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.
Federal grant programs are driven by the congressional funding that fills the coffers. As a result, maximum grant awards and general availability change every year. Currently, annual Pell Grant award maximums hover around $5000 per student. Some government grants, like FSEOG are distributed on a first-come first-served rotation that continues until funding is exhausted, so time is of the essence. To maximize your access to federal grant dollars, it is essential that you file your FAFSA as early as possible.
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.
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 don’t 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 might 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.