Applying for Grants
It isn’t easy to find money to pay for college, but it’s also probably not as hard as you think. As with college scholarships, grants are free money you won’t need to pay back, so why wouldn’t you try to find as many as you qualify for as you can? Almost everyone will find themselves eligible for grant funding, so it’s up to you to do your research so that you know exactly how much funding you’re eligible for and are able to keep your student loan debt at a manageable level post-graduation. Grants will range from a couple hundred dollars to a free ride at some institutions, so don’t miss a good opportunity to fund your college education by skipping out on applying for grants.
Know the Basics
The first step in applying for most grants, particularly federally-funded awards, is filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. That application will come up with your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which will determine what the government expects you to come up with as far as financing your education. The results of your FAFSA, which you’ll see on the Student Aid Report (SAR) sent to you, will give you a better idea of grants you could receive from the government, the state, and your intended college. Some state-sponsored or college-based grants will require additional applications for their grant funding, as many have academic requirements outside of any need-based qualifications. Pay attention to the details of each award you’re going for so that you don’t submit an incomplete application, as grant funding waits for no one. Funding levels of federal grants in particularly change annually, so if you apply after the deadline or even later than the early birds who file their financial aid applications as soon as they’re available, you could be out of luck.
Am I Eligible?
The neediest students will be eligible for the most grant funding on the federal level. Federal Pell Grant recipients, for example, take into account both the student’s and that student’s parents’ income levels. Most Pell grant money goes to students with a total family income below $20,000. Those found eligible for Pell Grants may also find themselves eligible for other grants, including the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) program, Academic Competitiveness Grant and the National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grant. Most colleges will also have a pool of funding available to assist low-income students in attending their school.
While the vast majority of grants are need-based, some may pay more attention to specific student characteristics over others. The most popular grants are broken down by the federal, state and college level, but many private organizations and local groups have grant funds set up to help you get to college. Students going into fields where there is a high need for new graduates may also find a plethora of options for grant funding. Many states offer grants to students based on specific criteria, such as whether the student is a minority or planning to pursue a particular high need field, especially if that state is lacking new recruits in certain areas, such as education or nursing. Grants are very specific, so don’t waste time applying for awards you don’t qualify for when you could be finding grants specific to you. Be sure to read the fine print, as well. Some grants will be awarded with the understanding that you’ll do something for whoever is awarding the funding, such as spending several years teaching in a high-needs school district. Doing some research will allow you to maximize your chances of not only landing more free money, but learning about all the possibilities out there to do so.