California Financial Aid Requirements From A to Z
Find out how to apply for and obtain the financial support you need at California’s public universities.
Are you thinking about applying to one of California’s public universities? Both the University of California (UC) system and California State University (CSU) system provide students with excellent tools to get the financial aid they need. In this convenient and comprehensive list, you’ll find all the information you need for navigating the financial aid requirements at public universities in California.
Your aid is determined by several factors, including annual income, expected student contribution and expected parent contribution.
Step 1: Applying for Financial Aid
Most students who apply to the UC or CSU system receive some form of student aid. After submitting your application to the university system of your choice, you should also file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the California Dream Act Application. California residents should also make sure their Cal Grant GPA verification has been submitted. Check out the definitions below to gain a better understanding of the process:
Cal Grant: California state residents are eligible for this grant program if they submit their FAFSA or Dream Act application and verified GPA form by March 2. Students may receive up to $12,192 per year to help pay for college.
Cal Grant GPA verification: California students must submit a verified GPA by March 2 in order to qualify for a Cal Grant. Ask your high school to submit your GPA using the electronic form.
California Dream Act application: Students without lawful immigration status can file this free application for state and institutionally funded financial aid. You need to qualify for an AB 540 Non-Resident Tuition Waiver in order to use this form.
FAFSA: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the primary application for federal, state and school financial aid. Make sure you submit this form by March 2.
Step 2: Reviewing Your Aid Offer
There are two main types of aid you may be offered by California colleges: gift aid and self-help aid. Together, these forms of aid help you cover the net cost of attendance. Your aid is determined by several factors, including annual income, expected student contribution and expected parent contribution. You’ll find details about each of these terms below:
Annual income: This is the total income used to determine how much you or your parents are expected to contribute to attendance costs. If you’re a dependent, you’ll use your parents’ income. If you’re independent, your own income will be used.
Expected parent contribution: The amount parents are expected to pay is determined by their income. For very low-income families, no parent contribution may be expected.
Expected student contribution: All students are expected to contribute to their tuition costs through a manageable combination of work and borrowing. This includes loans and wages from any jobs worked during the summer or the academic year.
Gift aid: Grants and scholarships are gift aid because students receive this money for educational expenses without the requirement of paying any of it back. Gift aid can be either need-based or merit-based.
Net cost: The net cost is the total cost of attendance once your gift aid has been taken into account. Net cost is equal to the combined total of your expected parent contribution and expected student contribution.
Self-help aid: Loans, work-study and part-time employment are types of self-help aid. You will have to either use your own earnings or pay back your loans to contribute to your educational expenses using self-help aid. See Step 4 to learn more about these options.
Step 3: School-Specific Options
UC and CSU each have their own aid programs to help students pay for school, detailed below.
- Educational Opportunity Program Grant: These grants provide assistance to California residents who come from economically or educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. To be eligible, students must be admitted to CSU through the Educational Opportunity Program.
- Institutional scholarships: Each CSU campus offers a variety of institutional scholarships. Check with individual colleges’ financial aid departments for more details.
- State University Grant: This grant program provides need-based awards to California residents deemed eligible.
- Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan: The Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan covers the tuition and fees for students whose annual family income is under $80,000.
- Institutional scholarships: Each UC campus offers a variety of institutional scholarships. Check with individual colleges’ financial aid departments for more details.
Step 4: Making Financial Aid Decisions
While you don’t have to take advantage of all the aid you’ve been offered, you’ll definitely want to accept any gift aid since it won’t need to be repaid. As for self-help aid, your options will include student loans, work-study and/or part-time employment. Decide what works best for you and let your UC or CSU campus know what aid you wish to accept.
Part-time employment: You can use a part-time job on or off campus to help cover your educational (and recreational) expenses.
Student loans: Research federal student loans and private loans to make an informed decision about how much to borrow.
Work study: Work-study jobs are partially funded by the federal government and provide financial assistance through student employment. The work is typically located on campus and limited to a maximum of 20 hours per week.
When applying for financial aid in the UC or CSU system, keep in mind that costs for out-of-state residents are significantly higher, and that many of the aid programs are reserved for California residents. If you’re from out of state and wish to attend one of these California universities, you may want to consider looking for private scholarships to help cover your costs.
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