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California scholarships, student loans and grants

How to get your college tuition and fees covered in the Golden State.

Some 50% of college graduates in California leave school with student debt. That’s due in part to California’s generous Cal Grant Program that covers a good chunk of tuition and fees for residents attending qualifying in-state schools.

Does California offer college scholarships?

Yes. The state offers one scholarship to residents: the need-based Middle Class Scholarship.

Middle Class Scholarship

AmountsBetween 10% and 40% of tuition and fees at the University of California or California State University.
Eligibility requirements

To qualify for the Middle Class Scholarship, you must meet criteria that includes:

  • California residency
  • Enrollment at the University of California or California State University
  • Annual family income and assets of $171,000 or less
  • No defaults on student loans
  • No history of incarceration
  • US citizen, permanent resident or ability to qualify for AB 540 nonresidency tuition exemption
  • Satisfactory academic progress

The Middle Class Scholarship funds up to 40% of your tuition costs at the University of California or California State University. The award amount you qualify for depends on your financial need as well as other scholarships and grants you already received.

Top California grants for school

The most common way to fund your education is through a Cal Grant. Other options for students require meeting specific criteria.

Cal Grant Program

Amounts for Cal Grant A

Award amounts for tuition and fees depend on the school you’re attending:

  • University of California — up to $12,570 a year
  • California State University —up to $5,742 a year
  • Other qualifying California college —up to $9,084 a year
Amounts for Cal Grant B

For your first year of school, you receive a $1,627 stipend to use for books and supplies.

After that, your award covers tuition, fees and a stipend for books and supplies during your sophomore, junior and senior years — with amounts that vary by school:

  • University of California —up to $14,242 a year
  • California State University —up to $7,414 a year
  • Other qualifying California college —up to $10,756 a year
General eligibility requirements

Although each Cal Grant requires its own eligibility, you must also meet basic criteria:

  • California residency for at least one year
  • FASFA or California Dream Act Application by the annual deadline
  • Annual family income and asset requirements
  • Enrollment at least half time at a qualifying California college
  • Registration with the US Selective Service, if applicable
  • No previously earned bachelor’s or professional degree
  • No defaults or refunds owed on state or federal student loans or grants
  • No history of incarceration
  • US citizen, eligible noncitizen or ability to qualify for AB 540 nonresidency tuition exemption
  • Satisfactory academic progress

To learn if you qualify, contact your school’s financial aid office or the California Student Aid Commission.

The Cal Grant Program is three separate grants that are further divided into type A and B. You don’t need to complete separate applications to be considered for these grants — you’re automatically in the running when you complete the FASFA or California Dream Act Application.

The state adds a special Cal Grant C Award for students attending an occupational or technical program.

Cal Grant High School Entitlement Award
Eligibility requirements for Cal Grant A

On top of general eligibility requirements, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Low- to middle-income student
  • Minimum 3.0 high school GPA
  • Enrollment in a two-year associate or a bachelor’s degree program
Eligibility requirements for Cal Grant B

On top of general eligibility requirements, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Low-income student
  • Minimum 2.0 high school GPA
  • Enrollment in at an associate degree, bachelor’s degree or certificate program

While high school seniors won’t find state-funded scholarships in California, the Cal Grant High School Entitlement Award gives high school students with financial need and decent grades a way to fund their education.

Cal Grant Competitive Award
Eligibility requirements for Cal Grant A

On top of general eligibility requirements, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Low to middle income
  • Minimum 3.0 high school GPA
  • Enrollment in a two-year associate or a bachelor’s degree program
  • Inability to qualify for the Cal Grant Entitlement Award
Eligibility requirements for Cal Grant B

On top of general eligibility requirements, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Low income
  • Minimum 2.0 high school GPA
  • Enrollment in an associate degree, bachelor’s degree or certificate program
  • Inability to qualify for the Cal Grant Entitlement Award

The Cal Grant Competitive Award is limited to about 26,000 students a year. Selections are based on your financial need as determined by the FASFA as well as your GPA. Only applicants who aren’t eligible for the Cal Grant Entitlement Award can qualify.

Cal Grant Transfer Entitlement Award
Eligibility requirements for Cal Grant A

On top of general eligibility requirements, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Low to middle income
  • Minimum 2.4 GPA from a California community college
  • Enrollment in at least a two-year associate or a bachelor’s degree program
Eligibility requirements for Cal Grant B

On top of general eligibility requirements, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Low income
  • Minimum 2.4 GPA from a California community college
  • Enrollment in an associate degree, bachelor’s degree or certificate program

The Cal Grant Transfer Entitlement Award is designed for students who plan on transferring from a California community college to a four-year university. To qualify, you must be under 28 years old and transfer directly from your community college without a gap year.

Cal Grant C Award
Amounts

Award amounts vary by the institution you’re attending:

  • Eligible private California institutionup to $2,462 for tuition and fees and up to $547 for books, tools and equipment
  • California community college — up to $1,094
Eligibility requirements

On top of general eligibility requirements, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Low to middle income
  • Enrollment in an occupational or technical training program that lasts at least four months

The Cal Grant C Award is designed for students enrolled in a technical or occupational program at a qualifying California school. Fewer than 8,000 awards are offered each year, though select fields get priority points in the selection process. Learn if your program is on the Cal Grant C Priority Occupational List at the California Student Aid Commission website.

Unlike with other Cal Grant options, you must submit a separate application after filling out the FASFA or California Dream Act Application if you’re eligible for the award.

Other California college grants

California offers more than the Cal Grant, but you must meet strict requirements and complete a separate application for consideration.

  • California Chafee Grant for Foster Youth. If you were in foster care between the ages of 16 and 18, you may qualify for an annual award of up to $5,000. Use it for college expenses or technical training, even if the program is in another state.
  • Law Enforcement Personnel Dependents Grant Program. If you’re a dependent or spouse of a law enforcement officer who was killed or disabled in the line of duty, you may qualify for the LEPD Grant. Award amounts match the Cal Grant, and applications are accepted throughout the academic year.
  • California National Guard Education Assistance Award Program. The CNG EAAP is awarded to active members of the California National Guard, State Military Reserve or Naval Militia to help you pursue education that improves your skills and abilities.
  • California Community College Promise Grant. Formerly known as the Board of Governs Fee Waiver (BOGFW) the CCCPG waives the enrollment fee for California residents attending a community college in the state.

Do I qualify for scholarships and grants if I go to school outside of California?

No, with one exception. The Chafee Grant for Foster Youth allows students to attend school outside of California. But the limited number of other California grants and scholarships available must be used at an in-state institution.

Other ways to pay for school in California

Don’t qualify for a California state-funded scholarships and grants? Consider alternatives to help cover the cost of attending school.

Federal and college scholarships and grants

The federal government offers grants and scholarships based on both merit and need. Your school might also have its own financial aid packages to offset the cost of attendance. For example, Stanford offers a generous University Scholarship and work-study program to students who demonstrate financial need.

Contact your school’s financial aid office to discuss your options.

Undocumented? The California Dream Act lets you reap the same benefits as residents

If you’ve attended a California high school for three years, you’re able to to pay in-state tuition, apply for CalGrants, UC Grants and other state financial aid opportunities — even if you don’t have a Social Security number. To apply, fill out an application based on the FAFSA on the California Student Aid Commission website. The deadline for most financial aid available through this program is March 2.

Federal and private student loans

Student loans can bridge the gap when scholarships and grants fall short. We recommend applying for federal loans first — they tend to come with lower interest rates and more flexible repayment plans than private financing.

Need additional funding? Compare your private student loan options, paying special attention to deferment and forbearance options each lender offers.

Compare private student loan providers

Explore your options by APR, minimum credit score, loan amount and loan term. Select the Get started button to start an application with a specific lender.

Name Product APR Min. Credit Score Loan amount Loan Term
EDvestinU Private Student Loans
4.092% to 8.609% with autopay
675
$1,000 - $200,000
7 to 20 years
Straightforward student loans for undergraduate and graduate students.
CommonBond Private Student Loans
3.74% to 10.74%
700
$5,000 - $500,000
5 to 15 years
Finance your college education through this lender with a strong social mission and terms that fit your budget.
Edvisors Private Student Loan Marketplace
Varies by lender
Varies by lender
Varies by lender
Varies by lender
Quickly compare private lenders for your school and apply for the right student loan.
Credible Labs Inc. (Student Loan Platform)
Starting at 0.99% with autopay
Good to excellent credit
Starting at $1,000
5 to 20 years
Get prequalified rates from private lenders offering student loans with no origination or prepayment fees.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Explore scholarships, student loans and grants in other states

Choose a loan provider from the list below for more information on its services.

Bottom line

California might offer an abundance of scholarships and grants. But what’s there can help residents cover tuition and fees at qualifying schools.

Need help paying for books and living expenses? Learn more in our guide to college financing.

Frequently asked questions

Who should use the California Dream Act Application (CDAA)?

Students who can’t file the FAFSA because they lack a Social Security number — or those with a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) number — should complete the CADAA to qualify for state aid.

How do I know if I meet AB 540 criteria?

You must meet the following criteria to qualify for AB 540 status:

  • California high school student for at least three years or credits equivalent to at least three years of high school coursework
  • Graduation from a California high school, passing grade on the California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE) or a GED
  • Enrollment in an accredited California college or university
  • Affidavit stating your intent to legalize your immigration status, if applicable

When is the deadline to apply for California grants and scholarships?

It depends on the grant or scholarship. Some are open year-round, while others rely on students completing the FAFSA or the California Dream Act Application. Check the grant or scholarship page you’re interested in to learn when your application is due.

Does California support state-funded nursing scholarships?

No. The state no longer funds the State Nursing Assumption Program of Loans for Education for Nursing Faculty (SNAPLE NF).

Does California offer student loans to residents?

No. As of March 2019, the state does not offer education financing.

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