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Financial Aid 101

It All Starts with Your FAFSA
It’s important to understand that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the starting point of the financial aid process. The FAFSA is a government issued form available at or via the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships website at Each year, the deadline for priority filing, which gives you greater chances of being considered for all forms of aid – and which you should memorize – is March 2. If you have yet to file an application, you should not be discouraged from submitting a FAFSA as you may still qualify for federal grants and loans. Also, if you have a compelling reason for failing to meet the March 2 deadline, you can submit an On-time Status Appeal to the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships for review. You can obtain this form by visiting and clicking on the “Forms” link. Remember to do this early in the application cycle and abide by the appeal deadlines indicated on the form.

Federal Student Loans: Still a Wise Choice 
The Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships always recommends that you take out the minimum possible amount of loans. This begs the question: what is a “minimum amount?” Simply put, it’s the lowest amount required to pay for all your basic and necessary school expenses, from tuition to toothpaste, after all grants and scholarships have been considered. Basic expenses include educational and other university fees, health insurance, rent, utilities, food, books, school supplies, and personal care items. They do not include weekend “party” funds, a brand new television, or spring break in Puerto Vallarta. In fact, if you find yourself with surplus loan funds tempting you to buy that TV, that’s probably a sign that you've borrowed too much and should consider returning some of your loans. In that case, consider funding your extras with a part-time job – both your resume and your post-graduation wallet will thank you for it. 

On the other hand, it’s important to recognize when your “thrifty” wisdom is getting the best of you. Declining loans and working too many hours to compensate for your lack of cash could negatively impact your grades. This can make it much harder to qualify for future scholarships or admission to the graduate program of your choice. Too much non-academic work in lieu of a moderately sized loan is generally counterproductive. If you find yourself struggling to pay rent or buy food during the quarter and you have federal student loans which are not utilized, it’s a smart idea to visit the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships to learn about your remaining loan options. The last thing you want to do is default on your rent because you’re afraid to take out federal loans. 

There is a certain degree of expectation that all financial aid recipients assume some financial responsibility – through personal savings, employment, or federal loans – towards meeting the cost of attending UCSB. The right combination is different for everyone. For most people, however, moderation (rather than outright rejection) is still the best policy regarding student loans as they serve a critical purpose in helping students maintain peace of mind while achieving their academic goals.

The Good News on Paying Back Your Loans 
Most students who are afraid to take out student loans are concerned about their ability to repay them after they graduate. It’s wise to be cautious and not overestimate your future earnings, especially during your first few years after graduation. It’s also good to be wary of high-interest loans or trying to finance your college education with credit cards – strategies that generally cost much in dollars and future grief. But consider this. Financial aid applicants generally qualify for Direct Student Loans. These have a repayment start date of six months after graduation (or falling below half time as a student). In addition, Direct Student Loans have flexible repayment terms. There are forbearance options (which allow you to suspend or reduce loan repayments for a period) in cases of financial hardship, deferments if you pursue an advanced degree, and even loan forgiveness if you decide to participate in certain types of employment, like teaching or military and civil service. The standard repayment period for Direct Student Loans is ten years and can be extended to 20 under the Extended Repayment Plan, which will reduce your monthly bill significantly. Lastly, you can repay your student loans early without any penalty imposed by Uncle Sam. To learn more about financial aid options and repayment plans, visit the “Types of Aid” page on the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships website, as well as government sites like and

Why Federal Work-Study Works 
Federal Work-Study is a limited source of financial assistance awarded by the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships to students who demonstrate financial need. There are multiple benefits to workstudy, which involves working anywhere between five and 20 hours a week: 

  1. It defrays additional loan burden by allowing you to work and earn a monthly paycheck.

  2. It allows you to gain work experience that helps you develop competence and build a strong resume.

  3. Studies have shown that working up to 20 hours/ week (but not more) positively impacts students’ academic performance and ability to succeed while in school.

Although a $2,000 annual work-study allocation may not seem like much, taking advantage of it means that you will not have to repay another $2,000 in loans after graduation. If you’re fortunate enough to receive work-study for four or more years, that’s $8,000+ in loan savings! In addition to saving money and adding entries to your resume, you will be showing your future employers that you have the discipline and time management skills they are invariably looking for. 

If you are eligible for work-study, this will be noted in your financial aid award letter. The first working day for work-study is typically ten days before instruction begins in fall quarter. Freshman and transfer students often wait until winter or spring quarter before they start working to allow themselves time to adjust to the pace of life at UCSB. 

To search for on- and off-campus employment opportunities, workstudy recipients can use Career Services’ online job search engine GauchoLink, as well as other resources offered through their website at Finally, although jobs are regularly added to GauchoLink throughout the year, you should keep in mind that hiring for many campus jobs starts in winter and spring for the following year.

The only serious drawback to participating in workstudy is that you’ll have less time to catch up on all those reality television shows you missed last term.

Unexpected Expenses 
Certain unforeseeable events can have a negative impact on your wallet – a family emergency requiring travel back home, urgent dental care for a toothache, or other unexpected medical expenses for you or your dependents. When these emergencies occur, you can report your extra costs to the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships and submit a Student Request for a Budget Increase (SRFBI). They will assess whether your costs can be considered as part of your overall cost of attendance and may be able to grant you a budget increase, which will augment your financial aid eligibility. If your request is granted, you will be given additional loan eligibility in the form of Direct Loans, Graduate PLUS Loans, Parent PLUS Loans, and/or private collegiate loans. Keep in mind that deadline restrictions apply and not all circumstantial expenses qualify for a budget increase. Your expenses must be reasonable and incurred during the academic year, not prior to the start or after the end of instruction. Additionally, items such as credit card debt, car and insurance payments, or costly clothing for you or your family will not be considered for review.

To learn more about budget increases and to download a copy of the form, visit the “Forms” link on the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships website at You can also call (805) 893-2432 for additional details.

Emergency Short-Term Loans 
Emergency short-term loans available at UCSB generally come in small amounts ($600 or less) and differ from federal aid because their repayment date is just that – in the short-term. This could mean 30 days or anytime before graduation. Some loans require that you manage repayment yourself via cash, check, or money order. Others are billed to your BARC account and automatically repaid by any future aid you receive.

On the plus side, emergency loans can be a lifesaver in unexpected circumstances or emergencies that you can’t afford. On the down side, taking out loans with short repayment terms could lead to your running out of money at the end of a quarter (when you least need added stress) or the burden of having to work more hours than your grades or well-being can afford. You need to decide: Is it worth it? Can mom or dad help out instead? Can I work out a repayment plan with my creditors (for example, with medical providers or my landlord)? Have I sought advice from campus staff? Is there some other way that I can meet this financial need, for example through remaining loan eligibility or a request for a budget increase (see “Unexpected Expenses”)?

Even better, making what seems like a “radical” lifestyle decision could be the best thing you've done all year. For example, if your laptop is suddenly as good as dead, could you hold off on buying a new one? There are plenty of computer labs and even laptop loan options on campus that could save you the added financial hit. (See If You’re Struggling Financially and Resources). If you can separate your real needs from your wants and get creative about lowering your overall costs, you’ll have less stress and maybe even some change left over in your pockets.

If, after careful consideration, an emergency loan looks like your best option, you can visit the Resources section of this guide to learn what’s available. The Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships, for example, offers a $500 Emergency Short-Term Loan, repayable in 30 days, to both undergraduate and graduate students who have pending financial aid. This short-term loan is typically available the following business day and is billed to your BARC account. The loan is repaid from future financial aid (grants and/or student loans) and is credited to your BARC account.

Changing Financial Circumstances 
If your family’s financial circumstances change, you can submit a Student or Parent Request for Review (RFR) to see if you qualify for additional need-based federal aid. What situations fall into this category? Things like expensive medical procedures, employment layoffs for a parent or a student’s spouse, divorce, and the death of a parent or a student’s spouse.

As the RFR form explains, you’ll need to provide documentation to verify your changed circumstances. This ranges from employment termination letters and paycheck stubs to medical billing statements in situations that have significantly impacted your savings, assets, or the income you previously reported on the FAFSA. More information can be found on the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships website, including the RFR form located on their “Forms” page at You can also call (805) 893-2432 for additional details or to discuss your particular circumstances.

Graduate Student Aid 
Graduate student financial support can come from several different sources. In addition to the need-based aid offered through the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships (see above), graduate students can receive support via a campus fellowship, graduate student academic employment, and extramural funding.

fellowship is any payment to a student that is not a salary or direct reimbursement for out-of pocket expenses. Fellowships are awarded on the basis of merit and the promise of productive scholarship. University awards and funding sources for these include centrally administered fellowships, department and campus gift and endowment funds, and departmental block grants (these last are allocated to departments in the fall). Fellowship funds can provide payment for fees, health insurance, non-resident tuition, and stipends. In addition to centrally administered fellowships, academic departments have their own funds available that they may use to recruit excellent new students and support continuing students. Students should consult their department for details. Additional information can be found at

Graduate student academic employment provides the single largest source of support to UCSB graduate students. Graduate students working in eligible titles who meet related minimum requirements are entitled to partial or full fee remission, including for required graduate student health insurance coverage. For more information, visit

There are also numerous federal and foundation-administered extramural funding opportunities, for which all graduate students are encouraged to apply. The Graduate Division’s website contains information and links to extramural funding sources at

For questions related to financial support, graduate students are encouraged to first contact their academic or employing departments. Graduate Division staff can also be reached by calling (805) 893-2277 and selecting option 4 (Academic Appointments and Fee Remission) or option 5 (Fellowships Support) or emailing