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.
Many grants dedicated to specific career paths are, in fact, award-for-service programs. These programs perform two functions; they give much needed financial aid to talented students pursuing careers in high need fields, and they help to secure and retain talented professionals in communities that are experiencing critical manpower shortages. Students entering into a grant-for-service program should understand that they are agreeing to a binding contract, and will be obligated to fulfill all the of the particulars of that contract. Students who fail to meet their award-for-service obligations will find that their grants will revert to standard student loans, and they will be expected to repay all monies received plus interest.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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