Students searching for non-government funded college grants should begin by combining their status as a student (undergraduate or graduate), their field of interest and their personal background (minority status, gender, etc). Many grant programs can be found with a focused search of the internet, or through the financial aid offices of colleges and universities. This can be time consuming, but the rewards can be substantial.
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.
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.
Once students have exhausted the available Federal and state supported grants, they may wish to look to other sources for financial assistance. Many grants for college-bound students can be found in the private sector. Corporations and professional associations often offer grants for deserving students who are pursuing degrees in fields closely allied to that business or organization. College grants can also be found through religious organizations, as well as clubs and associations dedicated to community service. These grant programs may have very specific eligibility requirements, but they do offer substantial financial assistance to those students who meet the necessary criteria.
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.