FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid and is used to determine eligibility for various forms of financial aid. Alternatively, if you are a non-citizen, you may file the California Dream Act Application instead. In California, the deadline to submit your FAFSA or Dream Act Application is March 2nd. However, other states might have deadlines that are sooner, so be sure to check with your school if you are looking at out-of-state options.
In order to fill out the FAFSA, you will need your Social Security Number, your Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen), and your most recent federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned. When filling out the FAFSA (or Dream Act), be sure to include the schools to which you are applying, so they have access to your information to determine Financial Aid Awards.
The FAFSA and Dream Act Application determine your eligibility for state and federal aid, which includes grants, loans, and work-study!
The most common grants are the Pell Grant and the Cal Grant. The Pell Grant is a federal grant determined by household income and can be used at almost all schools in the United States. Cal Grants are also determined by household income, but are only available to California residents attending college in California.
Other grants you can receive through the FAFSA (or Dream Act) include the SEOG (for students with exceptional need), the TEACH Grant (for students intending to pursue a career in teaching), and the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant (for students whose parent(s) died while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11).
All you need to do to qualify for these grants is submit your FAFSA or Dream Act Application!
There are two main types of loans you can get from the FAFSA or Dream Act. Direct and Perkins.
The Perkins Loan is a school-based program, where the school is the lender. Not all schools participate in this program, and terms are up to the school, so this loan varies based on school site.
Direct loans are from the government. There are two main kinds:
Direct Subsidized Loans are loans for students who have significant financial need. The government pays your interest on these loans while you are in school, while you are under deferred admission, and for six months after graduation. You will never have to pay that interest. This is the best kind of loan to get! Usually, interest rates and terms are also more reasonable.
Direct Unsubsidized Loans are loans available to students, even if they do not have financial need. With these loans, you must pay the interest the entire time you have the loan, including while you are in school. Interest rates also tend to be higher with these loans.
You can also choose to apply for private loans through banks or credit unions. These loans often have higher interest rates or changeable terms, which can be dangerous. However, they can also be a better option, depending on which loan you choose.
Federal Work Study is a program that guarantees a certain amount of money at a school site that goes towards providing part-time employment for students while you are enrolled in school. It is available to full or part-time students with financial need.
You must check yes on the FAFSA when it asks you if you are interested in Federal Work Study in order to be eligible.
Jobs can be on campus or off campus and you are guaranteed to earn at least minimum wage. You will be paid directly, but must use the wages for tuition, room and board, fees, textbooks, and associated educational expenses.