renters will enjoy amazing beaches, breathtaking cliff-side views, endless trails and walking paths and good weather almost all year long.

People living in Santa Barbara talk about the sense of community they feel living here. You’ll enjoy a close-knit community in one of the most gorgeous beach-side cities in California. Rent ranges from $2,400 to $3,200 in Santa Barbara.

9. San Diego

san diego, california

san diego, california

San Diego State University is a public university located in San Diego. The school population is large with more than 35,000 students. Living in this college town near campus, you’ll be surrounded by students who are eager to learn and cheer on the basketball team, the Aztecs. Another college located in this city is the University of San Diego.

Living in San Diego comes with perks, too. You’ll be located near the beach and can visit the famous San Diego Zoo. If that’s not your thing, you can enjoy great seafood, try a new coffee shop or go whale watching, hiking or biking. Renters can expect to pay between $2,300 and $3,400 in rent, but prices may vary for on-campus housing. San Diego is one of the best places to live in California.

10. Claremont

homes in claremont, california

homes in claremont, california

Claremont is a great California college town and is home to Pomona College, a small, liberal arts college. With a small student body of 2,000 students, residents of Claremont can live close to the college campus without having the overwhelming number of students that other state schools have.

Living in Claremont you’ll have a suburban feel and are friendly with your neighbors, but L.A. is only 35 miles away so you have quick access to a big city, too. Claremont is great for parks, fine arts and food. Rent ranges from $1,600 to $1,900 for one and two-bedroom apartments.

Living near a college town

Like all things, living near a college town has its pros and cons. Pros include lots of housing options, a younger population of eager students, several restaurants and bars and a thriving nightlife. Depending on your perspective, cons can include too many young students and party-goers and potentially worn-down housing from college students residing in them.

However, we can all agree that living in California near a college town, you’ll enjoy the perks of California weather, good food, friendly people and a variety of housing options that fit your needs and budget.

Source: rent.com

Similarities and Differences Between Financial Aid vs Student Loans

Figuring out how to pay for school can be stressful, so it’s important to compare financial aid vs student loans so that you can reduce your financial burden as much as possible and find out what’s right for you.

When college financial aid isn’t enough, people use federal or private student loans to help cover costs. Private student loans can also close gaps between what you qualify for and how much you need. We’ll compare student loans vs financial aid and explore some features that can help you determine what makes the most sense for your financial situation.

What Is Financial Aid?

Financial aid is funding that is available to students to help make college or career school more affordable. College financial aid comes in several forms and helps students pay for higher education expenses, including tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies and transportation.

Here are several types of financial aid available to students:

•   Scholarships: A scholarship is a form of financial aid that’s awarded to students to help pay for school. Scholarships are typically awarded based on academic or athletic achievement, community involvement, job experience, field of study, financial need and more.

•   Grants: A grant is a form of financial aid that doesn’t have to be repaid and is generally based on financial need.

•   Federal work-study programs: The federal work-study program offers funds for part-time employment to help eligible college students in financial need.

•   Federal student loans: Student loans are borrowed money from the federal government or private lenders to help pay for college.

Financial aid can come from federal, state, school, and private sources. Federal Student Aid, a part of the U.S. Department of Education, is the largest provider of student financial aid in the U.S. Federal aid is distributed to 13 million students each year, totaling $120 billion.

Recommended: Am I Eligible for Work-Study?

What Are Student Loans?

A student loan is money borrowed from the government or a private lender to help pay for school with the expectation that you will pay it back. Like most other types of loans, the amount borrowed will accrue interest over time. Student loans can be used on school-related expenses including tuition, room and board, and other school supplies.

Loans are different from grants or scholarships and it’s essential that you understand the differences between financial aid vs student loans. If you receive a grant or a scholarship, you typically don’t have to pay that money back. Student loans are also different from work-study programs, where students in financial need to work part-time jobs to earn money to help pay for school.

It’s common for college students to take out student loans to finance their education, but you should first compare federal vs private student loans. Federal student loans offer some borrower benefits that make them preferable to private student loans.

Federal Student Loans

Federal student loans are loans that are backed by the U.S. government. Terms and conditions of the loan are set by the federal government and include several benefits, such as fixed interest rates and income-driven repayment plans. To qualify, students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) every year that they want to receive federal student loans. The FAFSA also allows students to apply for federal aid including scholarships, grants, and work-study. Colleges may also use the information provided on the FAFSA to determine school-specific aid awards.

There are four types of federal student loans available:

•  Direct Subsidized Loans are student loans for undergrads in financial need to help pay for expenses related to higher education. The government covers the accruing interest on this type of loan while the borrower is enrolled in school at least half-time and during the loan’s six month grace period after graduation.

•  Direct Unsubsidized Loans are made to eligible undergraduate, graduate and professional students. Eligibility is not based on financial need. Borrowers are responsible for all accrued interest on this type of loan.

•  Direct PLUS Loans are made to graduate or professional students, known as the Grad PLUS loan, or parents of dependent undergraduate students, known as the Parent PLUS loan. These loans are meant to help pay for education expenses not covered by other financial aid.

•  Direct Consolidation Loans allow students to combine all eligible federal student loans into a single loan.

Private Student Loans

Private student loans can also be used to help pay for college. Private student loans are offered by banks, credit unions, and online lenders. Understanding how private student loans work is essential before borrowing. While federal student loans are generally the first option potential student borrowers pursue, private student loans may be an option to consider for borrowers who are trying to pay for college without financial aid. Unlike federal student loans, which have terms and interest rates set by the federal government, private lenders set their own and conditions that vary from lender to lender.

Private student loans are also credit-based. The lender will review an applicant’s credit history, income and debt, and whether they’re enrolled in a qualified educational program. Applicants who may lack credit history, or have a less than glowing credit score may consider applying with a cosigner to improve their chances of approval.

Unlike federal student loans, interest rates can be fixed or variable. A fixed interest rate stays the same for the life of the loan but a variable interest rate may change. The interest rate a borrower qualifies for will also depend on the lender as well as the borrower’s creditworthiness.

Not all private student loans are the same. Because of this, it’s important that you understand the annual percentage rates (APRs) and repayment terms before taking on the loan.

Financial Aid vs Student Loans Compared

When comparing financial aid vs student loans, you need to be aware of the similarities and differences between financial aid vs student loans. Here are some key comparisons.

Similarities Differences
They can both be used to help fund education-related expenses. Financial aid doesn’t typically need to be repaid. Student loans must be repaid within a given loan term, plus interest.
FAFSA® must be filled out for financial aid and federal student loans. Financial aid and student loans may be paid out differently.
Financial aid and student loans have certain eligibility requirements. Some financial aid, like scholarships, may be awarded based on merit. Federal student loans can be both need and non-need based. Lending criteria on private student loans is determined by the lender.

Similarities

Financial aid and student loans are both used to help fund education-related expenses, like tuition, room and board, books and classroom supplies, and transportation. Financial aid and student loans backed by the federal government also require students to fill out FAFSA® for each year that they want to receive federal student loans or federal financial aid. Financial aid and student loans also have some sort of eligibility requirements, whether that be based on financial need, merit or creditworthiness.

Differences

The biggest difference between financial aid vs student loans is whether or not you need to pay back the money you are given to help pay for college. Financial aid is either money that doesn’t need to be paid back, known as gift aid, or earned through a federal work-study program.

Student loans must be repaid within a given loan term. Not only are students expected to pay back student loans, but there’s typically interest that accrues over the life of the loan.

There may also be differences in how financial aid and student loans are paid out to the student. Private student loans are usually paid in one lump sum at the start of each school year or semester; however, you may not receive the full amount of a scholarship award upfront. Government grants and loans are generally split into at least two disbursements and If you have a work-study job, you’ll be paid at least once a month.

Some private student loans may also come with greater flexibility and offer more money than financial aid.

Recommended: Gift Aid vs Self Help Aid For College

Pros and Cons of Financial Aid

Pros of Financial Aid

•  Money received through financial aid does not typically have to be repaid.

•  Potential to decrease future debt by minimizing the amount you have to borrow.

•  Opens up new opportunities for many students to attend a better school than they could without financial assistance.

•  Allows students to focus on their education instead of worrying about paying tuition.

Cons of Financial Aid

•  Most financial aid does not cover all school-related costs.

•  Scholarships, grants, and work-study programs can be highly competitive.

•  You may have to maintain certain standards to meet eligibility requirements during each semester.

•  There’s less flexibility on how you can spend funds.

Pros and Cons of Student Loans

Pros of Student Loans

•  Student loans offer financial support for those who would otherwise be unable to attend college.

•  You don’t need any credit history for federal student loans and you can use a creditworthy cosigner for private student loans.

•  Student loans can be used for things beyond tuition, room and board, and books.

•  Paying off student loans may help you build credit.

Cons of Student Loans

•  You start off with debt after graduating from college.

•  Student loans can be expensive.

•  Defaulting on student loans can negatively impact your credit score.

•  If you borrowed a private student loan, the interest rate may be variable.

Private Student Loans from SoFi

Financial aid and student loans financially support students by relieving some of the financial burden that’s often associated with higher education. When financial aid isn’t enough, students may seek private student loans to help cover their college costs. Although private student loans don’t come with as many perks as federal student loans, and are generally borrowers only as a last resort option as a result, they can help fill in the gaps between what you qualify for and how much you need.

Private student loans from SoFi can help serve as a supplement to federal aid. SoFi student loans offer plenty of benefits, such as no origination fees, no application fees, no late fees, and no insufficient fund fees. You can find out if you pre-qualify within minutes.

Learn more about private student loan options available with SoFi.

FAQ

Does FAFSA loan or grant money?

FAFSA is an application that you fill out in order to determine your eligibility for receiving a federal loan or federal student aid such as grants and scholarships. While a federal student loan is borrowed money that must be repaid after graduation, funds received through grants, scholarships, and work-study programs do not need to be repaid.

Can you get financial aid and student loans at the same time?

Yes. If you apply for financial aid at your school, you may be offered loans as part of your school’s financial aid offer to help cover the remaining costs.

Do scholarships count as financial aid?

Yes, scholarships are a type of financial aid that is considered gift aid and typically do not have to be repaid.


Photo credit: iStock/Altayb

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SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs.
SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. A hard credit pull, which may impact your credit score, is required if you apply for a SoFi product after being pre-qualified.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’swebsite .
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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What is a Pell Grant – And How Do You Apply?

Students unable to finish studies due to the closing of their school or who received the Borrower Defense Loan Discharge may also be eligible.
Robert Bruce is a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder. 
As of the 2021-22 school year, the minimum Pell Grant award a student can receive is 0 per year (July 1 to June 30) and the maximum is ,495. Your EFC number will determine where you fall in that range.

What Is a Pell Grant?

The takeaway: Always fill out a FAFSA! You never know what you could be eligible for.
Students with a parent who died in the line of duty – as a military veteran or public service officer – may also be eligible if they are under 24 and enrolled at least part-time in a college or career school.
To qualify for a Pell Grant, you need to have a minimum GPA (2.0)  and demonstrate exceptional financial need.
A Pell Grant is a form of federal student financial aid that, unlike a loan, doesn’t need to be repaid. The U.S. Department of Education awards federal Pell Grants to low-income students who qualify. The grants cover tuition, room and board, and other educational fees and expenses.

Who Is Eligible for a Pell Grant?

College students who struggle to afford tuition and other expenses have an avenue to help pay for their education that doesn’t involve federal loans: the federal Pell Grant.

  • Demonstrate “exceptional financial need” on the FAFSA application.
  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen.
  • Have yet to receive a bachelor’s, graduate, or professional degree.
  • Maintain a minimum GPA of 2.0. Note: Individual institutions may have different GPA requirements.

Pell Grant funds are available at 6,000 educational institutions in the country. To be eligible, you must:
Source: thepennyhoarder.com
The numbers say that more than 2 million students would have been eligible for the Pell Grant in the 2015-2016 school year, but they didn’t fill out a FAFSA. Further, 1.2 million would’ve qualified for the maximum Pell Grant amount.
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The Pell Grant is a need-based program that, unlike federal student loans, never has to be repaid. With total student loan debt in the U.S. reaching nearly .75 trillion in 2022 affecting more than 43 million borrowers, this federal grant is an attractive alternative for students who qualify.

How Much Money Can I Receive From a Pell Grant?

Is the Pell Grant the same as the FAFSA?
A federal Pell Grants is just that – a grant. It’s not a loan so you don’t need to pay it back – with a few caveats.  If you withdraw from courses, change your enrollment status, or fail to meet GPA requirements after having received your award, you may have to pay it back. That could also have tax implications, so it’s not a good idea all around.  Federal student aid administrators also factor in your school’s cost of attendance and your enrollment status.
How many times can I receive a Pell Grant?
If you fit in those categories, here’s what you need to know.

Incarcerated individuals may be eligible for aid through the Second Chance Pell experiment – created in 2015 by the Obama administration to provide “education opportunities for thousands of justice-involved individuals who have previously been unable to access federal need-based financial aid.” The program expanded in the 2022-23 school year to include 200 colleges and universities now offering their prison education programs with support from the Pell Grant program.

How Do I Apply for a Pell Grant?

Individual grant amounts depend on a student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC), an index number that determines eligibility for federal student aid. The number originates from the financial information provided when you complete the FAFSA.
Graduate students aren’t eligible for the Pell Grant, though some students working on a post-baccalaureate teacher certification may qualify.
You can also apply for the “year-round Pell Grant” if you attend summer school. In this situation, you would be eligible for the same award amount you received in the fall and spring. So if your annual award amount is ,000, and you’ll receive ,000 in the fall, ,000 in the spring – then you would be eligible for an additional ,000 if you attend summer school.

Other FAQs About Pell Grants

The application process is simple enough. To apply for a Pell Grant, students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form (FAFSA). From there, financial aid administrators will determine whether the student is eligible and, if so, set the Pell Grant award amount.
Also, you’ll need to reapply for the grant using the FAFSA every academic year, meaning your Pell Grant aid can change annually based on your current financial situation.
Created in 1972, it is named after U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island and is the largest education grant program offered by the federal government.
Grant recipients risk losing eligibility if they withdraw from courses, change enrollment status, or fail to meet their college or university’s GPA requirements.
Like other federal student aid options, to apply for a Pell Grant students need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.
Colleges and universities disburse the award funds into the student’s account balance and are reimbursed by the federal government. The timing of the disbursement varies by institution – some may make monthly payments while others might distribute all of the funds before classes begin.

Do you have to pay back a Pell Grant? <!–

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No. The FAFSA is simply a form you fill out when applying for federal student aid programs – everything from federal student loans, work-study and grants, including the Pell Grant. 

7 Financial Aid Secrets You Should Know

As a student (or parent) it can be easy to focus solely on the college application process, and completely forget about financial aid. You spend so much time studying for the SATs (or ACTs) and tweaking your college essay so it perfectly represents you, that after you’ve been accepted and the reality of tuition payments set in, you might feel momentary panic.

It’s no secret that college tuition is expensive. Students and parents save for years to pay for higher education, but sometimes that’s just not enough. According to a Sallie Mae® study, “How America Pays for College 2021 ,” parent income and savings covered 45% of college costs while student income and savings covered 8% of the costs.

Many of us rely on financial aid to bridge the payment gap. Financial aid may come from multiple sources, including scholarships, grants, work-study, federal student loans, and private student loans.

Scholarships and grants are extremely useful forms of financial aid, since students are not typically required to pay back the money they receive. An online survey of students and parents found 72% of college families in 2021 relied on scholarships and grants to cover a portion of college expenses, according to Sallie Mae’s study.

Scholarships, grants, and savings often aren’t enough to cover the cost of attending college. Sallie Mae says 47% of college families borrowed money to help pay for college in 2021. Some families used home equity loans and credit cards, but federal student loans represented the most frequently used source of borrowed money followed by private student loans.

To top it all off, the financial aid application process can be confusing. Between federal aid and other scholarships, it can be difficult to keep everything straight.

Most often, the first step in applying for financial aid is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). You can begin filling out the FAFSA on October 1 for the following academic year. The federal FAFSA deadline for the 2022–23 academic year is June 30, 2023, while colleges and states may have their own FAFSA deadlines.

Some schools use an additional form to determine scholarship aid — the College Scholarship Service Profile .

Taking the effort to apply for financial aid early can have a positive impact on your tuition bill. Below we highlight seven financial aid secrets you should know.

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1. Decision Day vs Summer Melt

May 1 is usually decision day, the deadline when prospective college students must decide which college they plan to attend in the fall. But even after this deadline, students can change their minds. This phenomenon is known to industry professionals as “summer melt,” and sometimes it’s triggered by FAFSA verification setbacks.

Students who receive insufficient need-based financial aid, for example, might be compelled to reconsider their college enrollment decisions. Summer melt can give you an opportunity to select a more affordable school for you if you’ve encountered a FAFSA verification roadblock.

Summer melt is a common problem that causes schools to lose students during the summer. Because of this, schools may have a bit of secret wiggle room in their acceptance policy to admit new students over the summer for the fall semester.

2. Writing a Letter

You might be able to take advantage of summer melt with this secret: write a letter. After you get your financial aid offer, you could write a letter to your school’s financial aid office to open the lines of communication.

Let them know how excited you are to attend school in the fall. That’s where you could include a thoughtfully worded inquiry for any additional aid that you might qualify for as a result of summer melt.

When students decide to switch schools or not attend at the last minute, it means that they also won’t be using their financial aid award — which could now be available to other students.

3. Calling the Financial Aid Office

Another way to potentially take advantage of summer melt is to call your school’s financial aid office. Instead of calling immediately after you receive your financial aid award, think about calling in June or July. This allows financial aid offices time to account for students who have declined their financial aid packages.

An appropriately timed call to the financial aid office at your school could mean additional financial aid is allocated to your package — no guarantees, of course, but it never hurts to ask.

4. Submitting Paperwork and Applications On Time

Every school’s financial aid office has to follow a budget. Some financial aid is offered on a first-come, first-served basis, so it helps to submit forms, like the FAFSA, and other applications, on time or even ahead of schedule.

You may be out of luck if you apply for assistance after your university’s financial aid office has met their budget for the year. Some states have early winter deadlines for awarding scholarships and grants. Tennessee residents, for example, must complete their FAFSA by February 1 to be considered for a state-funded Tennessee Student Assistance Award grant.

You can check the deadlines for financial aid in your state through the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid website .

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payment and rate that fits your budget.

5. Being Prepared

Have the basics ready to go before you sit down to fill out the FAFSA. If you have all of the information you need before you begin filling out the FAFSA, you’ll likely have an easier time filling out the information.

Usually, each parent and the student will need to create a username and password, which is called the Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID). You’ll also need:

•   Social Security numbers (for you and your parents)

•   Bank statements and records of untaxed income (possibly)

•   You and your parents’ tax returns (aid awards are based on income from two years ago)

•   Any W2 forms

•   Net worth calculations of your investments (for students and parents)

6. Being Wary of Services that Charge You for Help

If you need assistance filling out the FAFSA, avoid any services that charge you. The first F of FAFSA stands for “Free,” so there is no need to pay for a service to fill the form out for you.

If you need assistance filling out the FAFSA, there are plentiful online resources through the U.S. Department of Education .

7. Filing the FAFSA Every Year

For every year you are a student and want to receive federal aid, you’ll have to file the FAFSA. Get in the habit of filing it every fall, so you’re closer to the top of the financial aid pile.

The Takeaway

Scholarships and grants can be super-helpful additions to a federal financial aid package. The money can reduce your tuition bill and doesn’t usually need to be repaid. Work-study can also be beneficial in helping college students make ends meet.

If you need additional help financing your college experience, SoFi offers private student loans with an entirely digital application process and no fees whatsoever. Potential borrowers can choose between a variable or fixed interest rate and have the option to add a cosigner to the loan.

Learn more about SoFi’s flexible repayment plans and application process for private student loans.


External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC), and by SoFi Lending Corp. NMLS #1121636 , a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law (License # 6054612) and by other states. For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs.
SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

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Source: sofi.com

How Many Americans Have Student Loan Debt?

Student loan debt and education continue to go hand in hand. According to the latest figures from the Federal Reserve, 30% of U.S. adults had student loan debt upon leaving school.

Federal student loan relief under the CARES Act, which is set to end in May 2022, has paused monthly federal student loan payments, enacted a 0% interest rate, and halted loan default collections.

However, as the relief window comes to an end, Americans must continue to face their outstanding student debt.

How Many People in the USA Have Student Loans?

The total federal student loan debt crisis amounts to $1.61 trillion in unpaid federal student loans. This outstanding balance is spread among 43.4 million U.S. borrowers.

A 2021 MeasureOne report found that unpaid balances within the federal student loan system account for 92% of U.S. student loan debt. However, U.S. adults are also burdened by private student loans.

As of Q2 2021, the Americans have amassed a total of $131.1 billion in unpaid private student loans — accounting for nearly 8% of outstanding student loans in the country.

Who Is the Typical Borrower?

The CollegeBoard’s “2021 Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid” report found that the average four-year, bachelor’s degree graduate left school with an average $26,700 in student debt. Bachelor’s recipients from private nonprofit institutions left school with an average of $33,600 in student debt.

Student Loan Distribution by Institution

Borrowers who were enrolled in a public, four-year U.S. institution received the highest distribution of federal Direct Loan funding.

Nearly 45% of distributed Direct Subsidized Loan funds went toward students enrolled at a four-year school, as did 41% of Direct Unsubsidized Loan funding.

Similarly, 51% of disbursed Parent PLUS Loan funds — designed for parent borrowers on behalf of their college-bound dependant — were for a public, four-year education.

Graduate and professional students who attended a private nonprofit college also received a variety of federal loan funding. Graduate-level students enrolled at a private nonprofit institution saw the highest percentage of total dispersed Grad PLUS Loan funds (68%).

In some cases, student loans for certificate programs may also be borrowed. Some certificate programs are offered at two-year institutions, which make up about 11% of Direct Subsidized loans.

Student Loan Debt by Age

US Adults ages 35 to 49 have a total aggregated balance of $613 billion in federal loans across 14.3 million borrowers. On average, a borrower in this age group has a student debt balance of $42,900, according to CollegeBoard data.

Age Total Balance Average Balance per Borrower
Up to age 24 $113.7 billion $15,200
25 to 34 $500.6 billion $33.600
35 to 49 $613.0 billion $42,900
50 to 61 $273.7 billion $43,400
62 $92.7 billion $38,600

The next-highest total balance, at $500.6 billion, falls on borrowers ages 24 to 34. The 14.3 million borrowers in this age group have an average loan balance of $33,600.

Borrowers with the highest average balance ($43,400) are those who are ages 50 to 61 — this group accounts for 6.3 million borrowers in the U.S.

Student Loan Debt by Race and Gender

According to a report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), two-thirds of the total U.S. student loan debt is held by women.

Men borrow an average of $29,270 in student loans. By contrast, each woman borrower carries an average of $31,276 in student debt.

Race/Ethnicity (Women) Cumulative Debt
American Indian or Alaska Native $36,184.40
Asian $27,606.60
Black or African American $41,466.05
Hispanic or Latina $29,302.45
Pacific Islander/Hawaiian $38,747.44
White $33,851.98

Black women face the greatest hurdle when it comes to student loan debt. According to AAUW, one year after graduating, Black or African American women carry the highest cumulative student debt by race and ethnicity at $41,466.05. This figure includes the principal amount and student loan interest rate charges.

What Percentage of College Students Take Out Student Loans?

The percentage of students who borrow student loans vary, based on factors like degree type and institution.

According to the latest data published by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in the 2019-2020 academic year, 31.8% of undergraduate students received student loans from the federal student loan program.

About 47.6% of bachelor-seeking students attending a private nonprofit received federal student loans, while 13.5% of bachelor’s students enrolled at a public college received federal loan aid.

Among master’s degree students, 51.5% who attended a private nonprofit school received federal aid, compared to 40.5% who attended a public institution.

Finally, 57.4% of students pursuing a non-professional doctorate degree at a private nonprofit received federal loans. Of those who attended a public college, 33.4% of doctoral candidates got a federal loan.

What Is the Total Amount of Money Owed by Americans on Student Loans?

Collectively, Americans have an outstanding student loan balance of $1.61 trillion in federal student loans. This includes Direct Loans, Federal Family Education Loans, and Perkins Loans. However, this figure doesn’t include education loans from the private sector.

Total private student loans that U.S. adults still owe is estimated at $131.1 billion, according to MeasureOne.

The Takeaway

Americans are carrying a significant student debt burden after leaving school. New and currently enrolled college students will likely see continued rising education costs.

Despite these figures, one of the benefits of student loans is that they can provide access to college for students who might otherwise not be able to finance their education. SoFi Private Student Loans lets eligible students borrow up to the total cost of attendance, through a fast and completely digital process.

Find out if you pre-qualified in just a few minutes.

FAQ

Who holds the majority of student debt?

According to the CollegeBoard, borrowers ages 35 to 49 hold the majority of outstanding federal student debt at $613 billion, with an average balance of $42,900 per borrower.

What is the average student debt in the US?

The average student debt for a public, four-year bachelor’s degree graduate is $26,700, based on 2021 figures from the CollegeBoard.

What is the total amount of student debt owed by Americans?

In total, Americans owe a total of $1.61 trillion in unpaid student loan debt, according to the National Student Loan Data System.


Photo credit: iStock/Prostock-Studio

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC), and by SoFi Lending Corp. NMLS #1121636 , a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law (License # 6054612) and by other states. For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs.
SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Source: sofi.com

Chapter 6: Using a Budget Template

There are a myriad of different tools that you can use to create a budget, but in this chapter, we’ll be going over how to use a budget template. A budget template is a customizable worksheet that can help you manage your budget by keeping track of all your living expenses.

A budget template is an easy way to calculate your finances to see if you’re on track with your spending. But rather than having to create an entire budget yourself, a budget template gives you the outline and all you have to do is fill in the blanks with your budget specifications.

In this series, we’ve been going over everything there is to know about budgeting, like what to include in a budget and how to use Mint to create your budget, but this chapter will focus mainly on how to use a budget sheet template.

In this chapter, we’ll discuss the different types of budget templates, what the benefits of using a budget template are, when you should start using a budget template, and more. To learn more about how a personal budget template can simplify your budgeting, continue reading the chapter or use the links below to skip to a section of your choice.

What Is a Budget Template?

A budget template is a customizable worksheet where you can input your own budget information to suit your personal financial needs. It’s a very helpful tool and can be used to get your finances together and stay on top of your spending to avoid landing in a budget deficit.

With a budget template, you’ll insert your total income and list out all of your expenses, like how much you spend on rent, groceries, and other necessities for living. You’ll then subtract the expenses from your total income.

You may be left with some discretionary income, which is basically how much money you have left over, which you can put in savings or use it towards additional expenses, like if you want to buy a new car or save for a house.

Types of Budget Templates

Depending on what phase of life you’re in, you’ll want to use a budget template that’s catered to your situation. For instance, college students may have a completely different budget than a newly married couple.

Click below for the free budget template that matches your lifestyle

Click here to download the XLS file free budget template.xls.

There are a variety of free budget templates available to suit your needs, whether it’s for college students, parents with children in daycare, single-income households, and so forth. Choosing the one that fits your lifestyle is crucial to help you develop a clear understanding of how your take-home pay covers all your expenses.

Benefits of Using a Budget Template

Creating a budget might not exactly sound like the most enjoyable task in the world, but it’s a necessary part of keeping your finances in order, and keeping you out of mounting debt. There are many benefits of using a simple template for budgeting, such as:

  • You know how you’re spending your money: Rather than swiping your credit card and not giving that charge a second thought, a budget template helps to make you more aware of how you’re spending your money so you can see if/where you need to cut back. You can also use a budget to make a financial plan so you can stay on top of your goals.
  • It helps you stay organized: It’s easy to get overwhelmed when it comes to finances, but a budget template is a great way to keep your finances in one place. With a personal budget template, you know exactly where your expenses are listed, which makes it easier to do things like budget for groceries.
  • You have a plan for the month: A budget template is a great way to help you create a plan for the month before it even starts. Maybe you have a trip coming up that you need to put aside some extra money for. A budget template will make it obvious where you can cut back on so that you have enough to cover your anticipated travel expenses for the month.
  • It makes creating a budget easier: Rather than having to make a budget from scratch each month, a budget template does the hard part for you. With a budget sheet template, all you have to do is fill in your personal information and you’ll be on your way to tracking your spending.

Learning how to budget can be hard, but using a budget template makes the process a whole lot easier. Once you get the hang of using a budget template, it’ll become second nature to you, and you’ll have no problem filling out your budget at the start of each month.

Preparing to Use Your Budget Template

If you’ve already tried starting a budget and keep running into obstacles, perhaps it’s time to start looking at the fundamentals. It only takes a misstep or two to turn your detailed budget into a total mess. Below are some helpful budgeting tips to help you come up with a functional budget to keep your finances healthy:

Know Exactly How Much You Really Bring in

The answer here isn’t simply your annual salary, nor dividing that number by 12 equal parts for each month. What you should really be basing your budget on is your actual take-home pay each month.

For instance, if you make $50,000 annually as a salar –or around $4,200 per month–you need to take into account your income tax, benefits, pension plan, and other costs that you’re paying that get docked off your monthly checks.

Because of all these other hidden expenses, using $4,200 as a basis for your budget really isn’t accurate. It’s probably closer to $3,000, and maybe even less. It’s crucial that you know exactly how much is coming in every month, because that’s the figure you’ll be basing your budget around.

Using a free budget template can help you easily keep tabs on your finances.

Get a Handle on Accurate Numbers When it Comes to Monthly Spending

It’s best to work with real numbers when coming up with a solid budgeting plan. This involves keeping every receipt after every purchase, and tallying up how much you’re really spending. Your first budget essentially reflects how much you’re spending on average every month.

In addition to regular bills, don’t forget to include all your irregular spending too, such as:

  • Driver’s license renewals
  • Property taxes
  • Car registration
  • Property insurance

These bills should really be planned for throughout the year, and not necessarily considered ‘surprise’ expenses.

Make Sure You Have Some Wiggle Room for Surprise Expenses

Life happens–and when life happens, you can get hit with a lot of unexpected expenses. Maybe you need to add on a new monthly expense to your budget, maybe you’re moving and you need to adjust your cost of living, or maybe you need to account for an emergency.

Whatever the situation may be, it’s imperative to have some wiggle room in your budget in the case of a surprise expense. You don’t ever want to cut it too close so that if something happens, you have to dip into your savings to pay for it. It’s important to try to leave some extra room in your budget for the unexpected.

Have an Easy-To-Use Budgeting Tool on Hand

If you’re starting off your budget it’s good to know that there are a myriad of options available, like envelope budgeting or a budgeting app.

All of these options will cause you to more than likely throw in the towel when it comes to keeping up with your budget. Your first budget should really be easy to manage and keep up with to help you get a handle on your finances.

Using a simple, free budget template is recommended, which is basically like an online version of the paper-and-pencil type. While there are a number of great options out there, many of them can become too complicated–the more confused you are about the tool you’re using, the less likely you’ll keep up with your budget because it’s “just too complicated.” Don’t let this happen to you. Instead, stick to simple tools, especially when you’re just starting out.

When Should You Start Using a Budgeting Template?

A budgeting template can benefit anyone, and it’s never too early to start using one. The sooner you start to use a budget, the easier it’ll be to manage your monthly finances, plan for the future, and pay yourself first.

So what are you waiting for? Start using a monthly budget template today and improve your financial health now and in the future.

A Free Budget Template Awaits You at Mint.com

For help setting up a budget to track your spending, Mint.com makes it easy for you. This online tool offers a number of budget templates to suit your lifestyle, and gathers all your financing accounts into one convenient place. It even allows you to streamline your budgeting efforts, giving you total visibility of your income and spending so you can easily and quickly see exactly what’s happening in all areas of your finances. The best part? It’s completely FREE! Visit Mint.com to get started budgeting your finances today!

In the previous chapters in the series, we discussed various personal financial tips and how you can stay on top of your finances by budgeting. We’re familiar with some of the budgeting tools you can use to create a budget, like with a budgeting app or a free budget template, but in the next chapter in the series, we’ll be going over the 50/30/20 budgeting rule, which is another helpful tactic for you to organize your finances.

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