Navigating the College Admission Path

By Inland Empire Success | June 13, 2024

Applying to college can be both exciting and overwhelming. With so many choices and steps, it’s easy to feel lost—but don’t worry. If you’re a student in the Inland Empire, this guide will help you navigate the path to college admission smoothly. From selecting the right college to finding financial aid and resources, we have you covered. Let’s dive in!

Step 1: Understand Your College Options

Choosing the right college is the first big step. The Inland Empire offers a variety of great schools, each with unique programs, degrees, and educational opportunities. Here are tips to decide:  

Types of Colleges in the Inland Empire

The Inland Empire is home to many higher education opportunities. It’s helpful to understand what the different types of college can offer you:

  1. Community Colleges: These schools, like Riverside City College and Chaffey College, offer two-year programs and are terrific, affordable options for starting your college journey. You can earn an associate degree or transfer to a four-year university. Along with being affordable and flexible, community colleges are dedicated to teaching, which means you’ll have great professors.
  2. Four-Year Universities: Schools like California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB) and the University of Redlands offer bachelor’s degrees in a wide range of fields. They also provide opportunities for master’s degrees and doctorates.
  3. Online Programs: Many schools now offer online classes and degrees. This is perfect if you need flexibility or can’t attend campus in person regularly.

What to Consider When You Select a College

Every school is different, so it’s important to explore the schools you’re interested in from several different angles. Here are some details to consider:  

  • Program Offerings: Does the college offer the major or program you’re interested in?
  • Location: How far is the campus from your home? Is it in a city or a more rural area?
  • Campus Life: Are there clubs, sports, and activities that interest you?
  • Support Services: Look for tutoring, counseling, and career services to support your success.

Step 2: Research and Apply for Financial Aid

College can be expensive, but financial aid can make it more affordable. Here’s how you can find and apply for financial aid:

Types of Financial Aid

  1. Grants: Money that doesn’t have to be paid back, like the Pell Grant or Cal Grant for California students.
  2. Scholarships: Awards based on merit or need that also don’t need to be repaid. These come from schools, private organizations, or community groups.
  3. Student Loans: Money that you borrow and must pay back with interest. Federal student loans often have lower interest rates and more flexible repayment options. Federal loans are only available to individuals who submit an application called the FAFSA. California also has loan programs for state residents, including special programs to assist students who are undocumented or have other immigration status considerations.

How to Apply for Financial Aid

When applying for financial aid for college, you only need to complete one application based on your qualifications: either the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the California Dream Act Application (CADAA).

Each application caters to different groups of students, ensuring that everyone has access to the financial resources they need to pursue college. Understanding which application to fill out is the first step in securing a Cal Grant and other financial aid opportunities.

  • FAFSA: If you’re a U.S. citizen, a permanent resident (Green Card holder), or an eligible non-citizen, you should apply using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form determines your eligibility for federal and state financial aid. You must submit a completed FAFSA to receive federal financial aid.
  • CADAA: If you’re an undocumented student (with or without DACA), have a U-Visa, or hold temporary protected status, you should complete the California Dream Act Application (CADAA). This application is available for undocumented students who meet certain qualification requirements (keep reading to learn more about CADAA). You may need to fill out additional forms.
  • State Aid: Check for California-specific aid like the Cal Grant. 
  • Scholarships: Look for scholarships from local businesses, community groups, and online databases. The Inland Empire Success website is an excellent resource to find local scholarship providers.

Here are some additional resources to help you navigate financial aid options:

  • The California Student Aid Commission ( has a wealth of information specifically for California residents and undocumented students.
  • The Federal Student Aid website ( is a great resource for students filing the FAFSA.

Financial Aid is Available to Undocumented Students, Too

Are you an undocumented student, DACA recipient (regardless of expiration), U Visa holder, or have Temporary Protected Status (TPS)? If you’re considering college but worried about affording it, the California Dream Act can help!

The California Dream Act Application (CADAA) offers qualified students an additional resource for financial assistance. This program allows you to apply for various financial aid options that can significantly reduce your college costs.

Here’s what the California Dream Act offers:

  • Scholarships: This includes private scholarships from organizations and universities.
  • State Grants: California offers grants like Cal Grants to help cover tuition fees.
  • University Grants: Many universities have their own financial aid programs you can apply for.
  • Community College Fee Waivers: Community colleges often offer waivers to reduce your tuition.
  • In-State Tuition at Public Colleges: You may qualify to pay the lower in-state tuition rate at public colleges in California.

Step 3: Prepare and Submit Your College Application

Now that you’ve chosen colleges and explored financial aid options, it’s time to apply. Here’s how to make your college application stand out:

Key Components of a College Application

  1. Personal Information: Provide basic details like your name, address, and high school.
  2. Academic Records: Your transcripts show your grades and the courses you’ve taken.
  3. Test Scores: Some colleges require SAT or ACT scores, though many schools are now test-optional.
  4. Essays: Personal statements or essays are about your experiences, goals, and why you want to attend a particular college.
  5. Letters of Recommendation: Ask for letters from teachers or mentors who can speak about your strengths and achievements.

Tips for a Strong Application

  • Start Early: Give yourself plenty of time to complete each part of the application.
  • Be Honest: Share your true experiences and aspirations in your essays.
  • Proofread: Check your application for any errors before submitting.
  • Pay Close Attention to Deadlines: Make a list of all application deadlines, and be sure to meet them.
  • Apply to More than One School: There is no guarantee you will get into your top school of choice. Apply to multiple colleges and universities to be safe. If you are accepted by more than one, you have options to consider before making a final decision.

Step 4: Make the Most of Available Resources

Navigating the college admission process can be much easier with the right support. In the Inland Empire, you have access to many helpful resources like Inland Empire Success that can help you navigate every aspect of your college application and admissions process. You can also talk with your high school counselor, teachers, and community organizations offering educational guidance.

Be Prepared for College Admission

Navigating the college admission path may seem daunting, but you can confidently take each step with the correct tools and resources. Research your options, apply for financial aid, and use the support available to you in the Inland Empire.

Our comprehensive resources and guidance will assist you in achieving your college dreams.

Share this guide with friends and family to support them during their college journey too. Your future is bright—take the first step now!