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Tuition-Free California Community Colleges

Community college is an amazing alternative to four-year universities that typically comes with a much smaller price tag. In fact, some California community colleges provide free tuition for their students. In addition to winning scholarships for California residents, the community college pathway can be a great way to achieve your educational goals at a fraction of the cost. Read more about tuition-free California community colleges below!

Are all community colleges free in California? 

If you meet certain criteria, then community college can be tuition-free. The California government implemented two programs that assists students in paying for their community college educations. These programs are known as the California College Promise Program and the California College Promise Grant. 

However, not every California community college takes part in these programs, and not every student qualifies for a tuition waiver. 

Related: Top reasons to attend a community college

What is the California College Promise Program? 

The California College Promise Program is a program that provides free tuition to students who attend California community colleges for the first two years of their education. 

In order to qualify for the California College Promise Program, you must meet the following requirements as a: 

  • California resident
  • Full-time student
  • First-time student

This program isn’t available at all California community colleges. In addition, if you are eligible and choose to take part in the program to cover tuition costs, you will still have other costs to consider. These can include the cost of housing, textbooks or food. 

Related: Can you get a bachelor’s degree from a community college?

How to apply for the California College Promise Program

Here are some easy steps to follow in order to apply for the California College Promise Program:

  • Use the California community college locator to help find a school offering free tuition using the California College Promise Program
  • Ensure that you fulfill this school’s eligibility for the Promise Program
  • Apply for the California College Promise Program through your school

What is the California College Promise Grant? 

The California College Promise Grant is a grant that covers the cost of California community college fees for low-income California residents. The California College Promise Grant is available regardless of the number of credits a student is taking and does not have a two year cut off. In addition, California community college students are eligible for this grant even if they are not first year students. 

In order to qualify for the California College Promise Grant you must meet the following requirements: 

  • Be a California resident
  • Demonstrate financial need 

Also see: How to transfer from community college to a four-year program

How can you prove financial need to become eligible for the California College Promise Grant? 

In order to prove financial need, you may qualify for or meet the following: 

  • Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) 
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI/SSP) 
  • Receive another form of government assistance for low income families
  • Meet the low-income standards according to federal poverty guidelines
  • Completed the California Dream Act Application (CADAA) 
  • Completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) 

How to apply for the California College Promise Grant 

Here are some easy steps to follow in order to apply for the California College Promise Grant:

  1. Confirm your eligibility 
  2. Complete the CADAA or FAFSA to confirm your financial need
  3. Complete the application via CCCApply

How to go to a California community college for free

The mentioned programs offer free tuition for community college students who are California residents.

To be considered a California resident, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Have spent more than 6 months within a 12 month period in California
  • Established a “center of life” in California (ex: a business) 

If you are not a California resident, and would like to establish residency for tuition purposes, you will need to: 

  • Establish a continuous physical presence in California for at least one year
  • Be a legal resident of the United States
  • Plan to stay in California and make it your home

Transferring to a four-year program

Community colleges offer great opportunities to earn an associate degree, but they can also help make a bachelor’s more affordable! It’s always possible to transfer into a four-year college once you’ve finished with your community college program. If this is the route you’re on, be sure to check out our list of the top California colleges to shop around for the right fit for you.

Frequently asked questions about tuition-free California community colleges

What does community college cost in California?

California has the lowest priced community college tuition in the United States. The typical California student pays $552 per semester (not per class!) for 12 credits. That is $42.00 per credit hour, and for students who qualify, they receive waivers, grants, and scholarships for other expenses (books, health care, transportation, etc.).

Where can I find more information on California Community Colleges?

The California Community Colleges website is an excellent resource for students seeking information on colleges, transferring, financial aid, careers, and more!

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