College grants are primarily awards of free money, that do not require any repayment on the part of the recipient. They can be directed toward specific educational expenses, specific types of students, or general purpose. Unlike scholarships, which are typically awarded on the basis of academic achievement or athletic, artistic or extracurricular performance, grants are awarded according to financial need. This is not to say that academic merit will not be considered, only that financial need is given greater weight in the final decision making process.
Many grants dedicated to specific career paths are, in fact, award-for-service programs. These programs perform two functions; they give much needed financial aid to talented students pursuing careers in high need fields, and they help to secure and retain talented professionals in communities that are experiencing critical manpower shortages. Students entering into a grant-for-service program should understand that they are agreeing to a binding contract, and will be obligated to fulfill all the of the particulars of that contract. Students who fail to meet their award-for-service obligations will find that their grants will revert to standard student loans, and they will be expected to repay all monies received plus interest.
Low-income and disadvantaged students qualify for general need-based aid in most states that offer it, but specific funding is also set aside for students whose access to education is severely limited by social and financial conditions.  Exceptional hardship is calculated differently in each state, but the students whose circumstances present the greatest educational obstacles are the first to be considered for state grants.
If you’re a noncitizen without a Social Security card or had one issued through the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, you should fill out the California Dream Act Application found at caldreamact.org. You don’t need to fill out a FAFSA form to be eligible for California student financial aid. Contact the California Student Aid Commission (csac.ca.gov) or your financial aid administrator for more information. Additional forms might be required. Applicants are encouraged to keep a record of their submission by printing out their online FAFSA confirmation page or obtaining proof of mailing the FAFSA form.
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