If you need help paying for college and are thinking about applying for financial aid, the process may seem daunting.

But if you start by reaching out to the resources on the campus you're attending or plan to go to, it's not as overwhelming as you may think. Here's some sound advice from students who've been through the process of applying and receiving aid at a CSU campus:

1.       DON'T wait. "My experience with financial aid has been good overall, but it does get confusing when it comes to turning in documents," says Leslie Cooper, a public health student at San José State University. "But after asking clarifying questions at my financial aid campus office, everything turned out to be okay."

"I would advise students to get all documents into their financial aid offices ASAP," adds Cooper. "Because the longer you wait, the longer it takes to process. Ask your parents well in advance for their information — like tax documents (you can use 2016 tax documents to apply for aid in 2018-19) — so that the process will run smoother."

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Jose Garcia

2.       DO read the fine print. Jose Garcia, a public policy and administration student and Associated Students, Inc. director of sustainability at California State University, Bakersfield, recommends that students also educate themselves, especially when it comes to any restrictions scholarships, loans or grants may have. "I wish I had known the limit on the amount you can get [via Federal Pell Grants]," Garcia says. "I am a student who changed majors two times and ended up using my full financial aid amount without realizing it."

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Leslie Cooper

3.       DON'T get overwhelmed. "Financial aid has helped me in many ways," says Katelyn Johnson, a graphic design student at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. "I have grants, scholarships, and a small loan that covers my tuition and school supplies. I have work-study that helps pay for my housing and living expenses ... If I didn't have financial aid, I couldn't be in school right now and probably would have never gotten out of my hometown and experienced so much … Stay organized, ask for help, and calm down."

4.       DO use campus resources. Definitely do apply for aid, says Garcia. "And don't be afraid to ask questions. The financial aid office at your institution is there to help you get through your higher education journey without you having to worry about how to pay for it. Your campus' financial aid website is also a great resource."

5.       DON'T believe common misconceptions about financial aid. While the March 2 priority deadlines for both the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the California Dream Act Application (CADA) have passed, it's not too late to apply. If you submit your application beyond the priority deadline, you will be considered for whatever aid is still available.

Other common myths about receiving money to pay for college include thinking your parents make too much money for you to qualify; that you and a friend will receive the same amount; and that scholarships are only for A students. Never assume that you won't qualify for financial aid.

And, if you've secured aid for this year, don't assume it'll roll over to next year; you must re-apply every year. "Even though you may think it's hard for middle-class [students] to get financial aid, you must keep applying every year," says Krystal Mae Raynes, a student at CSU Bakersfield, who suggests students consider the Middle Class Scholarship program, which covers a portion of tuition costs. 

"I am a huge advocate for working on campus, and you don't always have to be work-study to do so. Check your campus portals for available job openings."


​​​Financial Aid, Defined

Financial aid available at the CSU consists of: 

About 80 percent of CSU students receive some form of financial aid. If you're unsure of the types of services and programs available and whether you qualify, visit Financial Aid on Calstate.edu, which can also direct you to a campus financial aid office.