Some college grant programs are open to all students regardless of background or field of study. These are considered General Grants, and typically are decided according to financial need and academic performance. A great number of college grants, however, are designed to target specific portions of the population or students pursuing particular degrees or career paths. These can be broken down into the following categories.
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.
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.
You’ll need a good reason to appeal your financial aid. For instance, if your circumstances changed between when you received your financial aid package and the time school starts. Maybe your sibling decided to enroll in college at the last minute, your parent lost a job, or there’s been a family financial emergency. You might also be able to appeal for more financial aid if you’re in an abusive family situation.
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.
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.
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.
States issue need-based grants to students who need help paying for school. If your EFC is low, and your federal financial aid doesn’t cover your tuition, state grants boost your college fund when you need it most. For instance, Minnesota Office of Higher Education provides state grants to low and moderate income students, with nearly 80% of funds distributed to students with family incomes below 50K/year.
You must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form allows you to apply for all types of aid. There are not separate applications for each type of aid. This form is all you will need to apply. The financial aid process is a lengthy one. The best advice is to get this form in as early as possible, as any delays may affect the timeliness of your award.