Spotlight on the Bay Area: Making College a Reality

By: Kristin Ouellette | Tuesday, May 5, 2015

uAspire’s College Affordability Advisors work with students and families to find an affordable path to and through college. Each student who comes to work with us brings a unique situation–so uAspire tailors its guidance to each family’s special circumstances.

Andrea is a student with a special circumstance that could have halted her college plans altogether if she didn’t have the support and knowledge of uAspire College Affordability Advisor Arman Liwanag. A successful and hardworking senior in a San Francisco high school, Andrea’s financial aid situation is unique due to her residency status. Andrea is a temporary protected status (TPS) holder, a designation granting her legal residency in the U.S. on a temporary basis. TPS holders usually come from countries where the conditions temporarily prevent citizens from returning safely or the country is unable to handle the return of its citizens adequately, as in the case of a civil war or national disaster. Though TPS designation in the U.S. has many benefits, including providing a social security number and work permit, unfortunately for Andrea this status prevents her from receiving federal aid for her college education.

This fall Andrea met with Arman, who explained that despite having a working social security number and living in California for years, she would be ineligible for federal aid. Andrea was initially both shocked and worried about how this would affect her college choices, but Arman reassured her that living in California might qualify her for assistance under the California Dream Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act)–a bill allowing undocumented students who meet certain qualifications to apply for and receive state-based financial aid and institutional scholarships.

Once Andrea and Arman talked about the possibility of the California Dream Act as a way to help pay for college, the next step was to find out if she would qualify by submitting an application. The pair reached out to all the schools Andrea applied to and submitted her application along with the AB 540 affidavit (a non-resident tuition exemption form) to petition for in-state tuition. Putting all the time and energy into this paperwork worked out in Andrea’s favor–she was awarded in-state tuition and grant aid at each school she applied to!

With all the paperwork done, Andrea next focused on comparing the offers from her top schools–Dominican University and UC Merced– and selecting the more affordable option. Her estimated out-of-pocket cost for one year at Dominican University was over $20,000, a bill that was overwhelmingly high with only scholarships and her family’s contribution to fill the gap. Her second choice, UC Merced, was far more generous with its aid package. She received $12,800 from the state and $10,000 from the school, bringing her estimated out-of-pocket cost to $6,000, a much more manageable gap to fill with scholarships and help from her family.

With the much lower cost of attendance at UC Merced, Andrea has made the decision to submit her Intent to Apply form there this week. In addition to her institution and state awards, she has won the San Francisco Maisin Scholarship, which is renewable for up to four years in the amount of $2,000 per year. Andrea is also a finalist for another $1,000 scholarship, and she has begun the process of submitting an appeal to the university to grant her even more aid given her situation. She will find out about her appeal in June and is hoping for more good news and an even lower out-of-pocket cost.

With the help of Arman, Andrea was not only able to successfully apply for financial aid despite her TPS status but also to make a well informed decision about her college investment.