By Sumiko Martinez on November 19, 2015

Welcome to the second part of StepUpUtah’s month-long blog series on the way that real students take the formula of “savings/scholarships/grants/work-study/student loans” and put it into practice to pay for college! If you missed the first installment, you can check it out here.

Tina Xu
Senior at the University of Utah
Degree Sought: B.S. in Biology with a Chemistry minor
Total Cost of Attendance: $141,281

Tina-Xu-INFOGRAPHICHow Tina is Paying for College:

  • Pell Grants
  • Scholarships from the College of Science, Honors College, University of Utah Hospital, BioScience Undergraduate Research Program, and MUSE Project
  • 1st year: received Pell Grant, and parents (small business owners & immigrants) paid out of pocket for the rest
  • 2nd, 3rd, and 4th years: scholarships and work-study funds (research assistant in a lab on campus)
  • Resident advisor in a science living/learning community, which includes free housing and meals

Advice on Paying for College from Tina:

  1. Throughout my four years as a student at the University of Utah my financial aid has certainly shifted! My first piece of advice for students is to fill out and renew FAFSA each year for potential federal grants.
  2. My second piece of advice for students is to look for scholarships in unexpected places, such as campus offices and programs outside of their majors. Also, campus involvement is not only fulfilling and impactful, but it is also helpful to talk about on scholarship applications to stick out from the crowd of other applicants.
  3. My final piece of advice for students is to try and find time for enjoyable campus employment. I have been a research assistant since my sophomore year, and my employer/research professor understands my needs for a flexible schedule as a student, and the work I do in my lab is a great supplement to my education.
  4. I would like students to know to not be discouraged their first years if they do not receive very much financial aid to cover the costs of their education because I have found more opportunities for financial aid in later years.

Bryan Lee
Salt Lake Community College
Degree Sought: Digital Audio Production
Cost of Attendance: approximately $20,000/year


How Bryan is Paying for College:

  • $1,500/semester for tuition & books
  • Tuition reimbursement scholarship through employer ($1,250 per year)
  • Mixture of paying out of pocket and borrowing student loans to cover whatever can’t be paid out of pocket
  • Take classes at a pace where he’s not buried (pays at least half of the expenses out of pocket to minimize borrowing)

Key Strategies for Paying for College:

  • File the FAFSA!
  • Saving over borrowing – paying up front is preferable!
  • Borrowing student loans to supplement whatever can’t be covered, not as a primary means of paying
  • Don’t be discouraged about taking fewer classes and going at a slower pace, because sometimes that is more affordable
  • Resulted in a very small amount of student debt that is easy to manage
  • Working full time during college

Tina and Bryan both give great advice and examples of how there’s no one “right way” to pay for college. No matter your situation, you can make it work! Don’t forget to check back on November 30th to see the final part in this series.

Sumiko Martinez is a Community Outreach Officer with the Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority (UHEAA). Learn more about Sumiko at, and connect with her on Twitter @SumikoMartinez.