How to Obtain Student Grants for College
Few students have the financial means to simply pay for a college education. Even at a state university, costs will average $10,000 a year, and a private institution will easily cost twice that amount.
To help defray the costs, and thus enable more people to obtain college degrees, federal and state governments, as well as many private institutions, offer grants.
Grants are not the same thing as loans; grants do not have to be repaid, whereas loans do. However, participation in a grant program does not automatically exclude the student from other financial aid, such as student loans.
Available Federal Grants for Low Income Students
One of the most popular grants offered by the federal government is the Pell Grant. Established in 1972, the program is designed to fund higher education for lower income students.
Although subject to budgetary restrictions and frequent change, current Pell Grants are available for up to $4,000 per year. The average household income to qualify for this amount is $20,000 or below annually. The amount will be adjusted based on whether the recipient is classified as a full time or part time student, and whether they will attend year round.
The federal government has several different grant programs available primarily for students who can demonstrate financial need. However, there are hybrid grants that are subject not only to income limitations but to other criteria.
One such grant is the Academic Competitiveness Grant. This is available to low income students during their freshman and sophomore years who have received a Pell Grant. Students must maintain at least a 3.0 grade point average while taking a rigorous course of study. In conjunction with state agencies, a list of what is considered “rigorous” is issued each year. Generally, the degree plans will offer the following to qualify:
- Three years of mathematics, with Algebra I being the lowest level course.
- Three years of science, with at least one year each from two of the three courses (physics, chemistry, biology) designated.
- Four years of English and one year of a foreign language.
- Three years of social science.
The maximum Academic Competitiveness Grant a student can receive is $750 for the freshman year and $1,300 for the sophomore year. However, when combined with the Pell Grant, the total amount cannot exceed the actual cost of attendance.
The National SMART Grant, or National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grant, is similar to the Academic Competitiveness Grant, except it is for junior and senior students. Students must be majoring in one of the following:
- Computer science
- Life science
- Physical science
- Selected foreign languages
- Non-major single liberal arts program
As with an Academic Competitiveness Grant, students must be Pell Grant recipients and maintain a 3.0 grade point average. Students can receive up to $4,000 per year in SMART Grants, but the combination of the grants cannot exceed the actual cost of attendance. In addition, students must take at least one course per semester that is from the categories stated. For example, a computer science major would qualify by taking a course such as calculus along with a humanities course, an art class, a literature course, and a physical education class. However, if the calculus course is replaced with an economics course, the student would be deemed ineligible for the semester even if the economics course is required for completion of the degree plan.
For students with the greatest financial need, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, or FSEOG, can offer between $100 and $4,000, depending on several factors. These are campus based programs, so the financial aid policies and availability of funds of the specific school are major factors. The time of year the student applies and the degree of the student’s financial need are also determinants. The FSEOG is designed to supplement the Pell Grant, so students must also be Pell Grant recipients.
State Grants for College Students
Almost every state in the union has a plethora of grants available for college students. Some are based on financial need, while others are for students majoring in high demand areas, such as nursing or teaching. While students need to research the grants available from their specific state, here are some examples of grants that are available on the state level.
Oklahoma offers the Oklahoma Tuition Aid Grant, or OTAG, that can provide up to $1,300 per year for students who can demonstrate financial need. The Oklahoma Equalization Grant offers economic assistance to students who wish to attend a private university or college. While financial need is a factor, many middle-class students can also qualify for these grants, which are limited to a maximum of $2,000 per year.
Alaska offers the AlaskAdvantage Grant in amounts between $500 and $2,000 for students who have financial need to attend a state university or college. The program is limited to undergraduates who are residents of the state.
Texas offers numerous grants, both general and career based. One of the most popular is the Texas Educational Opportunity Grant Program, or TEOG. It is designed for students who do not already have any level of degree and who attend public 2-year colleges. The amount of the award is determined annually, but is intended to cover all tuition and mandatory fees.
New Mexico offers the College Affordability Grant to non-traditional students, typically older students, who can show financial need. The New Mexico Student Incentive Grant offers from $200 to $2,500 for students at a state university who can show economic need. And the Legislative Endowment Grant can provide up to $2,500 for financially disadvantaged students to attend a state university or public college either part time or full time.
Minnesota offers several general grants that are based on financial need. The Minnesota State Grant is designed to assist lower to middle income students who attend a state university full time. The Child Care Grant helps students with children by covering child care costs so that the parent can attend a state university full time.
The Alliss Opportunity Grant Program provides assistance to adult students without a degree who have not been enrolled in college for at least seven years. The grant is not available for students attending private universities. And Minnesota’s Dislocated Workers Grant Program is also geared for adult students, but targets those who must receive training in a new field due to being displaced in the workforce.
Degree Specific Grants
Many states, as well as private foundations, offer grants for students who are willing to pursue degrees in critical fields. Most require that the student demonstrate financial need, but some do not. The areas with the most available grants are:
- Physical and Occupational Therapy
In addition, women, particularly minority women, can find numerous grants in the fields of law, journalism, and business.
There are also many categories of special grants offered by numerous states. For example, there are grants for those leaving the foster care system, as well as for the children of state or local police officers.
Some grants are available from the federal government, such as the SMART grant, and others are offered at the state level. Still others are provided by corporate sponsors, such as IBM, Bell Labs, and Lucent Technologies.
How to Apply for Grants
The starting point for federal and state grants is the FAFSA, or Free Application for Student Aid. This can be completed online or at the financial aid office of the selected university or college.
Before beginning, gather all information needed. These will include the student’s prior year’s income tax return (or parents’ if a dependent). Generally speaking, students are considered emancipated if over the age of 21, married, or a current or former member of the military.
On the FAFSA site, search for the codes for the schools to receive the results. A PIN allows students to return to their applications and check the status or make changes.
The FAFSA will ask questions about income, marital status, and the number of dependents in the family. It will also ask how many other college students are in the immediate family. Once all of the questions have been answered, the application is signed and submitted electronically.
Apply as soon as possible for grants. Federal deadlines are usually the end of June prior to the beginning of a new school year in the fall. State deadlines vary, but many are much sooner, some as early as March. Additionally, state funds can be quickly depleted, and students may find that all disbursements have been made well in advance of the beginning of term.
Corporate grants, or those offered by private organizations, normally have their own set of application protocol. You can usually find the details and the application on the company’s website.
What Other Sources of Funding Are Available?
Do not neglect to pursue scholarships as a source of college funding that does not have to be repaid. Many are available from the state and federal governments, while others are offered by a specific university. Some require financial need, but others do not. Here are a few examples of available scholarships.
The Anita Borg Scholarship is geared toward women pursuing degrees in computer engineering.
American indian Science & Engineering
The American Indian Science and Engineering Society offers scholarships at both the undergraduate and graduate levels for Native Americans who wish to pursue an engineering degree and can demonstrate financial need.
IBM offers paid internships to minority engineering students, specifically Hispanics, Native Americans, and African Americans.
On the state level, Texas offers several career based scholarships. For example, accounting students beginning their fifth year are eligible for a $3,000 Fifth Year Accounting Student Scholarship provided they give a written statement of intent to take their CPA exam in Texas. Students of library science who are fluent in both English and Spanish can apply for a scholarship designed to increase the number of bilingual librarians in the state, the Jeanette Marquis Memorial MLS Scholarship.
Nevada offers the Governor Guinn Millennium Scholarship Program for high school seniors with excellent academic achievements. Students should be interested in a four year degree program, with a major already selected. The scholarship primarily covers the cost of tuition.
Louisiana offers the Rockefeller Wildlife Scholarship to residents of the state who are seeking degrees in forestry or wildlife management. This renewable scholarship is available for undergraduates only.
Other State Programs
Many states offer scholarships for education students who commit to teaching in specific fields, such as science or mathematics, or in specific areas, either rural or inner city. Depending on the particular needs of the state, scholarships are also available in fields such as veterinary medicine, nursing, and physical therapy.
Numerous states offer scholarships or student loan repayment for students who agree to teach for a certain number of years in the state. Subjects and areas are usually restricted, but it is not uncommon for someone who teaches for 5 years in a participating state to have all of their student loans repaid.
There are also scholarships offered for children of specific groups. For instance, in the state of Oklahoma, children of those killed in the 1995 bombing are eligible for scholarships. Many states also provide scholarships for children of first responders killed in the line of duty.
Family History & Other Factors
Ancestry can also provide an avenue for scholarships. Descendants of certain veterans may find themselves eligible for financial aid based on a grandfather’s participation in a named battle or military unit. There are also scholarships available for children of military personnel killed in recent wars. Some examples would scholarships offered by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (for women who can prove descent from a veteran of the Confederate army) or those offered by the Daughters of the American Revolution to both males and females to pursue assorted courses of study.
Not all states restrict scholarships to current residents. Many are open to anyone who wishes to attend college in their state, and some even encourage students to transfer. For example, the state of Oklahoma offers scholarships to students enrolled in chiropractic schools in other states if they will transfer to Oklahoma.
Some scholarships are administered by universities, and financial aid departments are the best source for determining eligibility and making application. Students can also search online to find scholarships to which they wish to apply.
What about Student Loans?
All other avenues of potential funding, such as grants and scholarships, should be exhausted before resorting to loans. The obvious reason is that grants and scholarships never have to be repaid, while student loans do. Many graduates have found themselves in the position of beginning life saddled with ten years worth of monthly payments in the $300 – $400 range. And these are not payments that can be ignored. Income tax refunds can be garnisheed if the loan is in default, and in most states, so can wages.
However, if there is no other choice, student loans do provide a means of financing a college education. They should be used with caution, and only taken for the amount that is absolutely required.
One FAFSA application will serve for grants as well as student loans.