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.
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.
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.
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.

State-funded grants for minorities promote educational diversity and increase access to college for traditionally under-represented groups. Grants for ethnic minorities—African American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American students—target specific groups needing college cash.  For example, Wisconsin’s Minority Undergraduate Retention Grant disburses funds to second, third and fourth-year minority students pursuing college degrees or vocational training.
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.
Still, the potential payoff of applying for financial aid makes it worth it. It can make a world of difference if you put in the time and effort to understand the process and how to get the full financial aid you’re entitled. For some students, it’s the only reason they can complete a degree rather than dropping out of college. For others, financial aid helps them leave school with some student loans — but limits the debt to a manageable amount.
The Federal Pell Grant program is the largest provider of student grants.  Pell Grants provide tuition assistance to undergraduates demonstrating financial need.  A blended federal financial aid package often includes Pell Grants-alongside Federal Direct Loans.  Eligibility is determined annually based on FAFSA disclosures, and reflects four areas of consideration.
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Still, the potential payoff of applying for financial aid makes it worth it. It can make a world of difference if you put in the time and effort to understand the process and how to get the full financial aid you’re entitled. For some students, it’s the only reason they can complete a degree rather than dropping out of college. For others, financial aid helps them leave school with some student loans — but limits the debt to a manageable amount.
Your school will notify you if you must repay part of the grant. From that point, you will have 45 days to either pay that portion of the grant back in full or enter into a satisfactory repayment arrangement. If you enter into a satisfactory repayment arrangement, the school may assign the debt to ED for collection or may keep the debt and allow you to make payments directly to them.
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 do not 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 may 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.
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