Federal grant programs for college-bound students form the bedrock of all financial aid in the United States. These programs should be the first stop for all students looking for financial assistance to help them pay for college. Federal education grants are funded by the government, and administered through the U. S. Department of Education. Federal education grants help thousands of students pay for college every year. Without these grants, many students would not be able to realize their higher educational goals.

Some states use your FAFSA and your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) to determine your eligibility for state financial aid.  Other states require additional documentation, and deadlines are not always the same.  Your state’s FAFSA filing deadline might be earlier than the federal requirement, so consult with your financial aid office or guidance counselor for specifics.
There are thousands of scholarships, from all kinds of organizations, and they’re not hard to find. You might be able to get a scholarship for being a good student, a great basketball player, or a member of a certain church, or because your parent works for a particular company, or for some other reason. Find out more about finding and applying for scholarships. You’ll also want to be careful and avoid scholarship scams.
Students pursuing high-need fields of study, like nursing, teaching and STEM subjects may get assistance from state governments. Nursing and teaching grants are issued by states, in return for service obligations that require participants to work in under-served areas.  By committing to work as a teacher or nurse within your state, for a period of two to four years, you might receive tuition abatement that amounts to a free ride through college.  If you don’t follow through on your end of the service agreement, your grant becomes a loan that you must repay-with interest.
There is currently a national push to encourage students to pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The United States is currently falling behind in the number of students graduating with professional degrees in the STEM fields. Consequently, grants have become more abundant for students pursuing studies in these fields. These grant programs are typically sponsored by Federal agencies, state governments and professional associations.
Private student loans: Financing from private lenders might also be listed in your financial award letter, or you can find it on your own. Using federal student loans first is often the best move, Randolph said. However, “if you still need money to bridge the gap between financial aid and the cost of attendance, you’ll have to look at private student loans.”
Grants for undergraduate students are a large part of the financial aid landscape. These programs may provide general grant funding for students pursuing any number of degrees, or they may be specific to undergraduates enrolled in science, mathematics or engineering courses. Grants for undergraduate students are available from Federal and state governments, colleges and universities, corporations and professional associations.
Many grant programs exist to serve the needs of minority groups who have a history of being under-represented in the American higher education system. While great strides have been made over the last few decades, more work needs to be done to expand and diversify the American collegiate student body. Grants for minorities, and for women, are sponsored by a variety of sources, including state and Federal governments, professional associations, corporations, colleges, universities, charitable foundations and advocacy groups.
The traditional model of a college-bound student is beginning to change. While the majority of college students are still newly minted high school graduates, more and more adult learners are headed to colleges and universities across the country. Some may be returning to school to finish degrees that were interrupted by work and family commitments, while others may be attending college for the first time for training courses to help them achieve greater success in the national workforce. Non-traditional students include single parents, displaced workers, returning military veterans and adults seeking new career opportunities.
Every state in the union has a Department of Higher Education that monitors, and regulates, the colleges and universities within that state. Most states offer their resident students some degree of college financial aid, either through their Department of Higher Education or through a dedicated Student Assistance Commission. Scholarship and grant programs are common at the state level, and are typically supported by state and local taxes, and/or state lottery funds.
Non-traditional students include those people who are returning to college after a prolonged absence, or those students returning for specific training for career advancement. Often women returning to college after raising a family, or single parents pursuing career advancement through education will fall into this category. Non-traditional students may also refer to those students who are changing from a technical school to a four year college or university.
High school guidance counselors and college aid officers are there to help students plan for a successful future and find financial aid. They provide individualized advice based on a student’s academic and financial situation. A counselor will also be aware of scholarships, financial aid, or tuition-assistance programs specific to a student’s school, community, or state.
African-American students will find a wide range of grants designed to help them pursue their dreams of a college education. For too long African-Americans were under-represented in the halls of academia. But with the help of publicly and privately funded grant programs, they are beginning to take their rightful place on college campuses across the country. Over the last decade, the number of African-Americans graduating with a four-year degree has risen sharply, and dedicated grant programs for African-American students are helping more and more students of color pursue their dreams of a higher education.
Grants for Native American students may be less prevalent than those for other minorities, but they are beginning to become more plentiful. State governments, advocacy groups and private endowments support a growing number of grants dedicated to helping Native-Americans pursue a college education. Many of these programs target members of specific Native-American tribes, and students will be required to present documentary evidence of their American Indian heritage. A large number of grants for Native-American students are career-specific, with an emphasis on healthcare, education, science and technology.
Planning for college expenses is one of the biggest financial projects that a family can undertake. Four years of college can cost tens of thousands of dollars -- the average annual cost (tuition plus room and board) at private U.S. colleges is now $35,636 -- and it's increasingly easy to break into the six-figure range, especially for advanced degrees [source: Lewin]. Parents, you've probably wondered just how you'll afford to send your child to the college or university that he or she has dreamed about and earned the right to attend.
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 do not 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 may 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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