Eligibility and Applying
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- Who should apply for financial aid?
- All students and potential students who want financial assistance to attend college should apply for financial aid.
- Why should I apply for financial aid?
- Financial aid is available to help students and families cover the costs of a college education. If you want help paying for fees, books and other expenses, you should apply. Even if you aren't sure you'll qualify, you should at least submit a FAFSA. You never know what you might be eligible for if you don't apply.
- Who is eligible for financial aid?
- The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) gathers information from all applicants and a federal formula is used to compute a student's eligibility. Remember, by not applying you are automatically disqualifying yourself from consideration for awards. Your financial aid eligibility will depend on lots of different factors. These include your family's income and assets, the size of your family household, and the number attending college in your family (excluding parents). Students can be defined as dependent or independent (http://studentaid.ed.gov/fafsa/filling-out/dependency) depending upon federal rules. Your dependency status determines whose information you must report on the FAFSA. Even if you aren't eligible for grants, there are other kinds of aid available, including loan programs. To be eligible for most financial aid, you also have to meet other basic requirements that don't have anything to do with your financial need. You must:
If you meet these requirements, your family income, assets and other financial factors are reviewed to see if you could be eligible to receive aid. Your eligibility relates to the cost of the college you attend. For example, you may be eligible for less money at a low-cost college than you might receive at a more expensive college. To keep receiving your financial aid while you're in college, you have to continue to make progress towards your educational objectives. You must also file a FAFSA each year you are in college.
- Be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen – see the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for more detail.
- Be registered with Selective Service (if required).
- Be working toward a degree, certificate or eligible goal (such as transfer).
- Not owe a refund on a federal grant or be in default on a federal educational loan.
- Be a high school graduate or have the equivalent of a high school diploma (like a GED or the CHSPE).
- Not have been convicted of drug possession or sales in the recent past (see the FAFSA for more detail).
- If I am eligible to receive financial aid, are there any additional academic requirements I have to meet?
- Once you begin receiving financial aid, you have to meet satisfactory academic progress requirements at your college. Requirements include maintaining the minimum grade point average (GPA) and course completion standards specified by your college, and working towards an approved educational goal, like a degree, certificate, or transfer.
- How do I get financial aid?
- To receive financial aid, you must apply for it. The biggest mistake students make is not applying because they aren't sure if they'll qualify. To apply for federal, state and college financial aid programs, you need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). For the Cal Grant program, you must also submit a verified Cal Grant GPA by March 2nd. Check with your high school or college regarding Cal Grant GPA verification – some automatically submit GPAs for you. Your college may also request additional documents, such as tax returns, so be sure to respond immediately.
- Can financial aid be used only for tuition, or can it cover other college-related expenses?
- There are some types of financial aid, such as Cal Grants, that can be used to help cover your living expenses while attending college, while other types can help cover tuition and other education-related expenses, such as books and fees.
- What should I do first – apply to the college I want to attend, or apply for financial aid?
- You should apply to the California community college you would like to attend before applying for financial aid. To find a California community college near you, and explore the majors and course offerings, you can use the College Locator at http://californiacommunitycolleges.cccco.edu/. Or, if you’re ready to enroll now, you can get started on your online admission form at CCCApply.org.
- If I don't qualify for need-based aid, what other options are available?
- If you are not eligible for need-based financial aid, many options are still available. One option is to look for merit-based scholarships, which consider academic, athletic, artistic or other talents. Awards are also available for students who are interested in certain fields of study. Additionally, you may consider borrowing through the unsubsidized loan program, or having your parents borrow through the PLUS program. To find out about these loan programs, go here.
- A friend of mine got more grants than I did. Why?
- Your eligibility for financial aid is based upon a number of factors, including the size of your family, how many members of the family are in college, how close your parents are to retirement and, of course, family financial resources (income and assets). Even though your family's circumstances may appear to be very similar to your friend's, there may be substantial differences in the components used to calculate financial aid eligibility.
- I probably don't qualify for aid because of family finances. Should I submit a FAFSA anyway?
- Yes. Even though you may not think you qualify for aid, you should at least complete the FAFSA. The application is free and many colleges use it to assess your eligibility for some scholarships and non-need-based loans, including the direct unsubsidized and Direct PLUS loans. And, if your family circumstances change suddenly, you will already have the FAFSA information on file with your college.
- How do I apply for a grant? For a loan?
- By completing the FAFSA, submitting it to the federal processor, and supplying any other required documents to the financial aid office, you are considered for federal grant and loan programs. In order to be considered for a Cal Grant, as well as other college funds, you will need to meet the priority deadlines. For the Cal Grant program, you also need to file a verified Cal Grant GPA by the priority deadline. To apply for a loan, you must first complete your FAFSA, then complete a loan application and/or a promissory note through your college and attend a loan counseling session. Contact the financial aid office to find out specifically how and when to apply for a student loan at your college.
- Do I need to complete my income tax return before I complete the FAFSA?
- No, although the FAFSA information will be most accurate if you complete your tax return first, it is not essential. Meeting priority deadlines is more important than waiting until your (and, if necessary, your parents') tax return is completed. If you fill out the FAFSA using estimated information from your W-2, be careful. Discrepancies between your FAFSA and your tax return could have an impact on your financial aid award. Check with your college to see if you need to update your application after you have filed your taxes.
- What if I don't have my W-2s yet, and my parents' tax returns aren't completed?
- Although you can apply for federal aid any time after January 1, you should wait until you receive your W-2 forms. These provide a fairly accurate estimate of your earnings. Although you can use estimated information on your FAFSA, it is recommended that you file it using a completed tax return for better accuracy. If you estimate on the FAFSA, you can update that information when you receive your Student Aid Report (SAR) or provide your college with a copy of your tax return (check with the financial aid office to see if they need it). Also, if you use estimated information, your financial aid eligibility may be revised once you update your income information. Keep priority deadlines in mind – make sure you submit the FAFSA and the verified Cal Grant GPA before March 2 in order to meet the Cal Grant deadline.
- If I receive financial aid from the California Dream Act, can I use that to attend school in another state?
- No. The California Dream Act is specific to California. If you receive financial aid through the Dream Act, you would have to attend a college here in this state. Unfortunately, there is not currently any Dream Act financial aid available at the federal level. It has been discussed in Congress for several years, but nothing has been passed yet. If you’re planning to go out-of-state, you should contact the financial aid office at the college you want to attend for more information on what opportunities might be available there.
- I filled out the FAFSA. How do I find out the results?
- If you file your FAFSA online, you'll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) via email from the FAFSA (federal) processor within 3-5 days (if you submitted a paper FAFSA, it will take 7-10 days). The SAR will list all of the information you put on the FAFSA. This information also is forwarded to the colleges you listed on your application. Once the colleges receive the information, they will notify you of your aid eligibility or send you a letter asking for more information. Be sure to respond quickly to the college's request.
- I completed the FAFSA weeks ago, but haven't received anything back. What should I do?
- If you haven't received a Student Aid Report (SAR), you can contact the federal processor at http://studentaid.edu.gov/contact#call-us, or 1-800-4-FED-AID (1800-433-3243). You will need to provide your Social Security number and date of birth as verification.
Independent Student Status
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- When am I considered an independent student?
- In order to be considered as an independent student for financial aid purposes, you must meet one of the following ten criteria:
- Be over 24.
- Be a veteran of or currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces.
- Be enrolled in a graduate or professional degree program.
- Be married.
- Have children or legal dependents other than a spouse for whom you provide more than half of their support.
- Be an orphan or a ward of the court at anytime after your 13th birthday.
- Be an emancipated minor as determined by a court in your state of legal residence.
- Be in a legal guardianship as determined by a court in your state of legal residence.
- Be an unaccompanied youth as determined by either your high school or school district homeless liaison or the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
- Be an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or self-supporting and at risk of being homeless as determined by a director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program.
- I don't meet any of the criteria for an independent student, but my parents don't support me. What can I do?
- If you have extremely adverse circumstances that prevent you from receiving assistance from your parents, you should contact your college financial aid office. However, you should note that your parents' unwillingness to provide their financial information or to pay their expected contribution is usually not accepted as a reasonable circumstance.
- My parents don't support me. Do I still need to include their information on the FAFSA?
- If you don't meet one of the federal criteria to be an independent student, you will have to supply your parents' information on the financial aid application. If family circumstances are keeping you from supplying your parents' information, contact the financial aid office to discuss your situation.
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- Do I have to work if I am offered a work study job as part of my financial aid package?
- If you are offered student work study, you will need to work in order to receive those funds. If you don't want to work, you have the option to decline your work study award. However, a number of recent studies show that working 10-15 hours per week can improve your time management skills, provide work experience, and help improve your grades. Contact your financial aid office to discuss your other options.
- My financial aid package includes work study. Won't working hurt my grades?
- A number of recent studies show a correlation between good grades and working a small amount (10 to 15 hours per week). In addition, work study is an excellent tool to gather work experience necessary for finding employment after college. If you choose not to work, you can decline the work study funds offered. Contact your financial aid office to discuss your other options.
Scholarships, Grants and Loans
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- I received a scholarship. Do I have to report it to the financial aid office? How?
- Yes, you do need to report it to the financial aid office. Federal regulations require that all financial assistance you receive be taken into consideration when awarding aid. Most colleges will use any outside scholarship you are awarded to replace an equal amount of loan or work study funds you would have otherwise received before they reduce your grant aid. Some campuses may have a special form you can fill out to indicate scholarships or other aid you will be receiving, or you can notify the financial aid office in writing that you have received a scholarship. Be sure to include the name of the scholarship, the amount awarded, your name and student ID number or Social Security number on your correspondence.
- Where can I find more information about scholarships?
- The College Board offers one great FREE resource to search for scholarships online. You can go to this link, complete a profile, and the search engine will identify any scholarships that you might want to apply for: https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/scholarship-search. Your college may offer scholarships, as well. Be sure to check with your community college's Financial Aid Office for help identifying all of the opportunities that are available to you.
- Can my parents and I both apply for loans?
- Yes. Loans are available for both parents and students. Parents may borrow for their undergraduate students through the PLUS loan program, and there are numerous borrowing options available to students. However, the total amount borrowed (by both you and your parents) cannot exceed the cost of your education as determined by your college. For more on the federal loan programs, click here. Please note that not all colleges offer loans, so it is important you contact your college financial aid office to find out more information.
- My child was awarded a William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) as part of a financial aid package. The award letter also indicated that we could take out a Direct PLUS loan. How do we find out more about borrowing?
- Specific information on how to borrow should be included in your child's financial aid award letter. The packet should include information that shows you how to apply for the loans, what forms you need to fill out, and the terms of the loans.
- I was offered a loan, but I'm not sure I should take it. How do I decide?
- Because of the limited gift aid available, students are sometimes offered one or more educational loans. Although loans are helpful in meeting the cost of education, they must be repaid with interest. Therefore, carefully consider the amount you are borrowing. Remember, the amount you borrow this year will be added to other loans you have or will be taking out in the future. So while the loan amount may not seem to be very much this year, four years of debt can add up. You may want to look at your budget and see if there are ways you can minimize your borrowing. Also, consider the differences in loans, such as the interest rate, when the interest is assessed, the amount you'll be borrowing, and repayment options. It is also important to consider your income potential after graduation when deciding how much to borrow and how much debt you can afford to pay back based upon your anticipated income. You can find out more about repayment plans and options, and even find a repayment estimator, here: http://studentaid.ed.gov/repay-loans/understand/plans. Your college financial aid office will be able to assist you.
- What do I do once I take out a student loan?
- Before taking out your first loan, you must attend entrance counseling that explains your rights and responsibilities as a borrower. Once you take out a loan, it is very important that you keep the lender and your college informed of any changes in your address or enrollment plans. Before you leave college (including withdrawing, transferring or graduating), you should attend an exit interview that will cover your payment obligations and the options available to you as a borrower. If at any time you have questions regarding the repayment of your loans, contact your loan servicer or the financial aid office. You can find out more about repayment plan options here: http://studentaid.ed.gov/repay-loans/understand/plans.
Rights and Responsibilities
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- What happens if I have academic or other problems and have to drop classes or drop out of college entirely?
- If you have to drop a class, it may affect your eligibility for financial aid for the current term or future terms. Review the information on your college's enrollment requirements and satisfactory academic progress standards, and check with the financial aid office to ensure you aren't jeopardizing your financial aid eligibility. If you have to drop out or withdraw from college, you may be expected to repay a portion of the financial aid that was disbursed for that term. If you withdraw, some of the funds paid to the college for your fees, tuition or other charges may be refundable. If you received financial aid, refunds must first be returned to the financial aid programs according to federal regulations and other program guidelines. Check with the college about procedures for withdrawing or taking a leave of absence, and be sure to consult with the financial aid office or business (bursar's) office about refunds, repayment of financial aid funds, and your future eligibility to enroll and receive financial aid funds.
- If I register for classes and take the financial aid, but I don't attend classes, what happens?
- Your eligibility for financial aid is based on your enrollment and making satisfactory academic progress toward a degree or certificate. If you don't attend classes, you probably will not receive a passing grade. Failure to complete coursework or document an effort to do so (e.g., participating in classes or completing assignments and exams) can result in the determination that you were not in fact enrolled and, therefore, not entitled to receive financial aid. All financial aid would need to be returned and you might be subject to charges for fees, tuition and other amounts due to the college. Besides facing these financial obligations, your academic records and ability to return to the college could be adversely affected.
Additional Questions You Might Have
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- If I don't feel the financial aid office has treated me fairly, whom can I contact?
- Check your college's literature about complaint and appeal procedures. In preparation for discussing the matter with the appropriate college official(s), document your concerns and review them against the information explaining the college's policies and procedures. Many colleges will ask you to put your concerns in writing and provide supporting documentation to the financial aid office for review before escalating the issue to a higher level. Your college's complaint policies should explain what steps to take.
- If I can't resolve the problem locally, what else can I do?
- You have a few other options, depending on the nature of the issue.
- I've been out of school a long time. I'm not ready to be a full-time student, but I still need help with college costs. Is there any aid for me?
- You don't have to be a full-time student to receive financial aid. At California community colleges, there is no minimum unit requirement for enrollment fee waivers through the Board of Governors (BOG) Fee Waiver program. To receive assistance from other state and federal programs, you can take as few as six units and still qualify for financial aid. In some cases, you can still be eligible to receive a federal Pell Grant with as little as one unit. Be sure to talk with an advisor or counselor, as well as staff in the financial aid office, to help you develop an education plan that meets your needs and makes effective use of your financial aid.
- I am not a high school graduate. Can I still get financial aid?
- Students without high school diplomas who are 18 years old can qualify for financial aid if they have a GED or another high school proficiency certificate, such as the California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE).
- I've heard about waivers for the enrollment fee at California community colleges, but I'm not on public assistance. Even so, I won't be able to afford the per-unit cost. What can I do?
- You might qualify for an enrollment fee waiver if you meet certain income requirements based on family size. To apply for a Board of Governors (BOG) Fee Waiver, it’s best to file the FAFSA because it will help you apply for the fee waiver as well as other types of aid.
- I am not a California resident, but I am a resident of another state. Can I still receive financial aid at a California community college?
- Yes. There are a wide variety of federal, institutional and scholarship programs for which you may qualify. Start by filing the FAFSA and contact the community college you plan to attend for more information.
- I currently live in another country, but I want to attend college in the United States. Can I get financial aid?
- All of the state and federal student financial aid programs listed on our site are reserved for U.S. citizens and/or California residents. However, many colleges have private scholarships or loan programs for foreign students. You should select a college that you are interested in attending, and then contact them directly - through either the Financial Aid Office or the Scholarship Office - to see if they can help you. To find the community college closest to you, and get contact information for their Financial Aid Office, you can use the zip code locator on the right side of this page.
- I'm still confused!
- Don't worry. You're not alone. Obtaining financial aid can be a complicated process. If you have more questions or need help, use the Financial Aid Office Locator in the upper right-hand corner of this page to reach a financial aid expert at your local community college financial aid office.