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  • Writer's pictureIsabella Hsu

The 3 Types of Financial Aid Applications: FAFSA, CADAA, CSS Profile

We’re in the process of creating a comprehensive guide, our Cash for College Toolkit, which outlines everything you need to know about applying for financial aid in California. Today’s article is a preview of some of the information available in our upcoming guide. Sign up for the newsletter here to get the free guide!

It’s that time of year when students who are planning to attend college in the 2022-2023 school year should start applying for financial aid. The process of applying for financial aid can seem daunting at first–you’ve already spent time and energy preparing for the college application process. The last thing you want to do is figure out your finances! Thankfully, the process is actually very simple--and even better, we're in the process of creating a comprehensive guide, our Cash for College Toolkit to help you navigate the financial aid application process. In today’s article we’re addressing just one topic covered in the toolkit: the FAFSA, CADAA, and the CSS Profile.

Students may be eligible to apply to one of two applications and, in some cases, may have to apply for a third. The two main applications are the Federal Application for Student Assistance (FAFSA) for students with a social security number (SSN) or the California Dream Act Application (CADAA) for students applying without an SSN. CADAA eligible students include undocumented individuals, DACA recipients, U visa holders, and TPS protected status individuals. Both of these applications assess the applicant’s eligibility for aid on behalf of the federal government and/or state government.

The third application–the CSS Profile is not necessary for all students to fill out. This application assesses the applicant for institutional aid–that is, the aid they would be eligible for from a specific institution (school or scholarship program). Usually this application is reserved for students applying to certain private schools.


Applying for the FAFSA is easy. All the information is found on the website It is recommended that you apply early because some funds are more limited. The following are some steps to follow in completing the FAFSA.

  1. Creating an FSA ID. It is strongly recommended to create a FSA ID, username and password combination to allow you to file the FAFSA electronically. This will allow you to sign your FAFSA form electronically, access the student aid app, sign loan contracts and access information online.

  2. Gathering Information Needed to Complete the FAFSA. You will be asked questions about yourself and your finances, so it is great to have the following information handy.

    • Social Security Number. You will need your own Social Security Number and your parent’(s) numbers if you are a dependent student.

    • Driver’s License number if you have one.

    • Alien Registration number if you are not a U.S. Citizen.

    • Federal tax information or tax returns, including IRS W-2 information for you and your parents (if you are a dependent student. This includes the IRS 1040, or foreign tax returns. If you are applying for the 2022-23 school year, you will need the tax information for the “prior, prior”, which is 2020.

    • Records of untaxed income, such as child support received, interest income, Veteran’s benefits.

    • Cash, savings and checking account balances.

    • Investments other than the home in which you live.

    • Schools where you want to apply.

  3. Completing the FAFSA. Each October, the FAFSA is available for the next school year. It’s important to fill it out as soon as possible to meet school and state financial deadlines. The colleges where you apply will use your FAFSA data to determine your financial aid eligibility and award institutional aid. Each state and school have their own FAFSA deadlines which are listed on institutional and state websites. You can also call your institution's financial aid office. The application may be completed by filling it out electronically or mailing in a PDF version. A FAFSA worksheet may be used to prepare to complete the form.

  4. Listing Schools on your FAFSA form. When completing the FAFSA form, you must list at least one school to receive your information. The schools you list will use your FAFSA information to determine the types and amounts of aid you may receive.

  5. Processing the FAFSA. After you submit your FAFSA, your information will be sent to the colleges and/or career schools you list on the form. After submission, you will receive a Student Aid Report.

The CADAA Application

The California Dream Act Application provides the opportunity for undocumented students who meet AB 540 requirements to qualify for certain types of California Aid, including Cal Grants, the Middle-Class Scholarship, the UC Blue and Gold Scholarship and the State University Grant (SUG).

Students who meet AB 540 requirements will need to submit the CADAA by the March 2 Cal Grant Deadline to be eligible for the most opportunities. After a student completes the CADAA, they must respond to requests for additional information including the AB 540 affidavit from the student’s school of attendance.

AB 540 is called the California Nonresident Tuition Exemption. This exempts students from paying nonresident tuition and allows them to apply and receive state aid at certain California public and private colleges.

To complete the CADAA, go to the application page on the California Student Aid Commission Website.

The following is needed to qualify for the AB 540:

  1. Time and coursework requirements:


Attendance for three full-time years or the equivalent at any combination of the following:

  • California high school

  • California adult school (including non-credit courses offered by a California community college)

  • California community college (maximum of two years of credit bearing courses can count toward this requirement)


Three years of California high school coursework and three years of total attendance at a California elementary school, California secondary school, or any combination of the two.

  1. Degree or unit requirements:

Meet one of the following requirements:

  • Graduation from a California high school (or attainment of the equivalent)

  • Attainment of an associate’s degree from a California community college

  • Fulfillment of minimum transfer requirements from a California community college to a UC or CSU campus

  1. Signed Nonresident Exemption Request. You also must have signed the California Nonresident Exemption Request, which states that you meet all the requirements to qualify for AB 540 status and, if you are undocumented, are in the process of adjusting your immigration status (or will do so as soon as you are eligible)

Resources to assist with the California Dream Act Application are found on the California Student Aid Commission website. They include:

Once a student has submitted their financial aid application, the next step they should take is to create a WebGrants4Students account. This can be completed normally 7-10 days after their application was submitted and fully processed. This account enables the student to track their status during the awarding process and check if there are any pending requirements that may hold them from being fully processed.

The CSS Profile

The CSS Profile application can be accessed through the College Board’s website or through this link. You will use the same login information as you have used for the PSAT, SAT, and ACT. Usually the CSS Profile should be completed during the applicant’s senior year of high school, however, this can vary depending on particular programs.

The application will list any necessary documents you will need in order to complete the application. These include the same tax returns needed for filling out the FAFSA (“prior prior” tax returns). In addition, applicants will need to provide their most recent tax returns, W-2 forms, any other records of income from the current year, and records of untaxed income and benefits, assets, and bank statements. Upon completion of the application, students can submit their application and add additional programs.

The Cash for College Toolkit

That’s it for the differences between the three financial aid applications! We hope this article proved helpful for you as you begin the process of applying for financial aid. Next week we'll be diving into the different types of financial aid, as well as some of our favorite scholarships. We will also be unveiling our complete Cash for College Toolkit, a free guide that covers everything you need to know about applying for financial aid in California.

Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for first access to the Cash for College Toolkit!

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