529 college savings plan (Tax-advantaged savings plans)

A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged education savings plan designed to help families save money for future education expenses. There are numerous tax-advantaged 529 college savings plans around the country with a variety of terms and fees charged. California has one such plan: the ScholarShare College Savings Plan.

Under a 529 plan such as ScholarShare, an investor may establish an account on behalf of a designated beneficiary (e.g., child, grandchild, niece, nephew, friend). The money contributed to the account is placed in a trust, which is invested in age-based portfolios designed to meet the needs of beneficiaries of different ages so that the investment is ready to be withdrawn when the beneficiary is ready to enter college.

Currently, earnings and qualified withdrawals from ScholarShare 529 savings plans are tax-free at both the state and federal level for California residents. Also, 529 plans may be established by and may benefit individuals at any income level.

California Chafee Grant

Specifically for current or former foster youth, this grant awards up to $5,000 to help pay for college or career and technical training. The grant is in addition to any other state or federal aid students may receive. Eligible students must file a FAFSA in addition to a California Chafee Grant application. Learn more about the Chafee Grant from the California Student Aid Commission.

California residency

California residency for admission purposes is different than determining residency for the purposes of tuition and fees. Residency for tuition and fees purposes is determined by the campus’ Office of the Registrar after admission, based on documentation provided in your admission application and/or additional documentation requested after admission.

After you have been admitted to the University of California, a campus Residence Deputy or similarly designated person in the Office of the Registrar will determine whether you are a California resident for purposes of tuition and fees; that is, whether your tuition and fees will be charged at the California-resident rate or the nonresident rate.

This determination is independent of, and can differ from, similar determinations made by the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid. Information from either of those offices indicating that you are a resident, or that you are financially independent, does not necessarily mean you are a resident for purposes of tuition and fees.

If you're not sure whether you're a resident or a nonresident, visit UC's residency website

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

Students who have been granted a DACA classification are authorized to be employed in the United States for renewable periods of up to two years during which they are not generally subject to deportation. DACA has no effect on eligibility for AB 540 classification or financial aid. Learn more about DACA at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Dependent & independent status

For the purposes of financial aid, your dependency status - whether or not you're considered a dependent or independent - helps determine what information you need to provide in filing out the FAFSA. Even if your parents have decided not to claim you as a dependent on their tax returns or are not providing financial aid support for your college education, you may still be considered a dependent student for financial aid purposes.

As an undergraduate, to be considered independent, you must be at least 24 years old as of January 1 (i.e. born before January 1, 1990 for academic year 2013-2014), be married, have a legal dependent other than a spouse, be a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces (ROTC or service academy students are not considered veterans) or be an orphan or ward of the court. Parents of independent students are not expected to contribute toward funding their child's education.

Learn more about dependent vs. independent status for the FAFSA »

Federal education tax credits

If you or your parents pay for your tuition and fees, you may be able to recover some of the expenses through federal tax benefits. The American Opportunity Tax Credit is available for four years of college, and the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit is available for college enrollment at any level. To take advantage of these benefits, you must be in a qualifying income bracket. Tax credits, unlike tax deductions, reduce the amount of income tax you pay.

  • The American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) provides up to $2,500 per student for the first four years of college to cover “qualified” expenses (generally tuition, fees, books and supplies). Eligibility is based on income and enrollment. Even if a student or parents do not owe federal taxes, they may be able to qualify for a tax credit of up to $1,000. Filers who themselves or whose dependents don't qualify for the AOTC credit may qualify for the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit.
  • The Lifetime Learning Tax Credit is available for students who may be ineligible for the American Opportunity Tax Credit. Such families may be eligible for a Lifetime Learning Credit of up to $2,000 per tax return for qualified education expenses (generally tuition, fees, books and supplies). Eligibility is based on income and enrollment.

Talk to a tax expert about your eligibility for the credits — and visit the Internal Revenue Service website for more information.

Federal loans (student)

How to apply: FAFSA

Federal education loans are available to most students who are U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and eligible non-citizens regardless of income. Federal student loans, unlike private loans, are required by law to provide a range of flexible repayment options and loan forgiveness benefits which loans from private student loan lenders are not required to provide. Make sure that you have considered all of your federal loan options before exploring private loan options.

Some loans are available to students who demonstrate financial need (direct subsidized loans, Federal Perkins Loan), and other types of loans are available to students or families whether or not they demonstrate financial need (unsubsidized loans to students and Parent PLUS loans). Learn more about federal student loans »

Federal Parent PLUS loan (parent)

How to apply: FAFSA

PLUS loans are available to most families, but you need to file a FAFSA to obtain one, even if you don't expect to receive "need-based" financial aid or a scholarship. The maximum that a family can borrow is the total cost of attendance minus all other financial aid (all grants, scholarships, student loans, and work-study awarded to the student.) Family repayment can be reduced or deferred until a student and siblings leave college or attend less than half time. Learn more about PLUS loans »

Financial need

The federal government calculates an amount based on information reported on the FAFSA that is used to determine eligibility for certain types of financial aid, including grants, loans, and work-study awards. UC will use this information to determine how much need-based gift aid, student loans, and work-study you can receive. Learn more about how financial need is calculated »


How to apply: See below for individual grants

Grants are amounts of money awarded to low- and middle-income students to “level the economic playing field” so that students from all income backgrounds can attend UC. Grants are one of the most advantageous ways to cover costs because they don't have to be earned or repaid. They're simply amounts of money to help pay for college — as long as you meet eligibility requirements. A large number of low- and middle-income UC students are awarded grants through a variety of programs.

  • UC Grants: These grants are available to UC undergraduates who demonstrate financial need by applying for aid on time. Generally, these grants are only available for California residents and nonresidents who are exempt from the nonresident supplemental tuition under AB 540. UC uses the federal financial aid formula to award most UC grants. The calculation is based on financial information you and your parents supply on the FAFSA or California Dream Act Application. 


Nonimmigrants include, but are not necessarily limited to, students holding visas in one of the following categories: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, TN/TD, U, TWOV and NATO.

Statement of Legal Residence (SLR)

A form that students are required to complete to determine what level of tuition and fees they will be charged. The completion of the SLR is mandatory for all new students. If students do not complete the SLR by the deadline (set by the UC campus), the student will be classified as a nonresident and will be assessed tuition and fees as a nonresident.

UC scholarships

How to apply: Undergraduate admissions application + FAFSA/California Dream Act Application + Supplemental application (in some cases)

UC campuses and alumni associations award a variety of scholarships based on a student's academic merit, financial need or both. There are also "restricted" scholarships available to students with specific backgrounds, academic interests or career goals. You apply for these scholarships in the undergraduate admission application by matching your own background characteristics and interests to the lists provided. Most students are notified of scholarship awards between March and August. Notification dates are included in the scholarship descriptions for each campus.

If you have questions about the scholarship programs or application process, contact the scholarship or financial aid office at a campus where you are are applying.

Scholarships by campus:

Each campus sets specific selection criteria and requirements. Be sure to review what they are.

Middle Class Scholarship program

The Middle Class Scholarship (MCS) program provides scholarships to undergraduate students attending the University of California or California State University. Learn more »


How to apply: FAFSA

Partially funded by the federal government, this program provides financial assistance through student employment. However, most UC students who work during the school year do not have work study awards, as there is a limited amount of federal work study funding available. Some UC campuses also offer work-study programs, but these are also limited.

Visit the U.S. Department of Education to learn more about federal work-study.