Photo by Flickr user SalFalko/ Creative Commons
Photo by Flickr user  SalFalko/ Creative Commons
Photo by Flickr user SalFalko/ Creative Commons

Here is good news for many students who want to go to college but can’t afford to pay for it: the federal and state government can give you money!

Free money comes in the form of grants, such as federal Pell Grants and state Cal Grants. The federal government also offers loans to students, but of course, this money has to be paid back. Depending on what kind of loan you get will determine if you will pay interest or not.

There is also good news for DREAMers, or young undocumented immigrants who have been at the forefront of advocacy for a path to citizenship and a college education. Beginning in January 2013, AB540 students who qualified for the California Dream Act were given state grants to cover college fees. The California Dream Act is a law that was passed in order to allow certain undocumented students who meet criteria outlined in Assembly Bill 540 (2002) to receive free money for college from the State of California.

Previously AB540 students were not allowed to receive state or federal grants. They are still not eligible for federal assistance.

Dreamers must apply for financial aid for the 2013-2014 school year by the March 2nd deadline.

How does a student qualify for free money?
First of all, you must apply for financial aid using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by Saturday, March 2nd. It is an online application that requires income information from a student and parent’s tax returns or from another form of income. DREAMers will apply using the California Dream Act application, which is also online; they do not use the FAFSA.

Help filling out these financial aid forms is available for free and students should contact their high school or college counselor, or their college financial aid office for more information.

How much money can a student expect to get?
It depends on something called the estimated family contribution (EFC). Based on the information provided on the FAFSA or the Dream Act application””mainly income and family size, as well as the cost of the college or university”” the government determines how much money a family should be responsible for paying and how much the government might pay.

If a student comes from a low income family, for example if that student qualifies for the federal free lunch program, then they may receive enough money to cover all of their basic expenses for college.

What if you miss the March 2nd deadline?
Still apply. You will not receive priority consideration for state financial aid, but it is still possible to qualify for aid even if you apply after the deadline.

For more information and to apply for financial aid in English, Spanish, and a few other languages, visit the following websites:

Free Application for Federal Student Aid

California Dream Act

The California Student Aid Commission

Other college grants available

Students Organizing for Literacy Inclusion & Diversity (SOLID) hosted the first annual SOLID Steps to College Conference at University of Southern California on Feb. 16. SOLID invited local high school and middle school students and their families to the USC campus for a day filled with college preparatory workshops and discussion panels with USC faculty, students and administrators.

Click here for the full story.
Luz Montavlo is a Boyle Heights resident and college counselor at California State University, Los Angeles.

Luz Montalvo

Luz Montalvo is a Boyle Heights resident and college counselor at California State University, Los Angeles.

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