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.
Grants for doctoral candidates and graduate students are highly competitive, and focus on the financial needs of students engaged in research to complete their high level degrees. These grants are often referred to as fellowships, and are typically sponsored by colleges and universities as a way of bringing the best and brightest graduate students to their campuses. Unlike the more traditional undergraduate grants, these programs place a great amount of weight on academic achievement. Financial need is a secondary consideration. Grants for graduate and doctoral students are typically high dollar awards, and will include funds for research related travel and stipends for living expenses.
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.
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.