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.
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.

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.
College grants are primarily awards of free money, that do not require any repayment on the part of the recipient. They can be directed toward specific educational expenses, specific types of students, or general purpose. Unlike scholarships, which are typically awarded on the basis of academic achievement or athletic, artistic or extracurricular performance, grants are awarded according to financial need. This is not to say that academic merit will not be considered, only that financial need is given greater weight in the final decision making process.
Begin your grant search early, to allow yourself plenty of time to find, and apply to, the various grant programs for which you may be eligible. As you begin to search for possible education grants, you will find that they come in all shapes and sizes. You will also find that many grant programs may be found in the most unlikely of places. Look deeply, leave no stone unturned, and you may find the necessary education grants that will help meet your college costs.
While military sponsored grant programs offer valuable financial assistance, it should be noted that they are only available to enlisted members of the armed services. Serving one’s country in a military capacity is a noble and honorable choice, but it should not be made lightly. Students considering military sponsored financial aid for college should be certain that they fully understand their obligations as enlisted personnel in the U.S. Armed Forces.
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.
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.
The Federal TEACH Grant – The TEACH Grant is an example of an award-for-service program. The grant provides Federal funding to students who agree to take up a teaching position in a high need field, or critical shortage facility, following graduation. Recipients must sign a contract agreeing to a predetermined time of service. Students who fail to fulfill their teaching obligations will have their grant revert to a student loan, and will be responsible for the full repayment, plus interest, of that loan.
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.
There is a good chance that say the equity in your home and/or some other components of your net worth and income will be held against you in the calculation of your SAR (summary of the financial aid you can expect to receive) of your FAFSA. This does not mean, however, that there are not ways to reduce the financial burdens of the college education expenses.
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:

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.
The width and breadth of the student population in the United States continues to grow and change as more and more students head to college to improve their education and professional opportunities. The American collegiate population is made up of a diverse array of students of all types and backgrounds. Grants for college-bound students are often designed to benefit specific types of students, and to address their particular financial needs. The most common student-specific grant programs fall into the following categories.
Hispanics are now the fastest growing minority population in the United States. Unfortunately, the rise in population numbers is not yet adequately reflected in the number of college-bound Hispanic students. This is beginning to change, however, and the availability of dedicated college grants for Hispanic students is on the rise. Grants for Hispanic students are supported by charitable foundations and advocacy groups, as well as by corporations and professional associations dedicated to diversifying the American workforce. Hispanic students will find a large number of grants designed to encourage them to pursue specific career paths, with an emphasis on science, mathematics and technology.
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.

College costs have exploded over the past decade, increasing by a massive 33 percent from the 2004-2005 school year to 2014-15, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. For today’s average student, 70 percent of colleges are more expensive than they can afford. But while college is more expensive than ever, family incomes and college savings rates have not kept pace.
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