Maximize Financial Aid With California FAFSA: A Step-By-Step Guide

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In the United States, a whopping 51.04% of students discontinue their studies because they can’t pay college tuition, and 55% of the student population struggles to financially support their education.

It’s no secret that education is a powerful tool for many students, improving their chances of a successful career—the lack of funds means that a large part of the student population doesn’t get to add this powerful tool to their armory.

That’s why filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is one of the best things that students can do to afford college. This form goes a long way in providing opportunities to students in need by securing financial aid for them.

In California, FAFSA can also help you apply for the Cal Grant.

Here’s what you need to know about FAFSA, California FAFSA, and applying for financial aid through this form.

What Is FAFSA?

To avail of federal grants, loans, work-study, and other such financial aid, prospective and current students in the United States need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

The application is used to determine the student’s eligibility for federal financial aid and is a must for all schools that are awarding students with federal student aid.

The great thing about FAFSA is that qualifying is quite easy and nearly every student who applies for aid receives some form of federal financial aid.

However, what obstructs most students and families is that filling out the form, at least in its physical avatar, can be quite complicated and confusing, with over 100 questions to answer. The online application is slightly easier, presenting candidates with relevant questions using skip-logic technology.

What Is the Cal Grant?

The Cal Grant is state-specific financial aid provided to the students of the California State University, the University of California, the California Community College, and other qualifying independent, career, and technical California colleges/schools. The grant can be applied for through FAFSA.

For students who meet AB 540 requirements (undocumented students), applying for the Cal Grant needs to be done through the California Dream Act Application (CADAA).

Qualifying for FAFSA

To qualify for FAFSA, you just need to be a college-going student in the United States. This means both eligible non-citizens and citizens (with Social Security Numbers).

Here’s a more detailed breakdown of the different qualifications required:

  • Applicants need to be eligible non-citizens or citizens of the United States.
  • They need to demonstrate the need for financial aid when applying for federal grants like FAFSA.
  • Candidates need to have valid Social Security Numbers unless they’re from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, or the Republic of Palau.
  • They need to be accepted for enrollment or already enrolled as a regular student in an eligible certificate program or degree.
  • Candidates need to display that they’re qualified to obtain a career school or college education by holding a General Educational Development (GED) certificate, a high school diploma, or some other equivalent recognized by the state. They may also be enrolled in an eligible career pathway program or have completed their homeschooling.
  • Applicants need to maintain up-to-the-mark academic progress through career school or college.
  • Candidates need to declare that they will use the federal aid only for educational purposes, that they’re not in default on a federal student loan, and that they don’t owe any money on a federal student grant—this is declared by signing the certification statement on the FAFSA application.

While some forms of federal aid impose income limits, FAFSA doesn’t.

When Is FAFSA Due?

FAFSA applications are accepted from the 1st of October for the upcoming school year (which means that to receive financial aid for the 2023-2024 school year, forms were accepted from the 1st of October, 2022). However, since the grant works on a “first come, first served” basis, it is suggested that students apply as soon as possible.

FAFSA Deadline 2022

The FAFSA deadline for 2022-23 is 11:59 PM Central Time (CT) on the 30th of June, 2023, with updates and corrections submitted before 11:59 PM CT on the 9th of September, 2023.

FAFSA Deadline 2023

The FAFSA deadline for the 2023-24 academic year is the 30th of June, 2024 by 11:59 PM CT. Updates/corrections need to be submitted before 11:59 PM CT on the 14th of September, 2024.

Filling Out the FAFSA Application

If you’re filling out the FAFSA form for the first time, here’s a step-by-step guide to going about it.

The Information You Need

Before filling out your form, keep the following info handy:

  • Social Security Number
  • Alien Registration number (if a non-citizen)
  • A government-issued ID number or driver’s license number
  • Bank statements
  • Federal tax returns and W-2s
  • Any untaxed income records, such as interest income, child support, veterans’ non-education benefits, and so on
  • Investment records

For dependent students, parents will also have to submit the above.

Sections of the FAFSA Application

The form has the following sections:

  • Student Information: The first part of the form requires all student information to be filled in, such as birth date, name, and SSN. Alternatively, students can create a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID, in which case, all of this information will be pre-populated.
  • School Selection: FAFSA details can be sent to any school, even if the student hasn’t applied or been accepted. Students are advised to add every school they’re interested in if they don’t have an acceptance letter or are enrolled, as any school they don’t eventually attend will discard their information. Up to 10 schools can be added at a time.
  • Parent’s Demographics: This section requires basic information about the parents and needs to be filled in even if students don’t live with their parents. This section applies to legal guardians, adoptive parents, and biological parents.
  • Financial Information: This section is easy to fill if you have the IRS Data Retrieval Tool handy, as this will pre-populate much of the information. Linking the tool to the form is easy and can be done by providing a few details and checking a few boxes.

Information can also be entered manually; if you’re doing this, keep the relevant financial documents handy.

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Signing and Submitting the Form

Independent students can sign and submit the form on their own, while dependent students will need their parents’ signatures too. The e-signatures are taken from the FSA IDs of both students and parents.

After the signatures are put in place, the form can be easily submitted and the information will be automatically sent to all the schools selected by the student.

The Bottom Line

Though it may initially seem overwhelming, FAFSA forms are pretty straightforward, available online and in apps for both iOS and Android, and definitely worth a shot for all students. The form needs to be filled out every year, so make sure you put it on your calendar!

Get started on your application today and submit it as soon as possible for the best chances.


  • Hussain Shoaib

    Hussain Shoaib is an author and digital marketer with expertise in financial aid and education. He has extensive knowledge of the Pell grant and FAFSA, and has published numerous articles on these topics.

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