Financial Aid FAQs


We know that applying for financial aid brings up some pretty big questions. Here are answers to some common ones. As always, please contact our office if need assistance.



Am I eligible for financial aid?

While each aid program has special requirements, the following are the basic criteria required for eligibility. To be eligible to receive financial aid, you must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non–U.S. citizen (Federal regulations and College policy limit the types of financial assistance available to non–U.S. citizens)
  • Have a valid Social Security Number (unless you’re from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, or the Republic of Palau)
  • Have a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) Certificate, or pass an exam approved by the U.S. Department of Education
  • Be enrolled or accepted for enrollment as a regular student working toward a degree or certificate in an eligible program at a school that participates in the federal student aid programs
  • Not owe a refund on a federal grant or be in default on a federal student loan
  • Demonstrate financial need (except for unsubsidized Federal Direct Loans, PLUS loans, or private alternative loans)


How do I apply for Saint Mary’s aid?

You must complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) each year to be considered for any financial aid. Saint Mary’s Priority deadline is Feb. 15 for new students and March 2 for continuing students. Make sure to have your and your parents’ tax information from two years prior. 


How is my financial aid calculated?

SMC’s need-based aid looks at our Cost Of Attendance (COA) for the year, which includes tuition, student activity fee, food and housing, books/course materials/supplies/equipment, personal, and transportation expenses. The Student Aid Index (SAI) is calculated by the FAFSA. We will offer institutional, state, and federal grants based on a percentage of the financial need calculated; loans and Federal Work Study (FWS) will be offered on top of the grants. Based on availability of funding, we are unable to cover the full financial need with grant funding, thus a change in SAI will not change an award dollar for dollar.


What is an SAI, and how is it used?

The Student Aid Index (SAI) is a measure of your family's financial strength and is calculated according to a formula established by federal government. Based on what you report on your FAFSA, your family's taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits (such as unemployment or Social Security) are all considered in the formula. Colleges use the SAI to determine your federal, state, and institutional student aid eligibility and awards. Your SAI is not the amount of money your family will have to pay for college and is not the amount of aid you will receive.


Will my Saint Mary's grants and/or scholarships cover food and housing?

Our SMC policy requires that SMC merit and need-based aid are limited to the cost of tuition with the rare exception of athletic aid that can cover food and housing. We will decrease merit awards that exceed tuition.


Can I get the same amount of financial aid if I am a part-time student?

To be eligible for institutional aid, a student must be enrolled as a full-time student. State and federal regulations do allow students to receive a prorated grant amount if they are part-time, but to maximize all scholarship and grants, students need to be full-time. Loans are available for students that are enrolled at least half-time.


How do I know if I qualify for a merit award?

The Admission Advisors who review your file for admission to the College will determine—based on your high school GPA, test scores, and rigor of your high school curriculum, along with any special talents—whether you are eligible for a Saint Mary’s merit scholarship. You will be notified in your acceptance letter and in your financial aid offer letter if you are selected.


Can my merit award increase in future academic years?

The amount of your merit scholarship when you are admitted to Saint Mary's will remain the same for up to 8 semesters, depending on your student level (freshman, sophomore, etc.) at that time. It will not increase in subsequent years.


If I take a leave of absence or withdraw from school and want to return to SMC, will my financial aid change?

For students to be eligible to take a Leave Of Absence (LOA), they must be in good standing with the Registrar’s Office. A student who takes a leave of absence for no more than 2 consecutive semesters will be eligible for applicable institutional, federal, and/or state aid if FAFSA reflects financial need. Students who take a leave of absence longer than 2 consecutive semesters will not be eligible for institution aid, only applicable federal and/or state aid if FAFSA reflects the need. 


I’m a new student, and since my admission there have been changes in in my parents' circumstances, such as a significant reduction in income, changes in health, or other extenuating circumstances since we filed the FAFSA. Can Saint Mary’s take this into consideration?

If you and your family have any of the extenuating circumstances outlined above, please visit our Professional Judgement Policy page, carefully review information, and submit the required documents for consideration. If you are unsure whether you qualify for an appeal, contact our office at 925-631-4370. If you have already submitted an appeal and it has been reviewed, your financial aid offer will indicate that Saint Mary's considered this when it put your package together. Typical response time from January to April is 2-4 weeks; from May to July is 4-6 weeks. We realize you must make your enrollment decision by May 1, and we make every effort to respond to your request promptly. In the meantime, you may have to make your decision to attend Saint Mary’s based on the awards you have already been offered. Certainly, if there are changes later in the year, you can submit an appel at that time. We cannot guarantee that Saint Mary’s funds will be available or that the appeal will be approved.


What if my family’s circumstances change for the worse in future years?

Saint Mary’s will do it’s best to reevaluate your situation and see if you qualify for state or federal aid first. The Saint Mary’s need-based award you received for your first year will remain the same throughout your academic career (4-year maximum as a freshman); we do have limited emergency resources, and priority is given to seniors and juniors.


My family’s financial situation greatly improved this past year. Will this impact my Saint Mary’s award?

Saint Mary’s need-based scholarships are based on a percentage of need as determined by the FAFSA. If a family’s financial situation changes substantially for the better, we will reevaluate the student’s need. For example, if the family’s number of students in college is reduced from 2 to 1, they will have greater resources for the remaining student in college. If a family’s income increases substantially, due to new employment as an example, this may also impact a student’s scholarship. We want to give our scholarships to students with the greatest need, and we will always be happy to discuss and review the changes and how they impact students’ need-based awards. The Pell Grant and the Cal Grant are based on the student's Student Aid Index (SAI), and the student’s eligibility is evaluated each year for those funds. Merit Scholarships are based on merit and will remain at the same amount each year. 


I was selected for verification. What is this, and what do I do?

The Department of Education (DOE) requires all institutions disbursing federal financial aid funds to verify the accuracy of the information students and their families submit as a basis for awarding aid. Each year, the DOE selects a percentage of students receiving federal student aid funds to verify some of the information on which their awards were based. If selected for verification, as notified on your Student Aid Report (SAR) when your FAFSA was processed, we will send you the necessary forms with instructions and request you (if you filed a tax return) and your parents to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool on FAFSA or order an IRS Tax Return Transcript, and verify information such as household size and number of family members enrolled in college. We reserve the right to request similar information for verification purposes for any student awarded aid. Information collected may result in changes to your financial aid offer. Failure to comply with the request for this information will result in the cancellation of your financial aid funds.


My financial aid is contingent on receipt of additional documents or information as noted on the cover letter. Does this mean my financial aid offer could change?

Your financial awards could change. If we need to reevaluate your financial information, such as income, assets, and household size, this could affect your eligibility for Saint Mary’s aid as well as state and federal aid. If you have estimated your family’s tax return on the FAFSA, please update it as soon as possible once you or your parents have filed your tax returns.


I received a significantly better financial aid offer from another college. Will Saint Mary’s match the other college’s award?

Saint Mary’s does not match financial aid offers in response to merit-based awards from other colleges. With exception of athletic aid and merit awards determined by the Admissions Office, Saint Mary’s scholarships are based solely on demonstrated financial need. If another college has offered a need-based financial aid offer significantly better than that of Saint Mary’s, it may be that the other college has received new or updated information on your family’s financial situation—data we may not have yet. In such cases, we can check our system for the latest FAFSA update.


How do I apply for the Direct Student Loans?

Once you have received a financial aid offer from us listed with the Direct Loans for which you are eligible, you may accept these loans as instructions indicate on the financial aid offer. We will send you an email with instructions on completing  'Entrance Counseling' and a 'Master Promissory Note' online at You will need to have names, phone numbers, and addresses of two people not living in your household for references.

As a graduate student (i.e. graduate, doctoral, professional) am I eligible for federal student aid? 

If a FAFSA is completed and no flags (i.e. no default, citizenship, etc issues) cited, graduate students are typically eligible for up to $20,500 in an unsubsidized federal student loan per academic year.  If credit approved, graduate students can also be eligible for a graduate PLUS federal student loan for up to 'cost of attendance' per academic year.  At the graduate level, federal government only offers student loans, no grants. Prospective graduate students with prior federal student loans may be reviewed by SMC financial aid office on a case by case basis to determine usage of federal student loans for an SMC graduate program. This review may include documentation from student to support ability to repay federal student loan debt and avoid default.  

What can we do if my parents are unable to meet the net cost?

There are a number of financing options available for families. We strongly encourage students to search for outside scholarships to reduce the need for loans. Please see our scholarship websites webpage and outside scholarships webpage for scholarship opportunities. Families can also look at taking out a federal Parent PLUS Loan. Loan approval is subject to credit criteria established by the U.S. Department of Education. A credit report will be obtained from a national credit bureau once you apply. Generally, parent borrowers must not have an adverse credit history.  Parents can borrow up to the cost of attendance minus any other aid. Additionally, students can take out a private education loan. Co-signers are encouraged since the interest rate is set based on the credit score of the applicant(s). The loans are deferred while the student is in school, and interest accrues during this time.


How do my parents apply for a PLUS?

To apply for a PLUS Loan, your parent will need to go to and sign in with his/her FSA ID to complete the 'Direct PLUS Loan Application' and a 'Direct PLUS Master Promissory Note'. Parent typically notified of approval or denial decision upon completion of application.


What options are there if my parent is denied the Federal Direct PLUS Loan?

If your parent is denied the Federal Direct PLUS Loan, s/he can submit an appeal directly to the Direct Loan Department; or reapply for the loan using an endorser (equivalent to a co-signer); or you (the student) are eligible to borrow an additional unsubsidized federal Direct Loan ($4,000 for freshmen and sophomores; $5,000 for juniors and seniors). The Financial Aid Office must receive a written request from you (the student) if you would like to borrow the additional un-subsidized federal Direct Loan.


How do I apply for a private educational loan?

To review a list of private lenders used by our students, go to, select your state (California) and Saint Mary’s College of California. Compare lenders and ask questions to make the best choice. You can choose any lender regardless of whether it is on our list.


I’m expecting to receive outside scholarships. How will this affect my financial aid offer from Saint Mary’s?

Saint Mary’s works very hard at ensuring that students keep all of their aid intact. We cooperate with California Student Aid Commission’s award coordination program by reporting all gift aid to Cal Grant recipients. When necessary, Saint Mary’s aid is reduced to conform to the commission's estimate of financial need. If a student is “overawarded” in financial aid, the financial aid will be adjusted by reducing awards in the following order:

  1. Federal subsidized/unsubsidized Direct Loans and/or Perkins Loans
  2. Federal Work Study
  3. Saint Mary’s Scholarships
  4. Federal SEOG
  5. Saint Mary’s College athletic grants
  6. Scholarships from state or private sources


How can I find a job on campus or off campus?

Saint Mary’s Career Center maintains a database of jobs on and off campus. You can log on to your GaelExpress student portal to access this listing. Most employers hire at beginning of the fall term, but the job database is updated with new listings throughout the year.


How does Federal Work-Study (FWS) work?

Students awarded Federal Work-Study (FWS) who accept the award must pick up their FWS contract from the Financial Aid Office before beginning employment as a FWS employee each school year. 

Can visit the Career Center webpage for job listings. Once you find a FWS job and are offered the position, the department will ask for your FWS contract to complete and forward to the college Payroll Office on your behalf, which allows you to work. You will receive a paycheck for the hours worked bimonthly.


I was not awarded Federal Work-Study (FWS). How can I get this award?

Students are awarded Federal Work-Study (FWS) based on need, so not every student will receive this award or qualify each year. If you are not awarded FWS, check with the Financial Aid Office.  You can still secure employment on campus, please visit the Career Center webpage for job listings


Is Federal Work-Study (FWS) taxable income?

If a student earns enough income to file a tax return, this amount must be included as taxable income for federal and state purposes.


Do students have to report Federal Work-Study (FWS) earnings on the FAFSA?

Students must report Federal Work-Study (FWS) earnings on the FAFSA.


Do Federal Work-Study (FWS) earnings count against the student to get aid for next year? Does work-study affect financial aid?

Federal Work-Study (FWS) earnings do not count against the student for the following year's federal financial aid. Even though students report FWS as part of their total income on the FAFSA, there is another place on the FAFSA where FWS earnings are reported separately, and the FAFSA formula does not count that against the student. Question 44 (C) on the FAFSA (Student’s Additional Financial Information) is where the FWS income is reported again so that FAFSA does not count the income against the student.


How do I or my parents make payments to the College?

The College offers a variety of payment options through the Business Office.


I was offered a Cal Grant, but I do not see it listed on my financial aid offer from Saint Mary’s. What can I do?

Send us a copy of the Cal Grant offer from the California Student Aid Commission. This will allow us to update your award package.    


How does Cal Grant affect my institutional scholarships?

If you are awarded Cal Grant it could mean adjustments to your need based institutional scholarships would need to be made.  The key is your determined need will be addressed with Cal Grant and/or need based institutional scholarships and/or other need based aid.



What is Satisfactory Academic Progress, and how does it affect my financial aid?

Please refer to Saint Mary's Satisfactory Academic Progress Policy for Undergraduate and Graduate students.


I am a continuing student and just got my financial aid offer. The Pell Grant amount is different from last year. What happened?

A student's Pell Grant is determined each year based on the family's income, assets, and household size. The Pell Grant is prorated each year based on the Student’s Student Aid Index (SAI).


How can I find more financial aid?

We strongly encourage all students to look for outside scholarships. This requires an ongoing search, not just a one-time search. We have scholarship websites webpage and outside scholarships webpage to assist our students in search of scholarship opportunities.  It is also a good idea to look in 'your own backyard'. Check with your local service organizations like Kiwanis, Rotary Club, Lions, and PEO. If your parents belong to professional associations or unions, or even their employers, ask to see if they have scholarship available.


I have never lived on my own before.  How do I learn to manage my money? is a website funded by the National Endowment for Financial Education, an independent, nonprofit foundation committed to educating college students and recent graduates on a broad range of financial topics, including budgeting, credit card usage, setting financial goals and income taxes.


Can I file my financial aid application as an independent?

According to federal regulations, you must be able to answer yes to one of the following questions to be considered independent for financial aid purposes:

  • Are you 24 years old?
  • Are you working on a master's or doctorate degree or graduate certificate?
  • Are you married as of the date you complete the FAFSA?
  • Do you have children who receive more than half their support from you?
  • Do you have dependents other than your spouse or children who live with you and who receive more than half their support from you?
  • Did you have no living parents (biological or adoptive) when you were age 13, even if you are now adopted?
  • Are you or were you in foster care or a ward or dependent of the court at any time when you were 13 or older (even if you are not anymore)?
  • Are you an emancipated minor or are you in legal guardianship as determined by the court in your state of legal residence?
  • Are you a self-supporting unaccompanied youth who is homeless or at risk of homelessness?
  • Are you a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces, or have you attended a service academy and were released under a condition other than dishonorable?
  • Are you currently serving on active duty (other than training) in the U.S. Armed Forces?

If you do not meet any of these conditions, you are considered a dependent. Undergraduates cannot declare themselves independent of their parents due to family disagreement, living arrangements, or parental unwillingness to contribute to the price of attendance. If you have further questions, please contact our office.


I need another semester or year to graduate beyond my fourth year. What kind of aid is available?

It is Saint Mary’s College of California policy that students who matriculate after starting as freshmen are only eligible for four years of Saint Mary’s aid. Those who transfer in have the number of years remaining that will equal four years. So if a sophomore transfers in, he/she will have three years of eligibility; a junior will have two years of eligibility. Cal Grants are only available for a maximum of four years. Therefore, students who continue on after four years will only be considered for federal aid (Pell Grants and student loans).