Financial Aid FAQs
Eligibility and Applying
Independent Student Status
Scholarships, Grants and Loans
Rights and Responsibilities
Additional Questions - You Might Have
Eligibility and Applying
Who should apply for financial aid?
All students and potential students who need financial assistance to attend college should apply for financial aid.
Why should I apply for financial aid?
Financial aid is available to assist students and families in meeting the costs of a college education. If you need help paying for fees, books, and other expenses, you should apply for financial aid.
Who is eligible for financial aid?
All students and potential students who may need financial assistance for college are encouraged to apply for aid. Even those who think they may not be eligible may be surprised. So be sure to apply.
Your financial aid eligibility will depend upon various factors. These include your family’s income and assets the number of people in your family household, and the number of children in your family household who are attending college. (The definition of “family” here will depend upon whether or not you are still a “dependent” of your parents. See the section on “Independent Student Status.”) Even if you aren’t eligible for grants, there are other kinds of aid available, including loan programs.
Your eligibility also depends on additional factors. First, there are basic requirements that do not relate to your financial need. To be eligible for most financial aid you must:
- 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 take a special test to show you have the ability to benefit from college education.
- Not have been convicted of drug possession or sales in the recent past (see the FAFSA for more detail).
Then, your family income, assets, and other financial factors are reviewed to see if you could be financially 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 continue to receive your financial aid while you are in college, you have to continue to make progress towards your educational objectives.
If I am eligible to receive financial aid, are there any additional academic requirements I must meet?
Once you begin receiving financial aid you must meet satisfactory academic requirements at the institution in which you are enrolled. Requirements include maintaining the grade point average (GPA) and course completion standards of your college and you must work towards an educational objective such as a degree or certificate.
How do I get financial aid?
To receive financial aid you must apply for it. The biggest mistake students make is not to apply 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) and for the Cal Grant program you must submit a verified Cal Grant GPA by March 2nd. Check with your college regarding Cal Grant GPA verification—some colleges automatically submit GPAs for you. Some institutions may also request additional documents such as tax returns to complete your financial aid file so please respond immediately to all requests made by the campus financial aid office. And don’t forget to apply for the Board of Governors Fee Waiver (BOGFW). If you’re eligible for the BOGFW, it will cover all of your community college enrollment fees.
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 campuses use it to assess your eligibility for some scholarships and non-need-based loans, including the unsubsidized and PLUS loans. Plus, 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 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 will need to complete a promissory note through your campus. Contact the financial aid office to find out how and when to apply for a student loan.
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 prior to filling out your FAFSA, 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, take care in estimating your figures. Any large discrepancies between your FAFSA and your tax return may have a large impact on any preliminary financial aid award you receive.
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 may correct the information submitted on the FAFSA when you receive your Student Aid Report, or provide your campus with a copy of your tax return (check with the campus 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.
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) from the FAFSA (federal) processor within 72 hours. 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 requesting additional information. Be sure to respond quickly to the college’s request for additional information.
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, you can call the federal processor at (319) 337-5665. You will need to provide your Social Security number and date of birth as verification.
You also can write to:
Application and Pell Processing Systems Division
U.S. Department of Education
600 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20202-5453
Back to top
Independent Student Status
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 six criteria:
- Be over 24;
- Be a veteran of 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, or have been a ward of the court until age 18.
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 campus 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 extenuating family circumstances prevent you from supplying your parents' information, contact the financial aid office to discuss your situation.
Back to top
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 may have the option to convert your work-study to a loan. Contact your financial aid office to see if you are eligible to do so.
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 and often replace those funds with a student loan or summer employment.
Back to top
Scholarships, Grants and Loans
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 aid assistance you receive be taken into consideration when awarding aid. Most campuses 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.
How do I apply for grants and loans?
By completing the FAFSA 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 Cal Grant, as well as other funds, you will need to meet the priority deadlines. For the Cal Grant program you will also need to file a verified Cal Grant GPA.
To apply for a loan, you will need to complete a promissory note through your campus. Contact the financial aid office to find out when and how to apply for a student loan.
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. For more on the federal loan programs, click here. Please note that not all colleges offer parent loans so it is important you contact your campus financial aid office to find out more information.
My child was awarded a Federal Stafford loan as part of a financial aid package. The award letter also indicated that we could take out a 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 specifically identifies 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 usually 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.
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 lender or the financial aid office.
Back to top
Rights and Responsibilities
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 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 course work 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 the college. Besides facing these financial obligations, your academic records and ability to return to the college could be adversely affected.
Back to top
Additional Questions — You Might Have
If I don’t feel the financial aid office has treated me fairly, whom can I contact?
Check your college's literature about appeal procedures and find out if they have an ombudsman or someone else who is designated to handle student complaints. In preparation for discussing the matter with the appropriate college official, document your concerns and review them against the information explaining the college's policies and procedures.
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 Fee Waiver Program. To receive assistance from the 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 for as little as 1 unit.
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. They can also demonstrate readiness for college by taking a standardized Ability To Benefit test. Contact the community college you plan to attend for information regarding this test or your eligibility.
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. Please visit our Applications Page to view the simple, one page application for the Board of Governors Fee Waiver (BOGFW) Program.
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. Contact the community college you plan to attend for more information.
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 zip code locator in the upper left hand corner of this page to reach a financial aid expert right now at your local community college financial aid office.
Back to top