The 2023-2024 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is open and the deadline is March 2, 2023 for California students. You need to complete the form using tax information from the 2021 tax year (you can pull income-tax information directly from the IRS by using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool that is embedded in the FAFSA).
Feeling lost or confused about how to fill out the FAFSA? There are FREE California Cash for College workshops available to assist you. You may find workshops near you at the California Student Aid Commission website.
California Dream Act Application Information
For AB 540/DACA/DREAM students, be sure to file the California Dream Act Application and NOT the FAFSA (even if you have a DACA SSN). Filing the FAFSA when you should be filing the California Dream Act Application will delay processing of your financial aid award!
Keep in mind that you may receive loan offers to cover some or all of your UC costs (MINIMUM out-of-pocket cost for a UC starts at around $10,000 per year regardless of family income; see the “Sample Financing Plans” toward the bottom of this page and note that “Student Contribution” and “Parent Contribution” are what the UCs expect you and your family to come up with on your own, by paying out-of-pocket, taking out loans, or getting work-study jobs). Be sure to apply for scholarships to reduce the loans you need to borrow or the need to work while attending college. You may find additional financial aid and scholarship resources for freshman or transfer students on my website (including resources for AB 540/DACA/DREAM students).
Advice for Low-Income Families
Families making less than $80,000 annually and filed FAFSA on time will qualify for the UC Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan; however, you may still receive loan and/or work-study offers to cover a part of your UC costs (even with the debt-free pathway that’s making news headlines right now, low-income students will still likely face a MINIMUM out-of-pocket cost of around $8,000 per year, assuming state funding comes through; in that case, you are expected to cover that amount by paying out-of-pocket, taking out loans, or getting work-study jobs). Be sure to apply for scholarships to reduce the loans you need to borrow or the need to work while attending college.
If you are a transfer student and you have been using your Cal Grants and/or Pell Grants while attending community college, please see my post Cal Grants & Pell Grants at Community College for additional information regarding your financial aid after you transfer.
Advice for Middle Class/Upper Middle Class Families
I strongly urge you to complete the FAFSA even if you don’t think you are eligible to receive need-based aid. Completing the form will guard against any unexpected changes in your financial situation and may help you qualify for merit-based scholarships (some organizations/programs require the FAFSA to award merit scholarships). Consider the Middle Class Scholarship (MCS) program, which provides funding to help middle-class students attend UCs or CSUs; families with income up to $217,000 and assets up to $217,000 are eligible (requirements for independent students are different), but you MUST complete the FAFSA to qualify.
Please note that I make the recommendation below because many families have asked me for college funding advice, which is a complicated and highly regulated field. This is simply for your information in case you are interested.
Most middle and upper-middle income families with dependent college students can lower out-of-pocket college costs, maximize grants and scholarships, and minimize debt with a little planning. Get the basics of how to navigate the college funding maze with SMARTTRACK’s FREE hour-long webinar. Looking for more personalized help? Sign up for a free SMARTTRACK account (for parents or guardians) to receive a complimentary College Funding Evaluation with a professional SMARTTRACK Advisor, as well as access to free money-saving tools (such as EFC calculator and tax strategies). Services and additional resources can be purchased through the account at a discount if further guidance is needed. (Purchases made from SMARTTRACK will generate a commission that helps support the free content on this website!)
Do NOT assume that you should just take out loans to pay for college and everything will work out. The government, colleges, and private lenders are NOT taking the time to educate you on how to manage your money or explain how crushing student loan debt could ruin your life. Loans are too easy to take out and the interests add up too quickly (particularly for unsubsidized or private loans). Federal student loans will follow you for life and not to be taken lightly (you will carry the debt until you die because student loans typically cannot be discharged through bankruptcy). This is further complicated by predatory student loan servicers that are taking advantage of borrowers and contributing to skyrocketing student loan default rates (find a video that offers a clear, comprehensive explanation of the problem here – please note the video contains explicit language); some states have begun addressing the issue and California students are now protected by the California Student Borrower Bill Of Rights.
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