College application season is here and that means it is also time to apply for financial aid! When you are applying for financial aid, you will either apply for FAFSA or the California Dream Act. If you are an undocumented student, DREAMer, or DACAmented you will most likely apply for state and institutional financial aid using the CA Dream Act. Keep reading to find out all the ins and outs of the CA Dream Act!
Background and Eligibility
Q1. What is the California Dream Act?
The California Dream Act allows undocumented and nonresident students (U.S. Citizens and eligible non-citizens) who qualify for a non-resident exemption under AB 540 to receive certain types of financial aid such as: private scholarships funded through public universities, state-administered financial aid, university grants, community college fee waivers, and Cal Grants. In addition, the California Dream Act, allows eligible students to pay in-state tuition at any public college in California.
Q2. Who can apply for the California Dream Act?
Students who live in California and meet the eligibility requirements for a non-resident exemption, as well as students who have a U Visa or TPS status, can use the California Dream Act application (CADAA). Similarly, students without Social Security Numbers or students who have lost DACA status (or never applied for DACA), may still be eligible.
Q3. What is the difference between the FAFSA and the California Dream Act Application?
Students should only complete one of the applications (not both), according to the citizenship requirements below:
- You are eligible to complete the FAFSA at www.fafsa.ed.gov if you are a:
- U.S Citizen
- Permanent Resident
- Eligible non-citizen
- T Visa holder
- You are eligible to complete the CADAA at https://dream.csac.ca.gov/ if you are:
- Have a valid or expired DACA
- U Visa holders
- Have Temporary Protected Status (TPS)
- Meet the non-resident exemption requirements under AB 540
Note: If you have further questions, including how to ensure you are completing the correct financial aid application, you can visit the Immigrants Rising website and review the document titled FAFSA VS CA Dream Act: Apply to the Correct Financial Aid
Q4. What are the non-resident exemption requirements under AB 540?
Students must meet all four (4) requirements to be eligible:
- Time and coursework requirements
- High school attendance in California for three or more years, OR
- Attainment of credits earned in California from a California high school equivalent to three or more years of full-time high school coursework and a total of three or more years of attendance in California elementary schools, California secondary schools, or a combination of those schools. OR
- Attainment of credits earned at a California adult school, OR
- Credits earned at a California Community College, OR
- A combination of the schools listed above
Use Immigrants Rising’s California In-State Tuition Tool for the easiest way to determine whether you have the attendance and degree requirements in order to qualify for in-state tuition in California.
- Degree or unit requirements (completion of either of the following):
- Graduation from a California high school or the equivalent (GED, HiSET, TASC) •
- Attainment of an Associate degree from a California Community College
- Fulfillment of the minimum transfer requirements from a California Community College to a UC or CSU campus
- Register or enroll in an accredited and qualifying California college or university
For a list of Cal Grant eligible schools, please visit this page
Some schools will refer to this document as an “AB 540 affidavit.” This form states that you meet all the requirements to qualify for a non-resident exemption under AB 540 and, if you are undocumented, that you are in the process of legalizing your immigration status (or will do so as soon as you are eligible).
Please contact the Registrar’s Office or the Admissions and Records office at your college for information on how to complete your non-resident exemption form and to determine if supporting documentation is needed. You should complete this form upon accepting an offer to attend a college in California and at least one semester or quarter before you are scheduled to start classes.
Q5. What should I do if I’ve already submitted a FAFSA before learning that I should have submitted a CADAA?
You must first complete the CADAA and then complete the “Application Conversion Form G-55” which can be obtained at: https://www.csac.ca.gov/post/application-conversion-form Please make a copy of this form for your records, send the original form (along with documentation to prove your identification) to the Commission and contact the financial aid office at the college you plan to attend to inform them of this error.
Q6. Do I need to register for the U.S. Selective Service to receive financial aid?
Males who are between the age of 18 and 25 years old, even undocumented individuals, must register for the selective service so your CA Dream Act aid is not put on hold. Register early and show proof of registration to your school to ensure you receive state financial aid.
Q7. What if I do not qualify for FAFSA nor the CA Dream Act?
- If you do not meet school attendance criteria you may be able to attend high school for an additional year to reach AB 540 eligibility. This is up to each school and you should talk with your counselor to evaluate your situation.
- Attend a community college and have it count toward future eligibility, but you will not be eligible for state aid first year at community college.
- Find other sources of financial aid such as outside scholarships and institutional funds depending on the college, some colleges and universities offer full rides to undocumented students.
*For a full copy of the California Dream Act FAQs for Students and Parents please go to this link: CA Dream Act FAQ
For a checklist of applying for the CA Dream Act go here:
For a complete overview of the CA Dream Act go here: CA Dream Act Overview
RESOURCES FOR UNDOCUMENTED/DREAMER STUDENTS FILLING OUT THE CALIFORNIA DREAM ACT APPLICATION: RESOURCES FOR CALIFORNIA DREAM ACT APPLICATION
Sources: CSAC, Immigrants Rising, and uAspire