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.
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.
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.
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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