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.
Student income, parental income and assets, and total family size are used to compute your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your EFC is included on your personal Student Aid Report (SAR), which spells out your anticipated college financial needs. Your SAR is shared with the schools you choose, where financial aid offices evaluate your eligibility for grants, loans, and other forms of student assistance. Your individual financial aid package, which often includes federal grants, is issued in a formal ‘offer letter’ from each university.
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.
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.
There is currently a national push to encourage students to pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The United States is currently falling behind in the number of students graduating with professional degrees in the STEM fields. Consequently, grants have become more abundant for students pursuing studies in these fields. These grant programs are typically sponsored by Federal agencies, state governments and professional associations.
Every state in the union has a Department of Higher Education that monitors, and regulates, the colleges and universities within that state. Most states offer their resident students some degree of college financial aid, either through their Department of Higher Education or through a dedicated Student Assistance Commission. Scholarship and grant programs are common at the state level, and are typically supported by state and local taxes, and/or state lottery funds.
The Academic Competitiveness Grant is available to students who have already qualified for the Pell grant. A grant award of $750 is available to freshman students, and a further award of up to $1300 is available to qualifying sophomores. The ACG is open to students majoring in a critical need area, such as math, science, technology, engineering and foreign languages.
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.
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.
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 American school system, like the healthcare system, is also experiencing a critical shortage of qualified professionals. Teachers are in great demand, particularly in historically under-served communities. Grants for educators are available from a variety of sources, including professional teaching associations, private endowments, and state governments. Many of these programs, particularly those supported by state governments, are award-for-service programs. Recipients will be required to sign a contract agreeing to a term of service teaching at a high need school, or in an under-served community.
Your school will notify you if you must repay part of the grant. From that point, you will have 45 days to either pay that portion of the grant back in full or enter into a satisfactory repayment arrangement. If you enter into a satisfactory repayment arrangement, the school may assign the debt to ED for collection or may keep the debt and allow you to make payments directly to them.
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.
Many grant programs exist to serve the needs of minority groups who have a history of being under-represented in the American higher education system. While great strides have been made over the last few decades, more work needs to be done to expand and diversify the American collegiate student body. Grants for minorities, and for women, are sponsored by a variety of sources, including state and Federal governments, professional associations, corporations, colleges, universities, charitable foundations and advocacy groups.
Few college-bound students have the financial resources to pay for their post-secondary education entirely out of pocket. Even students with substantial college savings plans typically find that they are left with sizable amounts of unmet need. The average total cost of attending a public four-year college is more than $20,000 per academic year. Students planning to attend a private college or university can expect to spend more than $30,000 per academic year. A college education is a costly proposition, and all indications are that those costs are only going to increase.
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.
Every state maintains its own college grant programs, and they are typically only available to student residents. While it would be impossible to list every education grant from each state in the union in the space available here, the following examples will give students an idea of the types of programs that may be available through their own state governments. College-bound students are encouraged to visit their state’s higher education website for detailed information on any and all merit-based and need-based grant programs which may be available.
Completing a FAFSA can be a time-consuming process that some students or parents might be tempted to skip. “On one end of the spectrum, you have students that don’t think they qualify for aid so they don’t [apply],” Randolph said. “On the other end, you have students that are so confused by the application, verbiage, and choices, that they struggle, perhaps even to the point of not finishing the FAFSA.”