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Eligibility and Applying

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All students and potential students who want help paying for college should apply for financial aid.

Financial aid is available to help students and families cover the costs of your 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 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or California Dream Act Application (CADAA). You never know what you might be eligible for if you don't apply.

Most students are eligible for some form of financial aid, so all students should apply. 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. The California Dream Act Application is a similar process for Undocumented or Dream Act students. 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 depending upon federal rules. Your dependency status determines whose information you must report on the FAFSA or California Dream Act Application. 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:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen (FAFSA).
  • Be a Dream Act eligble student (California Dream Act Application)
  • 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 while receiving financial aid (see the FAFSA for more detail).

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 or California Dream Act Application each year you are in college.

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.

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) or California Dream Act Application (CADAA). For the Cal Grant program, you must also submit a verified Cal Grant GPA by March 2. 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.

There are some types of financial aid 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.

You should apply for financial aid first. Then, use the link below to find and apply to the California community college of your choice. To find a California community college near you, and explore the majors and course offerings, you can use the College Locator. Or, if you’re ready to enroll now, you can get started on your online admission form at CCCApply.org.

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.

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.

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.

By completing the FAFSA or CADAA, 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, sign a Master Promissory Note through your college and complete online entrance loan counseling. Contact the financial aid office to find out specifically how and when to apply for a student loan at your college.

No, prior tax returns are used to calculate the amount of aid you receive. Remember that filing your application before March 2 means you will get the most aid available. 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.

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 in California. 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.

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.

If you haven't received a Student Aid Report (SAR), you can log into your FAFSA or California Dream Act Application account online or contact the federal processor at https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/contact, or 1-800-4-FED-AID (800-433-3243). You will need to provide your application information as verification.

You can apply for federal aid any time after October 1, so you don’t need to wait until you receive your W-2 forms. The prior year’s tax returns are used to calculate the amount of aid you receive. 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.

Independent Student Status

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 years old.
  • 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.

If you have extremely adverse circumstances that prevent you from receiving assistance from your parents, you should still complete the FAFSA or California Dream Act Application and then contact your college financial aid office. Note that your parents' unwillingness to provide their financial information or to pay their expected contribution is usually not accepted as a reasonable circumstance.

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 even if they don’t support you. If family circumstances are keeping you from supplying your parents' information, contact the financial aid office to discuss your situation.

Work Study

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.

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

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.

Head to the website of the college you want to attend – most colleges have a page specifically for scholarships. Just remember: never pay for access to a scholarship and never provide personal information (like your Social Security Number) unless your Financial Aid Office says it’s ok. 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 interest you.

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.

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.

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.

Before taking out your first loan, you must complete entrance loan 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

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.

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

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.

You have a few other options, depending on the nature of the issue.

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 California College Promise Grant. 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.

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).

You might qualify for an enrollment fee waiver if you meet certain income requirements based on family size. To apply for a California College Promise Grant, it’s best to file the FAFSA because it will help you apply for the fee waiver as well as other types of aid.

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.

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 the Financial Aid Office or the Scholarship Office – to see if they can help you. Get contact information for your closest Financial Aid Office here. 

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 to reach a financial aid expert at your local community college financial aid office.

California College Promise Grant

The California College Promise Grant, available to eligible students, will waive your per-unit enrollment fee (tuition) at any California community college throughout the state.

Complete the online FAFSA or California Dream Act Application (CADAA). If you cannot complete one of those applications, complete the California College Promise Grant application here. To find contact information for your college's financial aid office, use the office locator.

Yes, you may apply for and receive a California College Promise Grant to cover fees at more than one college or center.


No. You can complete the California College Promise Grant form anytime during the year.

You will receive an email notification of your California College Promise Grant application decision. The California College Promise Grant will be applied to your units automatically, so that you will not be charged for the units. If you fill out the form after you’ve already paid enrollment fees, and are approved for the waiver, you will receive a refund check for the cost.

If you don’t keep up your grades and/or complete your classes, you will be notified within 30 days of the end of each term if you are being placed on either Academic (GPA) and/or Progress (Course Completion) probation. If you have two consecutive terms of probation, you may lose eligibility for the fee waiver at your next registration opportunity.

You CAN regain your eligibility by:

  • Improving your GPA or Course Completion to meet the academic and progress standards
  • Successfully appealing under extenuating circumstances (see VALID WAYS TO APPEAL below)
  • Not attending your school district for one year (not including summer)


  • Verified accidents, illness or other circumstances beyond your control
  • Changes in economic situation
  • Evidence of inability to obtain essential support services
  • Special consideration factors for CalWORKs, EOPS, DSPS and veteran students
  • Disability accommodations not received in a timely manner

Myths & Facts


My parents make too much money, so I won’t qualify for aid.


There is no income cut-off to qualify for federal student aid. Many factors besides income—from the size of your family to the age of your older parent—are considered. And remember: when you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the California Dream Act Application, you’re also automatically applying for funds from your state, and from your school as well. In fact, some schools won’t even consider you for any of their scholarships (including academic scholarships) until you’ve submitted a FAFSA or California Dream Act Application. Don’t make assumptions about what you’ll get—complete the application and find out.


Only students with good grades get financial aid.


While a high grade point average may help with academic scholarships and other merit-based aid, many student aid programs do not take a student’s grades into consideration. Provided a student maintains satisfactory academic progress in his or her program of study, federal student aid will help a student with an average academic record complete his or her education. 


I’m too old to get financial aid.


Funds from most student aid programs are awarded on the basis of financial need, not age. Adult students can get financial aid too, so be sure to fill out the FAFSA.


The form is too hard to fill out.


The FAFSA is easier than ever, especially if you fill it out online at www.fafsa.ed.gov. If you need help, you can access real-time, private online chat with a customer service representative. If you’re filling out the paper FAFSA, you can get help from a high school counselor, from the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend, or from 1-800-4-FED-AID, that's 1-800-433-3243. And remember, the FAFSA and all these sources of advice are FREE.


My parents have money saved for my college education, so I won’t get any aid.


Student and family savings are not a factor when a school decides if a student qualifies for a federal unsubsidized loan. And when it comes to other aid, the federal formula has protection allowances for a portion of savings and assets. Under federal methodology for student aid eligibility, parents are not expected to sacrifice home equity or retirement savings to help pay for their child's education.


Schools don’t care how many other siblings I have or will have in college.


Actually, having two or more family members in college (excluding parents) significantly increases a family’s chance of receiving aid. In fact, it could lower the expected family contribution (the estimate of the family’s ability to pay for college) by 50 percent.


My aid award is final.


Not necessarily. School policies on reviewing aid awards vary wildly. All schools will review your award if inaccurate information was used in the application process. Any discrepancies in your information should be corrected on your application, but be sure to check with your college regarding their process. If your financial situation or family circumstances have changed, you should contact your financial aid office to discuss the changes and see if those circumstances can be used in re-determining your eligibility. Your college can advise on what forms and documentation need to be submitted.