Besides applying for college or a vocational training program and enjoying senior year activities, all high school seniors should apply for financial aid to help fund their post high school pursuits.

85% of students have a chance of receiving some kind of financial aid.
92% of applicants from low-income households receive grant money, which never has to be paid back.

Applying for money to help pay for college or vocational training is easier this year due to two important changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA):

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  1. The FAFSA application opens earlier than in years past on October 1, 2016. This means students can submit the FAFSA in the fall and possibly know as early as November sources of money to help pay for college.
  2. Starting this year, the FAFSA will use “prior-prior-year” income data so students and families do not need to estimate earnings. The FAFSA will use 2015 income data, which is already known. To make the process even easier, most students can automatically upload information from 2015 tax returns.

We encourage all high school seniors from families of all income levels to complete the FAFSA or California Dream Act Application. Knowing early that money is available to help pay for college or vocational training, may allow students to pursue advanced education or training earlier than they thought possible.  (U.S. citizens and permanent residents complete the FAFSA. Others, read 10 Things to Know About the CA Dream Act to determine eligibility.)

Just Apply – Don’t Leave Money on the Table
The FAFSA not only determines eligibility for federal Pell Grants for low-income students, but it’s used by colleges to administer federal student loans, work-study funds and scholarships from the schools. Some private schools match the cost of tuition at a UC, but require a FAFSA to award those merit based scholarships. Many outside scholarship providers require the FAFSA – even for merit based scholarships.

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Cal Grant A and B
Money for college and vocational programs is also available from the State of California, but income and grades matter. The State uses the FAFSA and California Dream Act Application to determine Cal Grant eligibility. Cal Grants cover the cost of tuition at CSUs and UCs as well as partial tuition for many private and vocational schools. Last year, $2B (that’s Billion with a capital B) in Cal Grants were awarded. Students from middle- and low-income families may be Cal Grant eligible, and students need to meet minimum GPA requirements to receive funding (3.0 for Cal Grant A and 2.0 for Cal Grant B).

For example, a student from a family of 4, and household income up to $95,400, and a minimum 3.0 GPA, could receive a Cal Grant A each year to cover the cost tuition at a UC – $12,294 in 2017-18.

Students planning to attend a Community College should also complete the FAFSA or CA Dream Act App. Cal Grant A awards are held in reserve until the student transfers to a 4-year school, and Cal Grant B awards provide funding at both community colleges and 4-year schools. The applications are also used to determine eligibility for a Community College Board of Governor (BOG) Fee Waiver.  Pell Grants are also awarded for low-income students studying at community colleges.

Students who qualify for a BOG Fee Waiver attend Community College tuition free.

Cal Grant C & Pell Grant for Vocational Programs
Money is available through both the Pell Grant and the Cal Grant C program for students pursuing an Associate Degree or Certificate in a vocational, occupational, or technical program.  The school needs to be a Cal Grant Eligible Institution to receive a Cal Grant C. Each year, money is left unspent in the State’s Cal Grant C pot.  There is no minimum GPA requirement for a Cal Grant C.

View the 2017-18 Cal Grant Income and Asset Chart. Note, students need to have financial need as determined by the FAFSA or CA Dream Act Application as well as be under the income and asset ceiling levels to be eligible for Cal Grants.

Middle Class Scholarship – Family income up to $156,000
The State also funds the Middle Class Scholarship (MCS) which provides undergraduate students, including students pursuing a teaching credential, with family incomes and assets up to $156,000 a scholarship to attend UC or CSU campuses. Awards vary from 10% to 40% of tuition costs. Even if a student’s Middle Class Scholarship award is the minimum 10% of tuition at a CSU, that is a $550 savings. If it takes a student two hours to complete and submit as FAFSA, the return is $275 per hour.

How many high school seniors earn $275 per hour?

Families’ primary residences and retirement account savings are not used in award determinations for Federal and State financial aid. Private or out-of-state schools may consider those assets when determining financial aid packages, however, and may require additional applications, so verify all requirements for specific school.

Student should never pay to complete and submit a FAFSA – the first F stands for FREE.

Access the FAFSA here and the CA Dream Act app here.

Submit either application as early as October 1, 2016, but the deadline for California is March 2, 2017. Students should check if their college has a deadline earlier than March 2.

To receive a Cal Grant or Middle Class Scholarship, students must also create a WebGrants 4 Students account to monitor and accept their grant.

 

Carolyn Siegfried, Executive Director – Pedrozzi Foundation, and Robin Fahr, host of Conversations with Robin Fahr on Tri-Valley Community Television – TV30 , discuss why all students should apply for college financial aid and not leave money on the table. (Segment produced by Tri-Valley Community Television)