It’s normal to have questions about Financial aid, especially if you have never applied for it before. One of the most common questions is, “Do I qualify for financial aid?” There are many myths and misconceptions about who is eligible to receive financial aid, so it’s important to have all the facts when going through this process.
Why This Matters
In this context, financial aid refers to money for college provided by the federal government in the form of federal student loans, grants, and work-study jobs. Other types of financial aid include scholarships from your college or outside sources, and private student loans from banks or other institutions. These types of funding have their own eligibility requirements, which may or may not be connected to your eligibility for federal student aid.
The only way to know exactly what type of financial aid you qualify for is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). When you (or your parent, if you are a dependent) complete the FAFSA, you will enter personal financial information that is used to calculate an Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your school’s financial aid office will use this number, along with the cost of attendance at the college or university, to determine what types of aid and how much money you are eligible to receive.
Even if you or your parents think that you are not eligible for any federal financial aid, it is important to complete the FAFSA each year. Individual schools and states use this information to determine eligibility for scholarships, grants, and other types of non-federal student aid. Sometimes things change, and where you didn’t qualify for financial aid last year, you qualify this year. Thanks to the online application process, and the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, completing the FAFSA is simpler and faster than ever.
Do I Qualify for Financial Aid?
To determine if you meet basic eligibility requirements for financial aid, ask yourself the following questions. Please note, these questions apply to the student, not the person completing the FAFSA, such as a parent or guardian.
Am I a U.S. citizen, or an eligible noncitizen?
You are considered an eligible noncitizen if you meet any of the following criteria:
- U.S. national (including natives of American Samoa or Swains Island)
- U.S. permanent resident with a Permanent Resident Card
- An individual who has an Arrival-Departure Record (I-94) from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services showing one of the following designations:
- Asylum Granted
- Cuban-Haitian Entrant (Status Pending)
- Conditional Entrant (valid only if issued prior to April 1, 1980)
- Victim of human trafficking
- Parolee (must be paroled into the United States for at least one year and you must be able to provide evidence from the USCIS that you are in the United States for other than a temporary purpose and that you intend to become a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.)
- “Battered immigrant-qualified alien” who is a victim of abuse by your citizen or permanent resident spouse, or you are the child of a person designated as such under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
- A citizen of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, or the Republic of Palau. If this is the case, you may be eligible for only certain types of federal student aid:
Do I demonstrate financial need?
In this case, “financial need” is defined as the difference between the cost of attendance at a school, and your Student Aid Index (SAI). Your SAI is calculated based on your FAFSA, and remains the same regardless of the cost of attendance at the school you choose.
The SAI is a measure of you or your family’s financial strength. It’s based on taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits such as unemployment or Social Security. Due to changes implemented as part of the FAFSA Simplification Act, the SAI will no longer include the number of students a family currently has in college as part of its calculations, as the EFC did.
Each individual school will calculate your aid eligibility by subtracting your SAI from the school’s cost of attendance (COA). This is why it’s important to send your completed FAFSA to all the schools you are considering attending, as your financial aid eligibility will vary from school to school.
Based on your demonstrated financial need, the school will create a financial aid package informing you of how much and what types of aid you can receive.
Am I enrolling in a degree or certificate program at an eligible school?
The institution and type of program in which you are enrolling also affects whether you qualify for financial aid.
In accordance with the Higher Education Act, which established federal financial aid programs, there are certain guidelines institutions must meet in order to receive financial aid benefits for students. Institutions must have accreditation from a nationally recognized accrediting agency, or approval from a recognized state approval agency, in the case of certain vocational schools. Schools must also be authorized by the state in which they are located, and receive approval from the U.S. Department of Education through a program participation agreement.
The individual program in which you are enrolling matters, too. Degree and certificate programs must be approved by the U.S. Department of Education, be longer than one year in length, and lead to gainful employment in order for students to receive financial aid to pay for those programs. During your college search process, you should confirm that the school and program you are interested in attending is eligible for financial aid.
Additional Qualifications for Financial Aid
In addition to the basic eligibility criteria, students must also meet the following qualifications:
- Have a valid Social Security Number (if you are a U.S. citizen) – Students from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau are exempt from this requirement.
- Demonstrated eligibility to obtain a college or career school education – This means students must have a high school diploma, or a recognized equivalent, such as a General Educational Development (GED) certificate, or have completed high school in an approved homeschool setting. Students who were enrolled in college or career school prior to July 1, 2012, or are currently enrolled in an eligible career pathway program may show they’re qualified to obtain a higher education by passing an approved ability-to-benefit test (if you don’t have a diploma or GED, a college can administer a test to determine whether you can benefit from the education offered at that school) or completing six credit hours, 225 clock hours, or equivalent course work toward a degree or certificate.
- Sign the certification statement on the FAFSA – This confirms that you are not currently in default on any federal student loans, that you do not currently owe money on a federal student grant, and that you will use your federal student aid for educational purposes only.
- Maintain satisfactory academic progress – Once you are enrolled in college or career school, you must remain in good academic standing and meet your school’s standards for satisfactory academic progress to continue receiving financial aid.
- Submit a new FAFSA each year – Your financial aid eligibility, as determined by your FAFSA, is only valid for one academic year. Students or their parents must submit a new, updated FAFSA for each year that they want to receive financial aid. FAFSA deadlines vary by college and state, so it’s important to be aware of any FAFSA deadlines that apply to you.
Students in the following special circumstances may or may not qualify for financial aid, or may need to meet additional eligibility requirements:
Resources provided by:
Applying to college can be overwhelming as there is not one application for all schools. Many different schools and systems require different applications and it could be challenging to keep track of all of the details and requirements. College Unfiltered is introducing “A Guide to Creating a College Application”, to help fellow high school seniors with college applications as well as how to choose your college and major. Other information that you can find includes the personal essay questions found on the common app, tips for international students, and more information on the coalition app.
For access to the full toolkit, visit College Unfiltered’s website.
Application season is here again! Below are several Cal State Apply updates as well as some helpful reminders to assist students.
The priority application period for the Fall 2021 semester opens October 1, 2022, and closes November 30, 2022. We encourage you to apply early.
Validation is Here! Students are highly encouraged to find their high school, so they do not need to manually enter their high school coursework, complete a-g matching, and ensure validation is properly applied. Students can now search for their high school using the CEEB code.
Cal State Apply Submission Review! The application has been updated with a Submission Review page. The page provides key academic and application information that students may need to review. Please review this information carefully and correct any issues prior to submission.
SAT and ACT Test Scores
- The CSU has temporarily suspended the use of SAT and ACT test scores for admission purposes. To find more information on the admission requirements for Fall 2022 please visit the First-time Freshman Guidance.
- If SAT and ACT test scores are submitted, the CSU will use scores for placement in English and mathematics courses. Please visit the CSU Student Success site for additional information on placement. If a student has not taken a test, they can opt-out of the Standardized Tests section of Cal State Apply.
Cal State Apply Helpful Links
All Cal State Apply resources have been updated and posted to the Counselor Resource site under First-time Freshman Section. Here are some helpful ones, visit this site for more. There are a lot of resources available for counselors, but some are quite helpful for students.
CSU Video and Campus Virtual Tour Links
For a new CSU overview video and virtual tours of all 23 campuses go here.
Reminders & Clarifications
College-Dual Enrollment Coursework – If you have taken college classes while in high school on your own or through a formal dual enrollment program, you should specify on the application that you are a graduating high school senior with college credit. Any college courses taken that will appear on a college transcript should be reported on the College Coursework page. For more information please see the College-Dual Enrollment Coursework Guidance.
Help students not miss the deadline to apply for the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP). Some but not all campuses have a deadline of November 30, 2022, for EOP applicants. Even if you have submitted their application to the CSU, you can still go back into Cal State Apply to indicate you are interested in applying for EOP if you haven’t missed the campus’s deadline. To check the deadline for the campus(es), go to EOP Admission by Term (also available as a PDF). Also, at least one of the recommendations must be from someone who knows your academic history, such as a teacher or counselor. The other recommendation can be from an individual who can comment about your potential to succeed in college but cannot be the student or a family member.
DACA, undocumented or AB540 students should enter “None” as their citizenship status. Under “Residency,” they should select “California” as their state of residency if they consider California their home.
There have been changes in impaction on both campuses and degree programs for the 2022-23 academic year. Impaction means that there are more qualified applicants for a program or campus than can be accommodated. For the most current information, visit the Impaction center on Calstate.edu.
This resource was compiled with information from the CSU Office of the Chancellor