California Scholarships

Introduction to California scholarships

In 2020, California was home to 40 million and counting, making it the #1 largest state in the US in terms of population. To go along with its high population numbers, California is also home to hundreds of scholarship opportunities. Regardless of where your higher education takes you, if you’re a student in California, keep reading for more information on all types of California scholarships and financial aid. 

California is split up into three main higher education systems: University of California, California State University, and California Community Colleges, all of which offer their own financial aid and scholarships for prospective and current students. 

In terms of grant aid per student (aka, money that students DON’T have to pay back), California ranks in the top ten of all states in the US. In 2016–17, the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC) distributed just under $1,200 per full-time equivalent undergraduate student, which came out to about $400 more than the national average (Source: PPIC).

California scholarships by private organizations

California scholarship federation awards

The California Scholarship Federation is a program run for California middle and high school students all across the state. There are around 1,500 chapters in California run through individual schools. Unlike the other scholarships listed above, students must be nominated by their chapter staff adviser in order to be considered for awards. 

The two main awards offered through CSF are the: 

  • $2,000 Seymour Award, given to 50 students annually - expires February 18
  • $1,000 Michelson Award - expires December 22

Head over to the CSF website for more information on membership, participating schools, and awards.

California state-funded scholarships & grants

The California Student Aid Commission offers several grant opportunities for California students pursuing higher education. A few of them are outlined below. 

Cal Grants

The Cal Grants, similar to federal Pell Grants, are scholarships awarded to California students pursuing undergraduate and vocational degrees in-state that do not need to be repaid. 

CSAC offers three different types of Cal Grants, A, B, and C. By filing your FAFSA (or filling out your California DREAM Act application if you’re an undocumented student), you will automatically be considered for the appropriate Cal Grant based on your application criteria, GPA, and more. 

Middle Class Scholarship

This scholarship is for undergraduates and students pursuing teaching credentials at University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) campuses. 

The amount for Middle Class Scholarships varies based on institution, funding available, and number of eligible students. According to the CSAC website, Students whose families have income up to $191,000 and assets up to $191,000 per year may be eligible for a scholarship amount between 10% and 40% of the mandatory system-wide tuition and fees at a UC or CSU”. 

Chafee Grant for Foster Youth

The Chafee Grant program is available to any applicant who is or was in foster care between the ages of 16-18. Applicants may qualify for $5,000 a year for career and technical training.

Save on college tuition with the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE)

California is one of the 16 member states and territories (including Arizona, Colorado, Washington, and many others!) that participates in the Western Undergraduate Exchange, which is a program designed to provide “steep nonresident tuition savings for Western students”. Over 160 colleges and universities across the 16 member states participate in WUE, providing Western students with many options for pursuing higher education outside of their home state while still being able to save money. 

If you’re determined to be eligible for WUE, and decide to enroll in a WUE institution outside of your home state, you will pay no more than 150% of that institution’s resident tuition rate. Through WUE, the average student saves over $9,000! 

Head to the WUE website to learn more about your options.

Financial aid for undocumented/DREAMER students in California

The California DREAM Act allows undocumented and nonresident students (U.S. citizens and eligible non-citizens) who qualify for a non-resident exemption under Assembly Bill 540 (AB 540) to receive certain types of financial aid such as: 

  • Private scholarships funded through public universities
  • State-based financial aid
  • University grants
  • Community college fee waivers
  • Cal Grants

In addition, the California Dream Act makes it so eligible students can pay in-state tuition at any public college in California.

The California DREAM Act Scholarship, which becomes available every year on October 1st, varies in amounts due to the nature of the program. In order to maximize your chances of winning an award, students should make sure to get their application in before the annual deadline of March 2.  

Paying for college resources for California students

California DREAM Act Application Page

Learn about the various California financial aid programs

California Community Colleges Website - Lists additional financial aid resources and information for future community college students 

California Colleges Website - Helps middle school, high school, and even current college students plan out their higher education paths and beyond. 

Scholar Match - A free mentorship program supporting incoming first-generation college students in San Francisco and Los Angeles

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