Step-by-Step Guide to Financial Aid

Welcome to the East Bay Consortium’s Step-by-Step Guide to Financial Aid. Hopefully, we’ll be able to answer all of your financial aid needs and questions from how to fill out a FAFSA to how to pay back school loans.

Please browse around. If your questions are not answered in the guide, please feel free to email us with your financial aid questions.

Starting your junior year of high school, explore all financial aid options from federal, state, and school sources. Find out about private grants and scholarships. Talk with a counselor and ask your parents to check with their employers and labor unions. Go to a library and look at scholarship, grant, and student aid directories. Use scholarship search engines on the internet, but beware of scholarship scams and fraud.

During the college admissions application process, find out what each school requires to apply for financial aid. Even at similar colleges in California, requirements, forms, and deadlines are not the same. Schools outside the state will have their own financial aid application process. File the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon after January 1 as possible for federal and state aid.

When mailing important letters or forms, ask the post office for a certificate of mailing. Print your name and Social Security number at the top of each document and keep copies of everything!

Be prepared to supply additional materials, such as your family’s income tax returns (IRS Form 1040), directly to the school.

In California, you may apply for a Federal Pell Grant and for a state Cal Grant by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Some specialized programs have unique applications. Read the appropriate parts of this workbook and check with a financial aid counselor for complete details.

The FAFSA is available starting in November at high school counseling offices, career centers, libraries, colleges and other postsecondary school financial aid offices. Do not file earlier than January 1 of each year.

Be sure to review carefully the application instructions and provide accurate information. Mail the completed form to the appropriate need analysis service which will determine expected family contribution.

The need analysis service will send copies to the federal government for Pell Grant evaluation, to colleges which you list (up to six) and to the California Student Aid Commission if you so request.

In acknowledging an application, the need analysis service also sends you a form indicating the information submitted on your application and used in determining your family contribution. Carefully review it and submit any corrections on the form supplied

There is no charge to apply for a state-sponsored Cal Grant A, B or C. Follow the instructions and complete the appropriate sections on the FAFSA, including answering “yes” to question 33 and completing Section I: State Information. Do not file before January 1. The need analysis service will forward your processed application to the Student Aid Commission. To be considered for a Cal Grant, a completed FAFSA must be filed by the March 2nd postmark deadline.

Students applying for a Cal Grant also must file additional information with the California Student Aid Commission by the deadline. Counselors and financial aid offices have complete information and materials.

The Student Aid Commission makes Cal Grant award notifications beginning in the spring. Check with the financial aid office.

Using the FAFSA, file as early as possible after January 1 but no later than May 2 of each academic school year. Four to six weeks after applying for a Pell Grant you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) from the processor which shows whether you are eligible. Follow any instructions which are included with the SAR.

Follow up on application requirements for private scholarships and grants. Prepare to spend some time researching this subject; writing letters or essays and even speaking before community groups may be part of the private scholarship application process.

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Application requirements for student loan programs vary. For example, the Federal Stafford loan is a need-based program and applicants first must have their eligibility determined for a Pell Grant. A separate Stafford loan application/promissory note form must be completed. Other loans will have different eligibility and application requirements. All loans must be repaid with interest.

Ask your college financial aid office for exact loan application information and requirements. (Some schools are restricted from participation in the various student loan programs due to high default rates.) Complete the required forms and return them to the college for certification. You or your college then must forward the certified loan application to a participating lender.

The financial aid office has a list of banks, savings and loan institutions, and credit unions that make student loans, along with the current lending policies for many of them. Before applying for a student loan, make sure that doing so will not affect other aid.

Carefully read all letters and notices received from colleges, the federal student aid processor, the need analysis service, the Student Aid Commission and private scholarship organizations. The offer of financial aid varies by school and may be sent either before or after you are notified about admission.

If additional information is requested, respond promptly.

When offering campus-based aid, schools take into account family contributions, Federal Pell Grants, Cal Grants, other scholarships and veterans’ benefits. Read your award letter carefully.

Here are things you should know about a financial aid offer:

  • Sign and return all forms, indicating whether you are accepting or rejecting the award.
  • You need not accept the whole student aid package. If you do not accept the loan portion, the aid office usually will not be able to increase the size of your grants.
  • Many schools and colleges allow students to trade work aid for a loan or loan aid for work-study. Ask the financial aid office for details.
  • Your award may be changed if your financial resources or expenses change. Report any changes, both before and during the school year, to the financial aid office.
  • Financial aid generally is disbursed when a student begins classes. Ask the financial aid office how your Pell Grant, campus-based aid and Cal Grant payments will be made and plan accordingly. Also ask how to get your checks; some schools mail the awards, while others expect students to pick them up.
  • Private organizations will notify you directly of an award. Students may be paid directly or through the campus financial aid office. If you receive other aid, you must report it to the financial aid office right away.

To receive continued student aid, you must submit a new application and supporting documents each year and must maintain satisfactory academic progress toward a degree or certificate. The school’s financial aid office has information on when and how to reapply.

If you currently have a Cal Grant, renewal application evaluation will be conducted by the campus where you enroll for the academic year. Therefore, you must have a copy of your FAFSA information sent to that school.