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Cal Grants: Your Complete Guide for 2021

Table of Contents

The Cal Grant is a large financial aid program for students attending the University of California, California State University, California Community College, or qualifying technical or vocational schools, such as ICOHS College. The Cal Grant is a significant source of support for low and middle-income students who are eligible and complete the application process.


What is the CAL Grant?

What is cal grants

The Cal Grant is funded by the California State Legislature and administered by the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC). Cal Grants are the largest source of state-funded student financial aid, distributing $2.3 billion in 2018-2019.

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As a fully-funded grant program, not a loan, recipients do not have to pay any money back. Cal Grant funds apply towards tuition, fees, living expenses, books, and other education-related expenses depending on the award type and requirements. Award amounts depend on the type of grant, the institution attended, and financial need. Part-time students may receive a percentage of the total award.

Steps to Applying for a CAL Grant

  • The first step to applying for a Cal Grant is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by the stated deadline. Undocumented students who meet AB 540 requirements will instead submit the California Dream Act Application (CADAA). Students should complete only one application, not both.
  • After your FAFSA or CADAA application is processed, you’ll receive an email from the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC) to prompt you to create a “WebGrants 4 Students” (WG4S) account. This will allow you to track your application and manage your state-awarded financial aid from all sources.
  • Students must submit their verified Cal Grant GPA from their current school (high school or college) by the March 2nd deadline. Schools will often submit applications directly through an online portal, though forms are also available from the CSAC for your current school to complete.
  • Continue to monitor your WG4S account to ensure that you submit all documents and the application is processed correctly. Students are responsible for monitoring all deadlines and requirements.

Deadlines to Apply for the CAL Grant

March 2nd is the most critical deadline for most Cal Grant categories for funds to be awarded and available for the following academic year. The deadline for students attending California Community Colleges (Cal Grant B) only may be extended to September 2nd of each year. The FAFSA and CADAA open each year on October 1st, so you can begin completing your application well before the March deadline.

Keep in mind that individual educational institutions may have individual requirements or separate deadlines, so be sure to monitor and keep in contact with your school’s Financial Aid Office.

Types of CAL Grants

types of school grant

CAL Grants are distributed into three categories, depending on your eligibility and the type of school you are applying to attend. You don’t need to figure out which one to apply for; the application is the same for all and your specific Cal Grant eligibility will be determined during the application process.

Cal Grant A Entitlement Award

Cal Grant A applies towards tuition and fees at a four-year college such as the University of California, California State University, or independent college programs that lead directly to an associate or bachelor’s degree. Students must meet other eligibility requirements for the Cal Grant A, such as:

  • Minimum high school GPA of 3.0 for new high school graduates
  • Financial need is at least equal to the amount of the award plus $1,500 while meeting family income and asset ceilings
  • Submit applications by March 2nd of the senior year of high school or the year after graduation

Cal Grant B Entitlement Award

Cal Grant B applies towards living expenses and partial tuition. For the first (freshman) year, the award is a stipend only. In subsequent years, a student may receive compensation plus tuition equal to the Cal Grant A.

The income and asset ceilings for the Cal Grant B Entitlement awards are lower than those used for the Cal Grant A category. Students must have a minimum 2.0 GPA.

Students with dependent children and those attending California Community Colleges full-time may receive additional considerations.

Cal Grant C

Cal Grant C applies towards tuition, fees, books, and supplies at qualifying technical or vocational schools such as ICOHS. The eligible training program must be at least four months in length and no longer than two years.

After applying, eligible students will be instructed to complete a supplemental form and submit it to the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC) by a specified deadline.

Cal Grant California Community College Transfer Entitlement Award

Another option is available for students who did not apply for a Cal Grant directly after graduating from high school. 

This category provides funding for students transferring from a California  Community College to an eligible four-year program leading to a bachelor’s degree. Students must be below 28 years old and have a minimum 2.4 GPA on all transferable coursework.

Award levels are the same as either A or B programs above and are dependent on which income and asset ceiling the student falls under.

Cal Grant Eligibility Requirements

Cal Grant Eligibility Requirement

Each award has qualifying income and asset ceilings that change annually and are determined by the state budget.

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  • In addition, all Cal Grant award recipients must:
  • Be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible AB 540 noncitizen
  • Be a California resident at the time of high school graduation and at the time you receive a Cal Grant
  • Meet the United States Selective Service requirements if required (males)
  • Enroll in and attend a Cal Grant-eligible California school
  • Maintain at least half-time enrollment status (award amounts are prorated between half-time and full-time status)
  • Have financial need at an eligible California school
  • Meet satisfactory academic progress standards as defined by the school
  • Be in a program leading to an undergraduate degree or certificate
  • Not have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher degree
  • Not exceed parent or student income or asset ceilings
  • Not owe a refund on any state or federal educational grant
  • Not have defaulted on a federally-funded student loan
  • Not be incarcerated

Program Comparisons

Cal Grant vs. FAFSA

A Cal Grant is an award program administered by the State of California. The FAFSA covers the Cal Grant and many other types of financial aid. An applicant fills out the FAFSA to provide information about their income, assets, and expenses along with educational information. 

This information goes to the California Student Aid Commission, which determines your eligibility for a Cal Grant or other types of financial aid.

Cal Grant vs. Pell Grant

Cal Grants are funded by the California State Legislature, while the U.S. federal government funds Pell Grants. Both help support students with financial needs at the postsecondary level. A student applies for both awards by filling out the FAFSA and may receive both if eligible.

Cal Grant vs. Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG)

The Federal SEOG is also a federally-funded program separate from the Cal Grant, designed for students who are most in need of support. Funds are more limited and are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Awards are capped at $600 and are not guaranteed. Not all colleges or universities offer the Federal SEOG.

Cal Grant vs. Chafee Grant

Unlike the Cal Grant, the Chafee Grant only applies to applicants who are or were in foster care as a ward of the court between 16-18. Eligible students may qualify for up to $5,000 each year for technical and vocational training. As with Cal Grant, students are not responsible for paying this money back.

Cal Grant vs. the Middle-Class Scholarship

The Middle-Class Scholarship is for students and families who fall above the income and asset ceilings of the Cal Grant. The MCS is not need-based, and each institution determines availability after all other federal, state, and school-specific funds are awarded.

 Scholarship amounts may vary between 10-40% of mandatory tuition and fees. Both programs follow the same basic eligibility requirements and application process. When submitting the FAFSA or CADAA, students will automatically be considered for all programs for which they are eligible.


Cal Grant Application requirement

For those eligible and who have completed the application requirements, the Cal Grant can be a significant source of support for post-secondary education. Funding can be renewed for up to four years and does not need to be repaid.

To benefit from this largest, single source of state education funding in California, fill out the FAFSA/CADAA and submit your GPA verification by March 2nd.

FAQs About the CAL Grant

For how many years can you receive a Cal Grant?

Cal Grant recipients may receive the equivalent of four years of full-time grant payments. The duration is based on the student’s educational level at the time of the initial payment and may extend to a fifth year in the case of teacher credential programs or five-year degrees.

Can my Cal Grant Award eligibility be renewed or extended?

Once you receive a Cal Grant, it is renewable for up to four years (eight semesters) as long as you continue to meet eligibility requirements. Submission of the FAFSA/CADAA is required each year.

Can I get Cal Grants to pay for summer semester (or quarter) classes?

Cal Grants can be used to pay for summer classes as long as you are registered at least half-time and the credits apply towards the completion of your degree program. 
Be aware that award amounts depend on the tuition and fee amounts applied during the regular academic year, which may differ from what you receive during the summer term.

In addition, since the summer would then count as a term, your eligibility for future payments will be reduced by one term accordingly, so you don’t exceed the maximum award duration.

Does the Cal Grant cover graduate school?

Graduate students (beyond a bachelor’s degree) are not eligible to receive a Cal Grant award. To determine graduate school financial aid options, we suggest meeting with a Financial Aid Advisor at your school of choice.

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