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.
Any successful grant search begins with knowing yourself, your status as a student and your academic interests. This will help you narrow your focus, and will allow you to eliminate those grant programs for which you are not eligible. Remember, there are need-based grants, merit-based grants and career specific grants, and the first step is understanding the type of program you’re looking for. For example, if you are an Hispanic woman going to college to become an accountant, you will want to search for grant programs that are dedicated to Latin-American female students enrolled in business and accounting studies.
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.
It can also be helpful to understand how the Federal Student Aid Office uses the information on the FAFSA to decide how much aid each student gets. The financial details are used to calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This is the Federal Student Aid office’s estimate of what your family should reasonably be able to pay toward college costs, based on these factors:
Women make up 51% of the population of the United States, yet are still considered a minority. While the numbers may prove that women are a majority of the American populace, they unfortunately remain under-represented on most mainstream college campuses across the country. Private women’s colleges have a long history of providing solid educations with an emphasis on career self-sufficiency. But the need for greater diversity at mainstream colleges and universities still remains, as does the need to diversify the American workforce.
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.
Colleges and universities can also be prime sources for grants. Often, colleges will be given private endowments from individuals and businesses for the purpose of providing financial aid to deserving students. Again, privately endowed grants and scholarships tend to have highly specific eligibility requirements, and may target certain portions of the population such as women or minorities. They may also be dedicated to students pursuing degrees in specific fields or disciplines.
The National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grant picks up where the Academic Competitiveness Grant leaves off—providing funding for low-income third and fourth year college students. Eligible students must be Pell Grant recipients, academically talented and majoring in STEM fields or high need foreign languages. SMART Grant annual maximums are up to $4000 per qualified student.
The American school system, like the healthcare system, is also experiencing a critical shortage of qualified professionals. Teachers are in great demand, particularly in historically under-served communities. Grants for educators are available from a variety of sources, including professional teaching associations, private endowments, and state governments. Many of these programs, particularly those supported by state governments, are award-for-service programs. Recipients will be required to sign a contract agreeing to a term of service teaching at a high need school, or in an under-served community.
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.
As students begin to investigate possible grants for college, they will likely find a variety of award-for-service grants. These types of grants are typically allied to a distinct course of study, and are applied to students with definite career goals. Typically they address critical shortages in certain professional fields including healthcare, legal aid, teaching and social work. A grant-for-service requires recipients to agree to a predetermined term of service, working within their chosen field, at a critical need facility or in an under-served community. If the student fails to meet their obligations, the grant will revert to a standard student loan, and the student will be expected to repay all monies received plus interest.
Grants provide much needed financial support for students of all types, and from a variety of diverse backgrounds. For many students, education grants mean the difference between achieving their college dreams and having those dreams deferred. Students should make the search for college grants a priority when preparing for college. Before considering any high cost college loans, students should investigate the many and varied grant opportunities that may be available to them.
The Academic Competitiveness Grant is available to students who have already qualified for the Pell grant. A grant award of $750 is available to freshman students, and a further award of up to $1300 is available to qualifying sophomores. The ACG is open to students majoring in a critical need area, such as math, science, technology, engineering and foreign languages.