Still, the potential payoff of applying for financial aid makes it worth it. It can make a world of difference if you put in the time and effort to understand the process and how to get the full financial aid you’re entitled. For some students, it’s the only reason they can complete a degree rather than dropping out of college. For others, financial aid helps them leave school with some student loans — but limits the debt to a manageable amount.
Federal grant programs are driven by the congressional funding that fills the coffers. As a result, maximum grant awards and general availability change every year. Currently, annual Pell Grant award maximums hover around $5000 per student. Some government grants, like FSEOG are distributed on a first-come first-served rotation that continues until funding is exhausted, so time is of the essence. To maximize your access to federal grant dollars, it is essential that you file your FAFSA as early as possible.
State-funded grants for minorities promote educational diversity and increase access to college for traditionally under-represented groups. Grants for ethnic minorities—African American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American students—target specific groups needing college cash. For example, Wisconsin’s Minority Undergraduate Retention Grant disburses funds to second, third and fourth-year minority students pursuing college degrees or vocational training.
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.
You must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form allows you to apply for all types of aid. There are not separate applications for each type of aid. This form is all you will need to apply. The financial aid process is a lengthy one. The best advice is to get this form in as early as possible, as any delays may affect the timeliness of your award.