Parents often ask whether their family should apply for financial aid. The California Student Aid Commission, which administers the Cal Grant program, recommends that every student apply for financial aid. Applying is also a good safety measure in case the family’s financial situation changes.
The term Financial Aid includes need-based grants, scholarships, work study, student loans, and parent loans. All institutions of higher education evaluate requests for any type of financial aid by considering a student's Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Even if a family’s income is too high for need-based aid, the student may qualify for scholarships, work-study, or low interest student loans.
Don't assume you will not qualify for financial aid. The FAFSA formula not only considers income and savings in calculating a family's Expected Family Contribution (EFC) but also other factors such as the age of the parents and the number of children enrolled in college. To estimate your EFC use the FAFSA4caster. The benefit of using this pre-application estimator is that data can be saved to pre-populate the online FAFSA form. A PIN isn't required to use the site, but having a PIN gives users access to many additional resources. The logon and PINs created for the FAFSA4caster will also be used for your FAFSA form.
Filing the FAFSA on time is important in case circumstances suddenly change (e.g. a parent loses a job); it is much easier to amend an existing application and ask a college to reconsider the application before their discretionary funds are distributed. Families should NOT wait until the last year's tax return to complete the FAFSA; estimate information based on the previous year, then amend the application when you have the most accurate data. It's important to file the FAFSA on time; check the colleges for specific deadlines.
For help and advice, you can call FAFSA Customer Service at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).
Depending on the college or university, the cost of attendance varies. Therefore, the financial need of a family can vary depending on the cost of attending the school.
Financial Need = Cost of Attendance - Expected Family Contribution
You can check out the aid you can expect to receive from each college by completing its online Net Price calculator or try one from the College Board: http://netpricecalculator.collegeboard.org/ . The Net Price calculator is based on the college’s institutional aid methodology, not the government’s (like the FAFSA which determines eligibility for federal and state grants).
The FAFSA must be completed to apply for federal and state student grants, work-study grants, and loans. The filing period for the FAFSA is between January 1st and March 2nd for California public colleges and universities. Other colleges and universities may have earlier or priority deadlines; it is important to check filing dates for specific colleges. File online at fafsa.ed.gov.
Students: even if you cannot file the FAFSA because you're undocumented, any CA resident may complete the CA Dream Act application for consideration of state aid (Cal Grant). Complete the application, here: www.caldreamact.org. For more information, see: http://www.csac.ca.gov/dream_act.asp or call 1-888-224-7268. And, there are other resources for undocumented students, too: http://www.e4fc.org/images/E4FC_LifeAfterCollegeGuide.pdf
The State of California provides aid for students through its Cal Grant program, calgrants.org Eligibility for a Cal Grant is based on family income, family assets, and the student’s unweighted state GPA (calculation includes sophomore and junior year grades only). Students who have demonstrated financial need and a 3.00 minimum GPA are entitled to a Cal Grant A. Students who have need and at least a 2.00 GPA are entitled to a Cal Grant B. Students attending a vocational school may qualify for a Cal Grant C. This link from the California Student Aid Commission will help you determine whether you meet the 2017-2018 family income and asset ceilings for new students. The amount of family assets (including savings and investments) is determined from information submitted on the FAFSA form (home equity is not included in the FAFSA asset calculation). To apply for a Cal Grant, students must file the FAFSA and verify their grade point average. This link provides information about entitlement award amounts. Paly participates in the California Student Aid Commission’s Non-SSN GPA File (Batch) Upload for all seniors; students do not need to complete a Cal Grant GPA Verification Form to request Paly verify their GPA records.
This link lists major financial aid programs and their annual award amounts.
In addition to both federal and state aid, colleges and universities often provide their own institutional aid and scholarships for incoming students. Refer to the financial aid information accompanying each application for specifics and deadlines. Many private schools will ask you to complete the College Scolarship Search (CSS) Profile. Students must register and file the CSS Profile online.
This page from the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) will help students compare financial aid awards from multiple colleges: https://www.nasfaa.org/award_letter_comparison_worksheet
Financial Aid Websites and Information
• General information about the financial aid process: finaid.org
• Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA): fafsa.ed.gov
• Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education: studentaid.ed.gov
• California Grants: calgrants.org
• California Student Aid Commission: csac.ca.gov
• College Scolarship Search (CSS)/Financial Aid Profile: collegeboard.com
• College Board Expected Family Contribution (EFC) Calculator: apps.collegeboard.com
• FAFSA pre-application EFC estimator: FAFSA4caster
• National Association of College Admission Counseling’s Parent's Guide to Financial Aid: nacacnet.org
• FastWeb financial aid search: www.fastweb.com
• Financial aid award letters FAQ: californiacolleges.edu
• Hebrew Free Loan: www.hflasf.org Non-profit community-based organization that provides interest-free loans to Jewish residents of Northern California to attend any college or university (in or out of state) for undergraduate or graduate study, as well as for vocational training. Undergraduate student loans range from $3500 to $6000 per year. For information by phone, call (415) 546-9902.
• FAFSA Customer Service: 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243)
• The Project on Student Debt: http://www.projectonstudentdebt.org/ A free database about the policies of the schools which have made pledges to replace loans with grants for students from families below a certain income threshold, as well as providing a wealth of easy-to-understand information on student loans in general.