Story Financial Aid

Funding Your CSU Education

Alex Beall

Learn about the new FAFSA, and see how financial aid options for students keep the CSU affordable.

​Photo courtesy Jason Halley/Chico State​


The Cal State Apply window is​ now open, and there is a pressing question on every student's mind: How will I pay for college?

With the CSU's commitment to afford​ability and accessibility, students can find a plethora of ways to fund their education. Here's what you need to know about securing financial support for the 2024-2025 academic year.

Know Your Financial Aid Options

At the CSU, about 80% of students receive some kind of financial aid, and 60% of undergraduates have their tuition completely covered by grants or other non-load aid. Due to the robust aid packages CSU students receive, the majority graduate without debt or loan amounts below state and national student debt averages. To cover the cost of their education, students can apply and qualify for myriad aid options, from grants and scholarships to work-study.

Grants are available at the federal, state and university level. For example, the federally funded Pell Grant is awarded to students with financial need as determined by their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Half of CSU undergraduates receive the Pell Grant—totaling more than ​​$1 billion—to help cover the cost of tuition, fees and personal expenses.

Similarly, the Cal Grant is a state-level grant with student need determined by the FAFSA or the California Dream Act Application (CADAA). This program provides a total of $821 million in aid to CSU students.

The State University Grant (SUG) p​rogram is a CSU-specific grant for students who are California residents or otherwise deemed eligible. Campuses award the grant according to the students' FAFSA. The CSU designates at least one-third of its tuition revenue toward the SUG program, accounting for $701 million of the total $945 million the CSU provides in institutional aid.

Students may also apply for scholarships—available through the CSU, the state and outside organizations—based on both achievement and need. Many require filling out a separate application. Students interested in applying for scholarships should contact their campus's financial aid office for help identifying scholarships and locating their applications; they may also use scholarship search websites like those listed on the Scholarships & Fellowships webpage.

One recently revamped, state-based scholarship is the Middle Class Scholarship for undergraduates and teaching credential students who are California residents or eligible AB540 students. Qualifying students have a family income and household asset ceiling of $217,000, and eligibility is determined through the FAFSA or CADAA. In addition, students must be enrolled in at least six units and meet their CSU campus's Satisfactory Academic Progress policy.

For more options, students can visit the Financial Aid webpage to explore grants, scholarships, fellowships, work-study, loans and veterans' aid.

Top Changes on the FAFSA

To qualify for financial aid like grants and scholarships, students will need to fill out the FAFSA, which will be released in December 2023. However, there are major changes coming to the application this year through the FAFSA Simplification Act. Here are the top changes students can expect with the Better FAFSA.

1. Student Aid Index: The new Student Aid Index (SAI) will replace the Expected Family Contribution. This new formula for calculating financial need will no longer take into account the number of family members currently enrolled​ in college, but will consider dependency status. Students can also have a negative SAI as low as -1500. In addition, students from families with an adjusted gross income of more than $60,000 will need to include assets, including farms or small businesses.

2. Data-sharing: Through the Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education Act (FUTURE) Act, the FAFSA will now pull federal tax information directly from tax returns filed with the IRS in the previous year. Students will no longer need to enter income information, and the automated process will pull family size information based on the number of exemptions claimed. There will be an option to manually update family size in case of any changes.

3. Expanded access: Eligibility for Pell Grants will now be determined using the SAI; family make-up, size and income; and federal poverty information—which will greatly increase the number of individuals who qualify. Access to Pell Grants will also be expanded to include incarcerated students. In addition, certain drug convictions and a failure to register for the draft (for males) will no longer make individuals ineligible for federal financial aid.

4. An ID for all: Each individual contributing information to the FAFSA will need an FSA ID and multi-factor authentication to access the form. Each person will have an assigned role—like student, parent or spouse—and will only see questions related to their role. They will also need to give consent for their federal tax information to be included. To ensure access for all individuals, there is a new process for obtaining an FSA ID without a social security number.

5. Dependency status: Students who have not historically qualified as independent students may indicate they have “unusual circumstances" preventing them from contacting their parents. They will be able to submit a completed FAFSA without parental information that will be reviewed under provisional (temporary) independent status.

6. Streamlined application: To shorten the time needed to fill out the application, a number of questions have been removed and some untaxed income will no longer be required.

7​. 20 colleges. Lastly, students can now list up to 20 colleges on their applications.

The California Student Aid Commission is also updating the California Dream Act Application—which will likewise be released in December—to streamline the process, including switching to the Student Aid Index, removing questions and incorporating the parental signature into the submission process. The CADAA will not have the same data-sharing agreement with the IRS though, and income must still be entered manually.​

A Note on Cal Grants

Finally, the CSU is incrementally rolling out an updated process for placing students on the correct Campus Cal Grant Roster. Students will not need to do anything new to apply, but students will see the award on their financial aid package earlier as the process will now take one week instead of three. As the rollout is ongoing, not all CSUs have implemented the new process.

​Affordability & Accessibility

The California State University is committed to offering a high-quality education at an affordable price. For the 2022-23 academic year, the university’s average tuition and fees were 66% lower than comparison institutions. Plus, the CSU ensures its students have ​ample access to financial support through grants, scholarships and more—including for undocumented students who are ineligible for federal aid.

By making a college degree attainable for students from all backgrounds, the CSU is a major driver of social mobility, with many of its universities dominating college social mobility rankings.

“Higher education is a public good every bit as much as it is a private one,” CSU Chancellor Mildred García said in an address at the 2023 National Social Mobility Symposium. “We know that at its core, social mobility is about the hope for a better life, a more stable life and more socially and economically equitable communities. Most important, it is about providing a pathway—an open and accessible pathway—to that hope fulfilled."

The CSU is now accepting applications for the fall 2024 term, and the priority application period closes on November 30, 2023. Visit Cal State Apply to submit your application or the Paying for College webpage to learn more about tuition, fees and financial aid.

Social Mobility