Grants for college students fall across two broad categories, depending on what eligibility requirements are attached to the funds. Need-based grants are issued to students exhibiting the greatest levels of financial hardship in paying for college. On the other hand, merit-based grants are tied to performance-like good grades and other personal achievements.
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.
Planning for college expenses is one of the biggest financial projects that a family can undertake. Four years of college can cost tens of thousands of dollars -- the average annual cost (tuition plus room and board) at private U.S. colleges is now $35,636 -- and it's increasingly easy to break into the six-figure range, especially for advanced degrees [source: Lewin]. Parents, you've probably wondered just how you'll afford to send your child to the college or university that he or she has dreamed about and earned the right to attend.
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.
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.
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.
African-American students will find a wide range of grants designed to help them pursue their dreams of a college education. For too long African-Americans were under-represented in the halls of academia. But with the help of publicly and privately funded grant programs, they are beginning to take their rightful place on college campuses across the country. Over the last decade, the number of African-Americans graduating with a four-year degree has risen sharply, and dedicated grant programs for African-American students are helping more and more students of color pursue their dreams of a higher education.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers offers a number of grant and scholarship programs, including the IEEE Computational Society Summer Research Grant for graduate students. This grant funds the research of deserving student scholars into the areas of neural networking and evolutionary computation. Award amounts range from $1000 to $4000.
Private student loans: Financing from private lenders might also be listed in your financial award letter, or you can find it on your own. Using federal student loans first is often the best move, Randolph said. However, “if you still need money to bridge the gap between financial aid and the cost of attendance, you’ll have to look at private student loans.”
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.
As students begin to investigate possible grants for college, they will likely find a variety of award-for-service grants. These types of grants are typically allied to a distinct course of study, and are applied to students with definite career goals. Typically they address critical shortages in certain professional fields including healthcare, legal aid, teaching and social work. A grant-for-service requires recipients to agree to a predetermined term of service, working within their chosen field, at a critical need facility or in an under-served community. If the student fails to meet their obligations, the grant will revert to a standard student loan, and the student will be expected to repay all monies received plus interest.
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.
Students who withdraw from classes prior to refunds will only receive payment for credit hours for which they are currently attending. Enrollment status does affect eligibility. Please be aware that some awards may have to be reduced or canceled due to adjusting enrollment patterns. Students whose eligibility has been terminated because of failure to meet Standards of Satisfactory Progress may in certain cases request a formal review of the decision to revoke financial aid eligibility. Circumstances which may be appealed include: death in the student's immediate family, medical emergencies, accidents, divorce or separation of parents, personal tragedy, or other documented circumstances beyond the student's control which prevented him/her from meeting minimum standards.