The rising cost of a college education has been capturing headlines for more than a decade, and college students and their parents are paying close attention. Priscilla Muha, director of financial aid, has been helping them navigate the complex world of financial aid since 2016 at Cal Maritime, after getting a start on her financial aid career in 1984. Since then she’s helped advise thousands of students on ways to finance their education. She sat down with us (virtually, for course) to answer a few questions about current issues in financial aid and how to maximize the chances of graduating debt-free.


What do you think is the most important misconception about financial aid?

The biggest misconception is that students and families have is that the student will not qualify for any financial aid. True, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) looks at a family’s income and assets, but it also takes into consider family size and number of students in college and age of the oldest parent (protecting assets needed for retirement). If a student does not qualify for need based aid such as federal and state grants and scholarships, they will still qualify for student and/or parent loans. Additionally, there are many scholarships based not only on need but merit and talent. 


The FAFSA deadline is fast approaching. Should every student fill out the FAFSA every year?

Yes, the FAFSA is available starting October 1st of every year and our California state deadline is March 2. In order for students to be considered for federal, state, and institutional aid they must complete a FAFSA each year. Many of our Cal Maritime Foundation Scholarships are based on financial need so we need that information by the end of January to help with awarding decisions for the next year. 


What percentage of the Cal Maritime study body gets some kind of aid paying for their education?

More than 70 percent of our cadets receive financial aid whether it is in the form of grants, scholarships, student and/or parent loans or veteran’s waivers. 


In addition to federal aid and loans, there is a dizzying array of private scholarships, some need-based and others not, available to students. Do you think the student body is adequately aware of their options?

Sadly, there are many scholarship funds that go unawarded because students do not apply for them. At Cal Maritime we have two incredibly unique webpages dedicated to outsides scholarships. The first is simply named “Outside Scholarships” which lists many large free scholarship sites and we also have sites broken down categories-based gender, ethnicity, LGBQ+, former foster children, dreamers, veterans or law enforcement. The second page is called “Maritime Scholarships.” This page is dedicated to maritime scholarships based on major. We list the link and in many cases the deadline for the applications and update these pages every three months with latest information. 


What are the tools you use in educating students about the downside of graduating with debt?

Our Financial Aid webpage offers loan debt tools on “Monitoring Your Loans.” We show where to find who services your student loans, the types of repayment programs available, and how to consolidate your loans for easier repayment. This year we will also be offering a virtual workshop for our graduating seniors on loan management. 


What is your favorite part of your job?

My career choice is both personal and rewarding. Financial aid made it possible for my parents to go to college and set in motion a legacy and expectation for the next generations in my family to go to college. I see the possibilities and opportunities a college education can provide.  

I love working with our families and showing the financial options available to help meet college expenses. I also enjoy the outreach I do in our community at local high schools to help understand the financial aid process. But attending our cadets’ commencement each year is the greatest reward! 

See answers to frequently asked questions about financial aid at Cal Maritime here. 

Established in 1929, California State University Maritime Academy is the only degree-granting maritime academy on the West Coast. Located in Vallejo, California, the campus serves nearly 1,000 students and offers undergraduate degrees preparing students for careers in engineering, transportation, international relations, business, and global logistics. The new oceanography degree program launched in the fall of 2020. Cal Maritime also offers a master’s degree in Transportation and Engineering Management, as well as a number of extended learning programs and courses.