What should a student do if he or she, and the family, cannot afford to pay for college costs?
The first step is to apply for financial aid by filing the Free Application for Federal Aid (FAFSA) on a timely basis. Undergraduates who are California residents should also apply for a Cal Grant by filing the FAFSA by March 2 and ensuring that the California Student Aid Commission receives a verified GPA by March 2 to determine Cal Grant eligibility.
If a student wants to attend college, meets CSU admission requirements, and demonstrates a financial need, CSU financial aid professionals will make every effort to assist in providing information about financial aid programs that help make college affordable. Expenses can be reduced by attending a local college and living at home or by attending a community college for two years prior to transferring to a four-year institution. Students can also work part-time to supplement resources available to meet college costs.
What is student financial aid? (Back to Top)
Student financial aid is money to help students pay for their college expenses. College can be expensive and many families and students are not able to afford to pay for tuition and fees, books and supplies, and the living expenses associated with attending college. Federal and state governments, colleges and universities, and organizations attempt to make sure that college is affordable for all students by providing student financial aid to help meet the college costs for students who do not have sufficient resources.
What types of financial aid are available?
Student financial aid programs are generally classified as "gift/grant aid" and "self-help aid." "Gift aid" represents scholarships, fellowships, and grants that do not have to be repaid. "Self-help aid" is awarded in the form of work or student employment programs and loans which must be repaid. Most, but not all, financial aid programs are awarded on the basis of financial need. Some programs, particularly scholarships, are awarded on the basis of academic achievement or merit.
Who should apply for financial aid? (Back to Top)
If a student, and his or her family (parents, spouse), need help to pay college expenses, (s)he should apply for financial aid. There is no charge for filing an application. During 2012-13, over 319,000 students at CSU received some form of financial aid - this represents more than half of all the students attending CSU campuses.
All of the information submitted on the application form is confidential and released only to the financial aid office at the campuses the student lists on the form.
How do you apply for financial aid?
Students should get a copy of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) from their high school or college counselor. FAFSA forms are also available from the financial aid office at any college or university, trade and technical schools, and at many public libraries.
The U.S. Department of Education makes the FAFSA available on the Internet, and the form can be completed online at www.fafsa.gov. The 2014-15 FAFSA is currently available and the 2015-16 version of the FAFSA should be available by January of 2015.
When do you apply for financial aid? (Back to Top)
The FAFSA form for the 2014-15 is currently available and the 2015-16 form will be available by January 2015. The form cannot be filed until January 1 of the initial year for which aid is being sought. In California, students must file the FAFSA by March 2 in order to be considered for a Cal Grant from the California Student Aid Commission.
California State University campuses have a March 2 priority filing date which means that students who file the FAFSA by that date have a better chance of receiving limited grant funds.
Students should check with the college they are interested in attending to get information about possible earlier deadlines and other procedures.
What happens after the FAFSA is filed?
In 4-6 weeks after you send your FAFSA to the central processor you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) from the U.S. Department of Education. You should review the information listed on the form to make sure it is correct and that all of the colleges you are interested in attending are listed on the form. If any information is not correct, you must return the form with the correct information.
Colleges that you list on the FAFSA will receive an electronic copy of the information that is listed on your SAR and that you provided on the FAFSA. The financial aid office at the schools may contact you for additional information regarding your application for aid or advise you when to expect a financial aid award letter.
Keep your SAR in a safe place since you must provide it to the financial aid office at the college where you enroll in order to receive payment of financial aid funds.
Who is eligible for financial aid? (Back to Top)
While eligibility for financial aid varies somewhat between programs, the basic requirements for major student aid programs are:
- have financial need, except for some scholarship and loan programs;
- have a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) certificate;
- be enrolled as a regular student working toward a degree or
- certificate in an eligible program at an eligible institution;
- be a U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen;
- have a valid Social Security Number;
- make satisfactory academic progress;
- sign a statement of educational purpose/certification statement
- on refunds and default (found on the SAR); and
- register with the Selective Service System,
- if you are a male between 18 and 25 years of age.
What is financial need?
Financial need is determined according to formulas established by the federal government. Using those formulas, the information supplied on the FAFSA is used to calculate an expected family contribution. This is the amount which the student and parents (or spouse if the student is married) are expected to pay for college costs. This amount is subtracted from the total cost of attending college, and the difference is financial need.
What is a Cal Grant and how does a student apply? (Back to Top)
Cal Grants are need-based grants provided by the state for California residents. When you file a FAFSA by March 2 you will be considered for a Cal Grant so long as you do not indicate on the FAFSA that information should not be released to the state agency.
Students must also provide the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC), which administers Cal Grants, with a verified GPA by March 2. Students should check with their high school guidance counselor or college financial aid office about how to satisfy this requirement.
Additional information on applying for a Cal Grant can be found elsewhere on this site and at the CSAC web site.
Do students have to take out student loans?
No student is required to take out a loan. Because of the limited availability of grant funds, most students who need financial assistance will find that they must consider borrowing or working in order to have sufficient resources to meet college costs.
During 2012-13, less than 60 percent of all undergraduates who received financial aid at a CSU campus took out a student loan. The average loan for the year, for undergraduates who borrowed, was $7,849.
As an alternative to student loans, many CSU students choose to work part-time to supplement family resources and financial aid. A recent student survey showed that three-quarters of CSU undergraduates worked while taking classes. Fully one-third of the working students worked at least 30 hours per week.
The choice between working and possibly taking fewer classes and longer to graduate, or borrowing money that will have to be repaid later is one that each student must make.
How can students find out about special scholarships? (Back to Top)
Students should check with their high school guidance counselor and the reference section of their local public library if they wish to research private scholarship opportunities. Many local community and service organizations also provide scholarships to students in their area. There are also a number of scholarship search services available on the Internet at no charge.
Scholarship application procedures vary at campuses of the California State University. Interested students should contact the financial aid office at the individual campus for application forms and information.
Are there ways students can pay fees on installment?
Yes. All CSU campuses offer either an installment plan for payment of fees or allow students to use a credit card to pay fees.
What is the best way a student can receive the most financial aid available? (Back to Top)
File the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1 and before the March 2 priority filing date, apply for a Cal Grant and submit a verified GPA prior to March 2, and respond promptly to all instructions or requests for additional information from the financial aid office.
Important Things to Remember!
Get a FAFSA from your high school counselor or local college; and review it over your December school break:
- File your FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1
- Submit a verified GPA to the California Student Aid Commission by March 2 to ensure that, if you are a California resident, you are considered for a Cal Grant
- Respond promptly to all requests for additional information you receive about your FAFSA, your SAR, and your application to each college
- Keep a copy of all applications and documents you file.
Should students keep copies of the FAFSA?
It would be a good idea to start a file folder or binder of all important papers related to your college admission and financial aid applications. Keep copies of your completed applications and FAFSA, your Student Aid Report (SAR), a copy of any additional documents that you might have supplied to the college financial aid office, and any correspondence with the federal processor, the campus financial aid office, or other financial aid or scholarship agencies.
I'm not claimed on my parent(s) 1040 or my parents don't provide any support for me. Do I still need to provide information on their income? (Back to Top)
If the you are under 24 years of age, unmarried, not a veteran or graduate student, are not an orphan or ward of the court, and do not have a legal dependent, you are considered a "dependent" student and must your provide parents' information. If there are special circumstances that would prevent you from obtaining your parent's information, you should contact a representative at the college's financial aid office.
Are my parent's required to pay the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) to the school?
No. The Expected Family Contribution is a Federal calculation that determines the amount the family (parent(s) and/or student) is expected to contribute toward educational costs. The calculation examines the contribution by assessing prior year earnings, savings, etc. If the student or parent cannot meet the EFC because of a change in prior year income or other expenses such as medical or elementary school tuition, the student should contact a financial aid representative.
If I am not eligible for Pell Grant, are there other types of financial aid I can receive? (Back to Top)
Yes. Many undergraduates who do not qualify for a Federal Pell Grant may still qualify for some form of student financial aid. Grant funds are limited which is why it is so important to submit your financial aid application on a timely manner. Virtually, all students can qualify for some form of student loan, but should consider the obligations associated with borrowing.
I made a mistake on my financial aid application. Can I change the information on my SAR?
Yes. If you have narrowed down your choice of schools, you may wish to contact the school regarding the correction. Electronic processing now enables schools to make the corrections directly with the processing center. Contact the financial aid office of the selected college or university regarding their correction procedures. You can always make corrections in accordance with instructions on the Student Aid Report (SAR) which you receive.
How do I apply for scholarships? (Back to Top)
Most colleges have their own application form for campus-specific scholarship fund that they administer - be sure to obtain one and file it by the specified deadline.
High school seniors should contact their advisor/counselor to make sure they are being considered for local scholarships. Check directly with clubs, fraternal organizations, unions and other sources that might be particularly relevant to your specific interests and qualifications.
Visit your local library or check out free scholarship search services on the Internet and do your own search.
BE CAUTIOUS about "scholarship search" programs, agencies, or private individuals that charge to help you apply for and obtain student financial aid; most are no more effective than your own individual efforts.
What is the standard amount of annual income or the asset level for a family that will make them eligible (or ineligible) for financial aid?
There is no specific income or asset level that determines a student's eligibility for student financial aid programs. The need analysis methodology attempts to assess the ability to pay based on the family circumstances, without getting into all specifics. Virtually every family qualifies for some type of financial assistance, even if it is in the form of a student loan.
Why was I offered a loan when I wanted grant assistance? (Back to Top)
Loans are a form of student financial aid. Student loans offer interest rates and terms that would not typically be available to first-time borrowers if it were not for their student status. Grant fund are severely limited and are typically awarded to students demonstrating the lowest family contributions. Even at the low cost of a public institution, such as the California State University, it is virtually impossible for students demonstrating financial need to complete their college career without obtaining a student loan for some portion of the financing.
Can I be considered independent of my parents if they do not claim me as a tax exemption? If they are not willing to pay for college? If I am going to be on my own?
Federal regulations regarding dependency status for financial aid purposes are very strict. If you do not meet one of the following criteria, you are considered dependent and your parents(s)' information will be required to determine eligibility for aid:
- You are 24 or older prior to the first day of the calendar year of the award year;
- You are a veteran or currently an active duty member of the armed forces;
- You are a graduate student;
- You are married, or have legal dependents other than a spouse; or
- You are an orphan/ward of the court.
If you do not satisfy one of the above criteria, additional documentation will be needed to demonstrate to the financial aid administrator that there are extenuating circumstances sufficient to warrant an exception. This exception is termed a "professional judgment override" and it is unique to each institution. Institutions and their administrators are held responsible for the administration of student aid funds and the judgment which they exercise in awarding those funds. When an aid administrator, on behalf of their institution, exercises "professional judgment", they put their credibility as well as that of their institution on the line.
Why are students offered so many loans?
Appropriations for grant funds are limited - at the federal, state, and institutional level. The federal guarantees for student loans, along with repayment obligations, make lending to students a relatively attractive and limited-risk alternative for lending institutions. Student loans provide a source of financing for those in need who must obligate future earnings in order to finance their education. The CSU is concerned that student borrowing has increased at an incredible rate over the past couple of years. Students are seriously encouraged to consider alternatives to excessive borrowing.
What is "verification" and why do some aid applicants have to submit tax returns and other documents? (Back to Top)
Financial aid applicants are selected at random or by systems edits at the The Department of Education's processor and others are selected by the institution based upon quality control measures implemented at the campus level. The documents required are those that should have been used to complete the initial application.