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Applying for Financial Aid (the FAFSA) - What you need to do


If there is any chance you might need money for college you should apply for financial aid. It costs nothing to apply.

To apply for federal and state financial aid, you'll need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You'll find it on the Web at and on paper, in both English and Spanish.  In order to apply for the FAFSA, you should have an email address that is not connected to the school. All school email addresses are deleted after you graduate. 


What Is the FAFSA?

FAFSA is an acronym that stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Colleges and universities use this form to determine students eligibility for federal, state, and college-sponsored financial aid, including grants, educational loans, and work-study programs. Even though the FAFSA is technically the application for federal aid, many colleges also use the FAFSA to award their own grants and scholarships. The FAFSA asks for information about you, your family, your finances and your college plans. Filing online is the fastest way to file. The online FAFSA also automatically catches common errors before you finish the application. Students who are hoping for any government or school financial aid for college, should file a FAFSA.


How does the FAFSA determine students eligibility for financial aid? The FAFSA is used by the US Department of Education to calculate the Expected Family Contribution, or EFC, for college. The EFC is a dollar amount that reflects how much your family can afford to pay for college for the following academic year. The lower your EFC, the more aid you're eligible to receive. Your EFC is determined based on income, assets, and other household information you'll be asked to provide on the FAFSA. 

FAFSA eligibility
General FAFSA eligibility requirements include that you have financial need, are a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen, plan to be enrolled in an eligible degree or certificate program at your college or career school.
Eligible Non Citizens
  • U.S. national (includes natives of American Samoa or Swains Island) or
  • U.S. permanent resident with a Form I-551, I-151, or I-551C (Permanent Resident Card, Resident Alien Card, or Alien Registration Receipt Card), also known as a "green card."
Undocumented students, including DACA recipients, are not eligible for federal student aid, but you may still be eligible for state or college aid, in addition to private scholarships. Talk to your counselor to see if you should complete a FAFSA application
Do I have to apply for admission to a school before I list it on my FAFSA?
No. On your FAFSA, list all the schools to which you have applied or might apply.
Are there deadlines?
YES! Each college sets a deadline for "priority" filing of the FAFSA. You must file by that date to get a chance at the best money available. Students will need to research the colleges where they are applying to find out the priority deadline dates. 
The application period begins on October 1st for the next academic year. For example, if you want financial aid for classes beginning in September 2023, the application period begins on October 1, 2022.  The application period ends in June at the end of the academic year, but most colleges have a March 2nd deadline.
If you are a sophomore or junior (or the parent of one) you can get an early estimate of your eligibility for federal student aid through
FAFSA4caster.  This Web site provides you with an opportunity to increase your knowledge of the financial aid process; become familiar with the various types of federal student aid that are available; and investigate other sources of aid, such as grants and scholarships.
For a Cal Grant, you must submit your verified GPA as well as the FAFSA. In addition, a number of other California state aid programs require their own application forms besides the FAFSA.   For more about the specifics of the Cal Grant, go to our Cal Grant page. 
When is the best time to file?
As early as possible! File as soon after October 1st as you can.
  • If you want to be considered for state grants, you should file your FAFSA by March 2nd.
  • The University of California and the California State University (all campuses of both systems) use March 2nd as their priority date.
  • The independent colleges set varying dates. Some want the FAFSA as early as mid-January or February 1st, so check the priority filing date with every college in which you are interested. Often independent colleges require additional forms, such as the College Board's CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE®, or have their own supplemental forms to determine who receives institutional or private aid dollars. Be sure to check directly with the financial aid office of each college you're considering.
  • The California Community Colleges will be able to serve you with better financial aid if you apply early, but applications are encouraged throughout the 18-month cycle. If you plan to attend a California Community College in the fall, you should meet the March 2nd deadline, even though you have a "second-chance" deadline of September 2nd. That's because there are only a limited number of the popular Competitive Cal Grant awards available in the fall. However, completing the FAFSA as soon as you know you will be attending is your best course of action.
  • The best advice? File early! Meet the earliest deadline of all the colleges you are considering and then you have met all the deadlines.
CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE® is a financial aid application service of the College Board
While the FAFSA Financial Aid Application is the universal required form in the financial aid world, it’s not the only form you’ll be expected to fill out, especially if you are applying to any private colleges. Several hundred private colleges and some public colleges also require another form originated by the College Board, the CSS Profile: The College Scholarship Service Profile.
The profile is college specific, and is used to determine aid eligibility for non-federal financial aid, such as institutional scholarships and grants. This form tends to be more detailed than the FAFSA, and focuses on information needed pertaining to specific programs at each school. Having a separate form allows the school to ask more tailored questions.
Unlike the FAFSA, the CSS Profile is not free. Each financial aid application uses different needs analysis formulas. Among other differences, the methodology used takes into account home equity, and also assumes contribution from the student. The CSS Profile asks you to separate your income throughout the year by season, and requires detailed reports of your assets, medical expenses, tuition reimbursements, scholarships and family gifts.