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.
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.
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 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 Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant – The FSEOG is designed to give financial aid to undergraduate students with extreme financial need. The FSEOG program is funded by the Federal government, and administered through the financial aid offices of participating colleges and universities. Students must apply through their college of choice, and grants are awarded on a first come, first served basis.
Some states use your FAFSA and your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) to determine your eligibility for state financial aid. Other states require additional documentation, and deadlines are not always the same. Your state’s FAFSA filing deadline might be earlier than the federal requirement, so consult with your financial aid office or guidance counselor for specifics.
Students pursuing high-need fields of study, like nursing, teaching and STEM subjects may get assistance from state governments. Nursing and teaching grants are issued by states, in return for service obligations that require participants to work in under-served areas. By committing to work as a teacher or nurse within your state, for a period of two to four years, you might receive tuition abatement that amounts to a free ride through college. If you don’t follow through on your end of the service agreement, your grant becomes a loan that you must repay-with interest.
Students receiving financial aid are required to complete 67 percent of the classes they attempt with a 2.0 GPA to continue receiving aid. For instance, you are awarded aid for Fall/Spring of the academic year, are making progress, and started in the fall semester with 12 credit hours and withdrew from a 3 credit hour class. You will have completed 75% of the classes attempted. Your aid is not in jeopardy. If you complete less than 67% the fall semester and/or your GPA falls below 2.0, you will receive a letter stating you are on warning; your aid for spring is not jeopardized. However, if you do not complete 67% of the total classes you attempt with a 2.0 GPA for the fall/spring semesters, you will be denied further aid.
Many grants dedicated to specific career paths are, in fact, award-for-service programs. These programs perform two functions; they give much needed financial aid to talented students pursuing careers in high need fields, and they help to secure and retain talented professionals in communities that are experiencing critical manpower shortages. Students entering into a grant-for-service program should understand that they are agreeing to a binding contract, and will be obligated to fulfill all the of the particulars of that contract. Students who fail to meet their award-for-service obligations will find that their grants will revert to standard student loans, and they will be expected to repay all monies received plus interest.
The Federal Pell Grant program is the largest provider of student grants. Pell Grants provide tuition assistance to undergraduates demonstrating financial need. A blended federal financial aid package often includes Pell Grants-alongside Federal Direct Loans. Eligibility is determined annually based on FAFSA disclosures, and reflects four areas of consideration.
If you are eligible for a loan or Pell Grant and did not register in time for a book authorization, you must contact your campus Financial Aid Office to see if you are eligible to have one processed. Book Allowances are available on the first day of classes for each part of term within each payment period. Please check with your local campus Office of Financial Aid for dates and eligibility.