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California Scholarships and Financial Aid

Grants, Student Loans, & Fellowships

Thinking about going to college can be discouraging when faced with the dilemma of figuring out how to pay tuition and other expenses. Whether you are a working adult or a high school graduate applying for the first time, or a returning student hoping to finish up a degree, there are many financial aid programs available in the state of California. Students can seek federal, state and university grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and loans.

California scholarships are based on financial need, merit, community service, and other factors. There are also many California financial aid programs for students with financial need. These are based on the student’s income, their parent’s income, as well as the student’s cumulative grade point average, and academic progress.

The Most Common Financial Aid Programs in California

1. Federal financial aid
2. California state financial aid
3. Scholarships

Federal Financial Aid for California Students

Federal financial aid is offered at California colleges and universities. Types of federal financial aid include grants, work-study programs, and loans. Grants are gift aid that does NOT need to be repaid. Work-study programs allow students to work part-time (up to 20 hours) while attending school to help pay for college expenses. Loans are also gift aid; however, they must be repaid. Payment is usually not required until several months after graduation.

Before students can receive financial aid, they must apply for it. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) website allows students to apply online. Once an application is submitted, it is reviewed and aid is either awarded or denied. It is important to apply as soon as possible, and prior to the school year in which you want to use the financial aid. In California, students can submit the FAFSA until the usual deadline of June 30.

Federal financial aid available to California college students include Pell Grants, Supplemental Opportunity Grant (SEOG), Academic Competitiveness Grant Program (ACG), the National SMART Grant, and the TEACH Grant.

1. Pell Grants are awarded to undergraduates with a maximum gift of $5,350 per year. Students are evaluated on financial need, the cost of school attending, their status (full-time /part-time), and length of time at school (one year or less).

2. The Supplemental Opportunity Grant (SEOG) is awarded to undergraduate students with great financial needs. This grant awards anywhere from $100 – $4,000 a year, depending on financial need, when the student applies, the amount of funding provided by the school of choice, and the school’s financial aid policies.

3. Academic Competitiveness Grant Program (ACG) is offered to students who receive Pell Grants. This grant offers disbursement for the first two years of college. The first year students are awarded $750 and $1,300 for the second year. Since this grant is offered in conjunction with the Pell Grant, the total amount cannot exceed the cost for the student’s attendance.

4. The National SMART Grant is another grant offered to students receiving Pell Grants. However, this gift aid goes toward the last two years of undergraduate studies. Students can be awarded up to $4,000 each year. Again, the total amount from this grant cannot surpass the cost of the student’s attendance.

5. The TEACH Grant is a new program, geared toward students who plan to teach in a public or private school where students come from low-income families. This grant offers up to $4,000 per year.

Other federal aid includes the Perkins Loan. This is a low-interest and need-based loan offered to under-graduate and graduate students at various California institutions. Undergraduates can receive up to $5,500 per year, and graduate students are eligible for up to $8,000 per year. Since this is a loan, repayment is mandatory. Incremental repayments begin nine months after graduation.

California State Financial Aid

California offers several types of Cal Grants, administered by the state through the California Student Aid Commission. If interested in receiving a Cal Grant, students must apply for it. To do so, fill out and submit a FAFSA and provide Cal Grant GPA verification by the usual deadline of September 2.

Cal Grant recipients can be awarded up to $9,700 per year. This money can be used to pay for college expenses at a university, college, or career/technical school in California. And since it is a grant, it does NOT have to be repaid.

There are also state university grants (SUG) available for California residents attending state universities. These are need-based awards for undergraduate and graduate students.
California also offers the Chafee Grant Program designed specifically for foster youth. It is a unique program that awards up to $5,000 per year for college or career training.

California State Scholarships

Like most scholarships, California scholarships are awarded based on financial need, and merit. Many colleges and universities offer various academic or athletic scholarships. These scholarships are unique to each institution, and have specific requirements for eligibility.
With a little research, students will be amazed at some of the California state scholarships available. Here are just a few:


  • Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship recognizes outstanding high school students based on SAT/ACT scores. Up to two nominees per school are accepted and must be submitted to the Commission by April 15 (of each year). Students are awarded $1,500/year for up to four years.#1

  • HSF/Citigroup Fellows Program awarded to students of Hispanic heritage who reside or attend school in the San Francisco Bay area. Students are awarded $5,000 per year for two years.#2

  • Ruth G. White Scholarship recognizes female graduate students who reside in California, majoring in medicine. Award amounts vary.

  • Ethel O. Gardner P.E.O. Scholarship is awarded to female undergraduate or graduate students, residing in California, who demonstrate strong academic achievement, have a financial need, possess a good character, and are pursuing a degree at an accredited college or university. Award amounts vary, ranging from $500 – $1,500.
  • Dorothy L. Weller P.E.O. Scholarship is awarded to female graduate students pursuing a law degree, who demonstrate a financial need and are California residents. Award range is $1,000 – $1,500.
  • Clair A. Hill Scholarship is administered by the Association of California Water Agencies. This scholarship is awarded to students in their sophomore, junior, or senior year at a California educational institution. Applicants must be California residents to be considered. Award amount is $5,000.
  • ACWA Scholarship is awarded to a California resident attending a California participating school. Applicants must be a full-time junior or senior pursuing a degree in a water resources-related field. Awards two $3,000 scholarships.
  • Golden Gate Restaurant Association Scholarship Foundation awards scholarship money ranging from $1,000 – $5,000 to students pursuing a career in restaurants and hospitality. Applicants must be California residents to apply. Award distribution is based on financial need, grade point average, application, and experience.

Financial Aid Tidbits for California Students

To reap the benefits of financial aid, it is important to note some key points when working through the financial aid process:


  • Be prepared before filling out the FAFSA, and apply online for faster approval. Get all necessary IRS forms and other pertinent information to complete the application.

  • Always know your deadlines. Students who apply early have a better chance of qualifying for aid. If you apply after the deadline, your need is handled on a first-come, first-serve basis.

  • Look for all possible financial aid options within your state, your region, as well as within the school you are attending. There could be some ‘hidden’ university scholarships or grants for which you qualify. Don’t be afraid to dig a little deeper.

  • Ask for help. Completing the financial aid process can be confusing and overwhelming. Contact a financial aid representative from a college or university to clarify anything unclear.

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