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.

Many organizations, professional associations and advocacy groups have developed a wide range of grants designed to help women take their rightful place in America’s halls of higher education. Grant programs for women are designed to encourage female students to pursue degrees, and careers, in a wide range of fields in which they have been historically under-represented. Education grants for women typically focus on disciplines in need of greater diversity, such as science, mathematics, technology and business.


Some college grant programs are open to all students regardless of background or field of study. These are considered General Grants, and typically are decided according to financial need and academic performance. A great number of college grants, however, are designed to target specific portions of the population or students pursuing particular degrees or career paths. These can be broken down into the following categories.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers offers a number of grant and scholarship programs, including the IEEE Computational Society Summer Research Grant for graduate students. This grant funds the research of deserving student scholars into the areas of neural networking and evolutionary computation. Award amounts range from $1000 to $4000.

Most college grants are designed to address the needs of students who are facing a financial shortfall in their college funding. That being said, a wide range of grant programs are dedicated to providing financial aid to students in more extreme circumstances. Grants for low-income students are specifically designed to address the financial needs of students from economic or socially disadvantaged backgrounds. Typically, these programs will be sponsored by state and Federal governments, advocacy groups and charitable foundations.
The majority of students applying and receiving college grants are low income students, also called need-based grants. Need based college grants are to give everyone a fair opportunity to get an education. Some common need-based grants are the Pell Grant, a Scholarship for Disadvantaged Students, and several others. The first place you should apply is called the FAFSA.
Grants for doctoral candidates and graduate students are highly competitive, and focus on the financial needs of students engaged in research to complete their high level degrees. These grants are often referred to as fellowships, and are typically sponsored by colleges and universities as a way of bringing the best and brightest graduate students to their campuses. Unlike the more traditional undergraduate grants, these programs place a great amount of weight on academic achievement. Financial need is a secondary consideration. Grants for graduate and doctoral students are typically high dollar awards, and will include funds for research related travel and stipends for living expenses.
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.
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.

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.
Filing your FAFSA gets the ball rolling on lots of financial aid opportunities, but additional grants are available that might require separate applications.  Your state and other grant foundations put forth narrowly defined student gift aid every year.  Your location, ethnic background, and even your parents’ employer could lead you to the college grant funding you need.
Grants for non-traditional students are sponsored by variety of different sources, including state and local governments, corporations, advocacy groups and professional associations. These programs provide vital financial assistance to those non-traditional students who are looking to improve their lives, and the lives of their families, through higher education.
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.
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 don’t 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 might 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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