Low-income and disadvantaged students qualify for general need-based aid in most states that offer it, but specific funding is also set aside for students whose access to education is severely limited by social and financial conditions. Exceptional hardship is calculated differently in each state, but the students whose circumstances present the greatest educational obstacles are the first to be considered for state grants.
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.
Loan programs – Such programs need to be paid back but offer help with low interest rates. The Stafford Guaranteed Loan offers up to $6,625 per year. The Perkins Loan program offers up to $3,000 and $5,000 a year for undergraduate and graduate students respectively. These loan programs come at very low interest rates so it is highly recommended you apply for them if you need the money for your education. The updated 2015-2016 fixed interest rate on these loans for undergrads is 4.29%; and the combined borrowing totals for direct loans can be up to $12,500 per year depending on your school year and degree.
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.
Students that never attend, stop attending, or withdraw from all classes will be required to repay some or all of the Pell Grant and/or SEOG and subsidized or Unsubsidized loan funds originally awarded. A federal formula will be applied based on student's last date of attendance, percentage of the payment and period attended. If the formula indicates an amount “unearned” a repayment of aid will be necessary. There is no appeal available for Repayment of Federal Funds.
Non-traditional students include those people who are returning to college after a prolonged absence, or those students returning for specific training for career advancement. Often women returning to college after raising a family, or single parents pursuing career advancement through education will fall into this category. Non-traditional students may also refer to those students who are changing from a technical school to a four year college or university.
Nursing Scholarships provide college financing for students willing to make employment commitments for 2 years of service at crucial-shortage health care facilities. Tuition and other approved expenses are abated in return for the service agreement, and qualified applicants receive monthly stipends beyond college costs. Funding is available to nurses studying at all levels, with half of available resources disbursed to master’s degree candidates. Priority consideration is given to the most disadvantaged students. When service obligations are not met, grants revert to loans that must be repaid-with interest.
The width and breadth of the student population in the United States continues to grow and change as more and more students head to college to improve their education and professional opportunities. The American collegiate population is made up of a diverse array of students of all types and backgrounds. Grants for college-bound students are often designed to benefit specific types of students, and to address their particular financial needs. The most common student-specific grant programs fall into the following categories.
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.
High school guidance counselors and college aid officers are there to help students plan for a successful future and find financial aid. They provide individualized advice based on a student’s academic and financial situation. A counselor will also be aware of scholarships, financial aid, or tuition-assistance programs specific to a student’s school, community, or state.
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.
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.
Grants for undergraduate students are a large part of the financial aid landscape. These programs may provide general grant funding for students pursuing any number of degrees, or they may be specific to undergraduates enrolled in science, mathematics or engineering courses. Grants for undergraduate students are available from Federal and state governments, colleges and universities, corporations and professional associations.
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.
One of the most significant sources of grants for college is the United State’s Armed Forces. Education grants from the military help enlisted service-members, their spouses and their dependent children, find the resources they need to pay for college. Each branch of the military, including the army, navy, air force and marines, provides financial aid programs to benefit their service-members. Military sponsored grants are also offered to the children and spouses of service-members who have been killed, or disabled, in the line of duty.
Hispanics are now the fastest growing minority population in the United States. Unfortunately, the rise in population numbers is not yet adequately reflected in the number of college-bound Hispanic students. This is beginning to change, however, and the availability of dedicated college grants for Hispanic students is on the rise. Grants for Hispanic students are supported by charitable foundations and advocacy groups, as well as by corporations and professional associations dedicated to diversifying the American workforce. Hispanic students will find a large number of grants designed to encourage them to pursue specific career paths, with an emphasis on science, mathematics and technology.
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.”
Federal Grants – Pell grants can offer up to $5,775 yearly (updated for 2016) for undergraduate studies that aim on earning Bachelor’s degrees and Professional degrees. SEOG funds (Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant) can offer up to $4,000 each year per person. CWS funds can offer money to part-time students as well. The Academic Competitiveness Grant awards money to freshman and sophomores, while the National Science and Math Access to Retail Talent (SMART) Grant awards money to juniors and seniors.
The majority of students applying and receiving college grants are low income students, also called need-based grants. Need based college grants are to give everyone a fair opportunity to get an education. Some common need-based grants are the Pell Grant, a Scholarship for Disadvantaged Students, and several others. The first place you should apply is called the FAFSA.
Students ineligible for federal aid but who meet state financial aid program and residency requirements should complete the Washington Application for State Financial Aid at readysetgrad.org/wasfa instead of the FAFSA form. Contact the Washington Student Achievement Council (readysetgrad.org/wasfa) or your financial aid administrator for more information.