The University of California recently launched an online financial aid estimator for prospective students.

The tool allows UC hopefuls to approximate the financial aid they are eligible for based on their personal situations. Students can enter basic family information — such as income and assets — and the calculator then offers a possible financial plan, including the estimated grant assistance and parent and student contribution.

UC Office of the President spokesman Ricardo Vázquez said prior to the implementation of the tool, students could not estimate the aid they would receive until they had been admitted to the university, applied for financial aid and received the award letter.

“[The calculator] benefits students because, until recently, families had a difficult time calculating the real cost of a UC education,” Vazquez said. “It allows students to enter some basic information such as income, total assets and family size, and tell them how much money they can expect from grants and scholarships so they can get a better idea of how they can finance a UC education. It gives students and parents a much better sense of what their financial aid options are.”

Vazquez said the online financial aid estimators from each UC campus were coordinated and launched last week.

“This is sort of a nationwide trend,” Vazquez said. “There are many institutions across the country that want to be responsive and provide information to students online, and our campuses were a part of that effort. We want families to be aware of the financial aid that’s out there. It might tip over the scales for families who thought a UC education was not in their reach. Even families who aren’t low income might be surprised about the amount of grants and scholarships their children will be eligible for.”

Ron Andrade, director of financial aid at UCSB, said that with the current economic crisis, it is crucial to provide prospective students with plenty of financial aid information.

“The state of California’s budget is in a bit of turmoil, to put it mildly,” Andrade said. “In light of increasing costs in fees, tuition, books, supplies and all the things we look at in the financial aid office, students are often quite perplexed about choosing a college. It comes down to students having as much information and as much good information in front of them when they’re making decisions about where to go to school.”

Andrade said the project was helmed by University of California President Mark G. Yudof, who was inspired by the Web-based financial aid estimator at the University of Texas, where he previously served as Chancellor.

“[The online estimator] had its genesis with Yudof’s desire to have a very high degree of transparency with what the UC system is doing, so our students can make good decisions,” Andrade said. “I think some students will choose not to attend a four-year university and go to a community college instead. Our goal is to give students as much information as possible when choosing what school to attend, and help them understand that a university education is possible.”

Zacile Rosette, a second-year political science major, said she depends on financial aid to assist her in tuition expenses.

“Without financial aid, I wouldn’t be here,” Rosette said. “Even if financial aid doesn’t fully cover tuition and room and board, it gives you the option of taking out loans, which is an opportunity, as opposed to not being able to go to school here at all. I think that with the estimator I would have been better prepared financially and more well-equipped to make decisions, because I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into with taking out student loans. I definitely would have gotten a better job instead of taking out so many loans.”