Paying for college can be challenging, but as a Californian student, you have several state-based financial aid programs available to help ease the burden. Remember that you will either need to submit the FAFSA or the California Dream Act application by March 2 in order to be considered for most types of financial aid. See our post, “Financial Aid 101”, to learn more about the process of applying for financial aid. Read on to find out more information about the Cal Grant, Middle Class Scholarship, Chafee Grant, and other financial aid opportunities in California.
Perhaps the most well-known financial aid program in California is the Cal Grant. The Cal Grant is a state-sponsored grant program available to eligible California students who attend participating colleges, universities, and technical schools in California. Some key facts about the Cal Grant program are:
The Cal Grant is gift aid and you do not need to pay it back
You need to meet certain financial, academic, and general requirements in order to be eligible for one of the Cal Grant awards
There are several types of Cal Grant awards, based on factors like when you are applying for financial aid, what type of college or institution you attend, and your income level. The following provides brief descriptions of the types of Cal Grant awards:
Cal Grant A or B High School Entitlement: For eligible current high school seniors and recent high school graduates
Cal Grant A or B Transfer Entitlement: For eligible students who plan to transfer directly from a California Community College to a participating four-year college or university
Competitive Cal Grant A or B: For eligible students who are not applying as a high school senior, within one year of high school graduation, or upon transfer from a California Community College to a four-year college or university
Cal Grant C: For eligible students who are pursuing an occupational or technical program
You do not need to figure out which Cal Grant you may qualify for on your own – you are automatically considered for the correct award based on the information you provide when applying.
The award amounts for the Cal Grant program depend on which award you have received and the type of institution you attend
Your FAFSA or California Dream Act application serves as your application for the Cal Grant program. Once you have submitted the appropriate financial aid application, you will need to create a WebGrants 4 Students account to access the next steps and secure your Cal Grant, if awarded. For more information about Webgrants, see our post, “After the FAFSA/Dream Act: Next Steps”.
Keep in mind that students who are current or former foster youth, and students who have dependents, may be eligible for additional funds or increased Cal Grant eligibility.
Important Links and Resources:
Read detailed information about the different types of Cal Grant awards and their eligibility requirements here
Check out the various Cal Grant award amounts by institution type and award type here
Check out the 2021-2022 Cal Grant Program Income Ceiling chart here
Learn more about the Cal Grant B Foster Youth Award here
Learn more about Cal Grant awards for students with dependents here
Middle Class Scholarship
If you are not eligible for the Cal Grant program but still meet certain financial and general requirements, you may be eligible for something called the Middle Class Scholarship (MCS). Unlike the Cal Grant, the Middle Class Scholarship is only available to eligible students at public, four-year universities in California. Some key facts about the MCS are:
In order to be eligible, your family may have an annual income of up to $184,000 and hold up to $184,000 in assets
The Middle Class Scholarship is gift aid and does not need to be repaid
Award amounts for the MCS are sliding scale and may vary by student and institution. This means that you may receive a MCS at one college you have been accepted to but not another
Students who are eligible can receive an award amount between 10% and 40% of the mandatory system-wide tuition and fees at a University of California or California State University campus
At a CSU, awards can range between $574 – $2,298
At a UC, awards can range between $1,257 – $5,028
Like the Cal Grant, your FAFSA or California Dream Act Application serves as your application for the Middle Class Scholarship. Once you have submitted the appropriate financial aid application, you will need to create a WebGrants 4 Students account to manage your award. You will be notified if you have been awarded a Middle Class Scholarship by August.
Important Links and Resources:
Read the top 10 things to know about the Middle Class Scholarship here
In addition to the Cal Grant or Middle Class Scholarship, current or former foster youth who meet certain criteria may also be eligible for another financial aid program in California called the Chafee Grant. If you have been in foster care for at least one day between the ages of 16 and 18, as a dependent or ward of the court, you qualify for this award. If eligible, you can receive up to $5,000 per year (that does not need to be repaid) for five years as long as you attend a qualifying institution in or outside of California.
You will first need to submit a FAFSA or California Dream Act application to be considered for the Chafee grant. If a first-time applicant, you will also need to complete an additional form called the California Chafee Grant application, which you can access through their Webgrants 4 Students account. If the California Department of Social Services is unable to verify your foster status, you will need to complete an additional form to certify your eligibility.
Important Links and Resources:
Find detailed information about eligibility, the application process, and more for the Chafee Grant here
To learn about your rights as a California foster youth as well as resources available to you, visit the California Office of the Foster Care Ombudsperson here
California College Promise Grant
For California residents who attend a California Community College and meet certain financial and general eligibility requirements, there is another financial aid program available called the California College Promise Grant (CCPG). This grant waives all enrollment fees for eligible students and does not need to be repaid. It is important to keep in mind that the CCPG waives the $46/unit enrollment fee for any number of units you enroll in, but does not cover additional student fees or books and supplies – you will need to cover these costs through the use of other financial aid or out of pocket.
There are several ways to qualify for the California College Promise Grant, for instance by meeting the income requirements, providing proof of receiving certain federal or state benefits or showing a certain level of financial need. The easiest way for you to determine your eligibility is by completing the FAFSA or the California Dream Act Application, and submitting the California College Promise Grant Application for the specific community college you attend. The financial aid office will follow up to confirm eligibility and potentially request additional documents as proof.
Important Links and Resources:
For a complete list of links to the California Community Colleges that offer online CCPG applications via CCCApply, click here
To learn more about the financial aid and opportunities available at the California Community Colleges, check out the website icanaffordcollege.com
For a student who is a citizen or legal permanent resident but whose parents are undocumented, you must follow specific steps to ensure you will be considered for federal aid through FAFSA.
Paying Resident Fees at a CCC, CSU, or UC Submitting the FAFSA Application
When students are financially dependent on their parent(s), Residency for Tuition Purposes in CCCs, CSUs, and UCs can be based on the residency of the parents when the student is under a specific age.
However, students who are citizens, legal permanent residents, or eligible non-citizens but whose parents are undocumented should be classified as residents in most instances if their parents meet all other residency requirements for tuition purposes. Keep in mind that this is a complicated process and not all students are accurately classified.
If you are classified as a non-resident but believe that you meet the residency requirements for tuition purposes in CA, contact the residency officer at your campus. If you are unable to resolve it at that level, contact the Chancellor’s Office of the CCC, CSU, or the President’s Office of the UC regarding their policy on residency for students who are U.S. citizens with undocumented parents.
If you cannot be classified as a resident, check to see if you meet theeligibility for AB 540/SB 68 and submit the nonresident tuition exemption form (AB 540 affidavit), along with any required proof (transcripts).
Being classified as a resident for tuition purposes or AB 540/SB 69 student is key to paying resident fees and being able to receive state-based financial aid.
Submitting the FAFSA Application
Students who are citizens, legal permanent residents, or eligible non-citizens, but whose parent(s) is/ are undocumented are eligible to submit the FAFSA application and receive federal financial aid.
Students should apply atfafsa.ed.gov but should pay attention to these specific details if their parents are undocumented:
Students should obtain their own FSA ID
Parent(s) should include their information, if required
Parents should be sure to use 000’s for the Social Security Number (SSN) if they do not have a valid SSN. They should not use an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN). The application will request confirmation if you use zeros. Say yes.
Students should sign the FAFSA with their FSA ID and parents should “Print signature page” to sign the FAFSA because they cannot obtain an FSA ID
Students should save one copy of the signature page and mail the other to FAFSA. It can take up to six weeks to process, so be sure to send it early!
Students should check on www.fafsa.ed.gov to confirm that the parents signature has been received. The student’s FAFSA application cannot be processed until the parents signature is successfully added.
Receiving Federal and State Financial Aid at a CCC, CSU, or UC
Students who filled out the FAFSA but were admitted as non-residents usually do not see CA state financial aid in their original financial aid award–only federal financial aid. Once approval of their residency classification or AB 540 status is approved, students must contact the Financial Aid department to ensure that all state financial aid for which they are eligible is added to their financial aid award.
Money is one of the biggest deciding factors for incoming college students. Depending on how much aid students are able to receive, it then shifts what college they attend, how many semesters they will attend, how much they will loan, etc. Immigrant Rising’s FAFSA vs Dream Act info sheet gives a quick overview of the differences between FAFSA and the Dream Act as to what they are, who can apply, and the requirements for each. Below is some FAQ’s that can help you decide which aid to apply for!
Who is eligible?
Legal Permanent Residents
Eligible Non- Citizens (per FAFSA)
T visa holders
DREAM Act AB 540/ SB 68 Eligible Students Who Are:
DACAmented individuals; and U visa holders
TPS Protected Status
Who is NOT eligible?
Any visa holder (except U)
Legal Permanent Residents
Eligible Non-Citizens (per FAFSA)
Requirements for Financial Aid to be Awarded:
Department of Homeland Security and SocialSecurity Administration crosscheck student name, social security number, and birthdate to verify that all FAFSA eligibility requirements are met;
All other eligibility for federal and state aid is met
School verifies student meets AB 540/ SB 68
Some schools may require a student’s AB 540/ SB 68 status to be approved prior to awarding state financial aid
All other eligibility state aid is met
Requirements for Financial Aid to Be Released to Pay Outstanding Balances:
Admission into an approved degree or certificate degree
Financial aid is broken down into three categories: gift aid, loans, and work-study.
Gift aid is broken down into grants and scholarships. Grants and scholarships are free money to the student, meaning they do not have to be repaid. Grants and scholarships can be awarded by the federal government, states, colleges, and private funders or organizations.
Grants are awarded to students based on financial need
Some examples of grants include:
The Pell Grant is awarded by the U.S. federal government to eligible students based on their family’s income, assets, family size, and other factors. The maximum Pell Grant amount was $6,345 for the 2020-2021 school year.
The Cal Grant is need-based and requires a minimum of a 2.0 GPA, with additional funds for students with a 3.0 or higher.
Scholarships can be awarded to students based on many factors, including financial need, academic achievement, athletic achievement, community involvement, ethnic or cultural background, etc.
Loans are a type of financial aid that students and parents can borrow to help pay for college. Loans must be repaid, typically with interest. Loans can be offered by the federal government, the college itself, and private lenders.
Federal Direct Subsidized Loans
Available to undergraduate students with financial need
Interest is paid by the government while borrowers are enrolled at least half time
2.75% fixed interest rate as of July 1, 2020 (resets each July 1st)
Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans
Available to any undergraduate and graduate student, regardless of need
Borrowers are responsible for all interest that accrues
2.75% fixed interest rate as of July 1, 2020 (resets each July 1st)
Federal PLUS Loan
The Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS Loan) is a loan for the parent(s) of undergraduate students.
Parents can borrow up to the full Cost of Attendance, minus any financial aid the student has received. PLUS loans have a fixed interest rate of 5.3% as of July 1, 2020 (will be reset as of July 1, 2021).
Eligibility is based on a credit check, which determines whether a parent has an adverse credit history
Work-study is the third main type of financial aid. It provides students with a part-time job either on or off-campus, to earn money to help pay for college or personal expenses. work-study is usually funded by the federal government, but some states and colleges sponsor work-study programs as well.
How do I apply for financial aid?
Check out this link for a one-pager that explains all the steps in the process for California students to apply for financial aid.
Here is the breakdown of how to apply for financial aid:
The Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID is a self-selected username and password that is unique for each user. The FSA ID serves as a legal signature in order to submit the FAFSA. Both the student and one parent (dependent students only) will need to create unique and separate FSA IDs.
FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA is required by all colleges and many technical programs and is available on October 1st of each year. The FAFSA is an application for financial aid from the government and is required in order to be considered for any federal or state-issued financial aid, in addition to some institutional funds.
For students who cannot complete the FAFSA due to their citizenship status, they can complete the CA Dream Act Application.
The CSS Profile (College Scholarship Service Profile) is an additional financial aid form required by a large number of private colleges and a few public institutions to determine eligibility for institutional funds only – money from the college.
The Student Aid Report (SAR) is a summary of all information reported on the FAFSA and is usually available to view a few days after a student submits the FAFSA. It provides important information about potential issues with a student’s FAFSA, the Expected Family Contribution, and other important information.
Complete Verification & Other Follow-up Tasks
Verification is a process in which the federal government and colleges can request copies of specific documents from a student to confirm the accuracy of the information reported on financial aid forms. Some students are randomly selected for verification while others are selected due to conflicting information that the colleges are seeing on the financial aid forms.
Review and Compare Financial Aid Offers
Financial aid offers typically arrive from February through May, after notification of admissions acceptance. Financial aid offers to show the amount and type of aid that has been offered to a student at a particular college – a combination of federal, state, and institutional aid. These offers can arrive in many ways such as: regular postal mail, email, or more commonly via the college’s online portal.
Use the College Cost Calculator, a free online tool that helps students compare financial aid offers and the total costs of attending different colleges. Find it at uAspire.org/Calculator.
Pay Tuition Deposit
Once the student has decided which college they will attend they will likely need to pay a tuition deposit which holds their spot in the first-year class and for housing (if applicable). The tuition deposit amounts can range from $200 – $1000 and vary from college to college.
Note that in most cases, tuition deposits are NOT refundable. Students should compare all financial aid offers and only send a deposit to the college that they plan to attend.
The CSS Profile (College Scholarship Service Profile) is an additional financial aid form required by a large number of private colleges and a few public institutions. The CSS Profile utilizes a separate, more comprehensive formula called Institutional Methodology (IM), compared to the one used for the FAFSA. IM aims at providing a more expansive look at the family’s financial situation compared to what the FAFSA offers. Colleges utilize this methodology to determine eligibility for institutional funds only (not federal or state).
The Profile is not free: There is a $9 registration fee and an additional $16 for each school requiring it. There are unlimited fee waivers! But these are not paper fee waivers, nor are they fee waivers in which counselors and advisors have a set amount to distribute. Rather, the student will find out whether or not they are eligible for the fee waivers after they have completed the CSS Profile, based upon income and other factors reported on the form. If students are eligible they are automatically provided the fee waivers at the time of submission.
Similar to the FAFSA, the CSS Profile goes live on October 1 of each year. Deadlines may vary based on the school and by the way you are applying: Regular Decision, Early Action, or Early Decision.
The FSA (Federal Student Aid ID) is a self-selected username and password that is an important first step of the federal financial aid process. The FSA ID serves as a legal signature in order to submit the FAFSA. Both the student and one parent (dependent students only) will need to create unique and separate FSA IDs. In a two-parent household, only one parent needs to create an FSA ID. It is recommended that the FSA IDs are created prior to completing the FAFSA.
If a student is not eligible to fill out the FAFSA and will instead be filling out the California Dream Act Application, the student will not be creating an FSA ID. Note that if a parent does not have a social security number they will not be able to create an FSA ID, but can still sign the FAFSA via a printed signature page if the student is eligible to complete the FAFSA.
When registering for the FSA ID there will be a series of questions about the student in terms of basic information like address, etc. Each user will need to select 4 security questions from the drop-down menu and enter answers for them. These security questions will be asked if the user forgets their username or password. In addition, you can use your phone number and/or email for text/email password recovery. A user can retrieve their username or reset their password, either by correctly answering the challenge questions or by having a secure code texted to the cell phone or sent to the email address if they completed the email and/or phone verification steps. If the user uses the challenge question option to reset the password, they will have to wait 30 minutes before they can use their new password.
The FSA ID can be edited and updated as needed and as personal information changes such as an email address. To make changes to the information, the user can go to fsaid.ed.gov and select the “Edit My FSA ID”. Passwords need to be changed every 18 months.
The FSA ID can be a tricky part of the process, especially if there are problems with users forgetting usernames and passwords. If the user gets stuck they can call the FSA ID help center at 1-800-433-3243.
Financial aid is a college student’s worst nightmare as it can be very complex and complicated. Understanding this, the Federal Student Aid launched the Next Gen Federal Student Aid (Next Gen FSA) initiative in 2017. Next Gen FSA is a big step forward in improving the way students, parents, and borrowers interact with and access the benefits given by Federal Student Aid.
On December 6, 2020, the Federal Student Aid released a significant update to the myStudentAid mobile app to add personalized features, improve functionality, and integrate the look and feel of StudentAid.gov. This includes a new module of Loan Simulator, which allows you to estimate what your monthly bill would be if you borrowed more federal loans.
Before the update, completing the FAFSA® form was the primary in-app experience available to users of the app. With the enhanced app, users will be able to
create an account;
View and update their account settings;
complete the 2020–21 and 2021–22 FAFSA forms;
access a personalized dashboard that summarizes their aid, highlights upcoming loan payments, and provides relevant content and checklists;
view their detailed loan and grant information, loan servicer information, and details such as remaining Direct Loan and Pell Grant eligibility, qualifying payments toward public service loan forgiveness, and more with the new My Aid Summary feature;
get important notifications and account updates, such as recertifying an income-driven repayment plan within the Notification Center; and
continue to receive alerts (push notifications) directly on their phone.
They will continue to add features to the mobile app in the coming year.
Happy October 1st! FAFSA opens October 1st, 2020, and closes March 2nd, 2021.
The FAFSA application process can be confusing and a bit scary, but it is important that you fill it out as soon as possible! Many families have suffered economically during the coronavirus pandemic and may have to take extra steps to qualify for maximum help.
Please make sure you apply as early as possible! Many families have suffered economically during the coronavirus pandemic and may have to take extra steps to qualify for maximum help.
According to a New York Times article, “completing the form early is always a good idea in order to meet varying deadlines for scholarships. But this year, college students or prospective applicants who have been affected by the pandemic may need to submit extra documents to their colleges.
The more you know about the FAFSA application process, the more you can help others.
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