Your Guide to College Grants
Finding the money to pay for a decent college education can seem like a daunting task, especially for students that come from low-income families. Thankfully, grants can ease the burden, and in some cases, they can help students to pay for an education they never thought they could afford.
Grant or Scholarship?
Grants and scholarships are often discussed concurrently. It’s reasonable, as they do have some similarities, but the attributes of a grant could make that option a little better for some students. Neither require repayment. Frequently, scholarships are based on merit or exceptional achievement, whereas grants are often based on financial need.
Often based on merit or achievement
Don’t require repayment
Based solely on need
Don’t require excellent grades or athletic ability
Don’t require repayment
If grants are based solely on need, determining a family’s financial health becomes vital, and it’s also vital for schools to use the same metric when comparing the needs of multiple students. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is designed to do just that, and students are required to fill this form out each year. Many of them comply. Not surprisingly, officials receive hundreds of thousands of these forms each year.
Students who fill out the FAFSA aren’t just applying for federal aid. In fact, these numbers could determine their eligibility for all sorts of funds, including those from the private sector. But many of the largest grants do come from federal sources.
Federal Pell Grants are granted to undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need and don’t already have a bachelor’s degree or a professional degree. Help from a Pell Grant can be vital, but the American Association of State Colleges and Universities suggests that the percentage of tuition covered by a grant like this has declined with time to only 36% of the cost. For comparison, in 1976 these grants covered nearly 72% of the cost.
This money is also remarkably portable, as students can use a Pell Grant at almost any institution that accepts federal sources of financial aid. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are over 6,000 schools that fall into this category.
There are other federal programs that may also be used in institutions like this, and these grants might be enticing to people who may or may not qualify for a Pell Grant.
Even so, the Pell Grant program has the ability to reach 9.7 million students and provide very real help – to the tune of $33.4 billion.
Other Federal Grants
The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant is designed for undergraduate students who can demonstrate a level of financial need that officials deem “exceptional.” The amount of money given can vary dramatically from $100 to $4,000, depending on the level of need a student shows, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Similarly, the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant is designed to help low-income students become teachers, but they must take specific classes in order to get the grant, and they must accept work after graduation in a high-need field, such as:
- Foreign languages
- Special education
- Bilingual education
- English as a second language
And rounding out the list of federal grants, the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant is specifically designed to assist those students who have lost a parent due to the military action in Iraq or Afghanistan. Statistics seem to suggest that many students could benefit from this particular grant.
According to Ambulatory Pediatrics, an estimated 1,600 children lost a parent in these wars.
While federal grants might be plentiful, they aren’t the only source of funds for students in need. In fact, there are quite a few state grants that could be helpful. For instance, Virginia gives undergraduate grants up to $3,100 and graduate ones up to $1,500. In Texas, grants are awarded from $2,400 to $7,400.
Undergraduate Students: $3,100
Graduate Students: $1,500
State College Students: $7,400
Community College Students: $2,400
Technical College Students: $4,400
There are also grants that are based on some aspect of a student’s life, such as a student’s:
- Cultural affinity
- Work background
- Family circumstance
- Chosen course of study
These grants can be just as beneficial as those handed out by the federal government. For example, the Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Foundation offers education grants to low-income women with children – Up to $3,000 award for this program.
Myths about Grants
The idea of obtaining a specific amount of money that never has to be paid back sounds too good to be true, and as a result, there are a number of myths about how grants work that tend to circulate through cyberspace. These myths could keep students from applying for the assistance they need, and it’s worth putting them to rest as a result.
For example, some students don’t apply for grants because they believe the amount of money available declines each and every year. This just isn’t true, according to the National Association of College and University Business Offices as reported by Inside Higher Ed.
These are “record numbers,” the experts point out, and they come about due to price sensitivity from students and their parents. As more of these families become adept at parsing their choices, they may come to demand grants in order to choose one school over another. The institutions seem willing to comply.
Students also (wrongly) believe that their changing circumstances don’t merit another visit to the financial aid office. These students could be missing out on money they could use to fund their educations.
According to the U.S. Department of Education as reported by University Business, students should contact their financial aid office when severe financial difficulties strike, such as:
- Employment changes
- Death of a breadwinner
- Unexpected medical bills due to a costly illness
The Pell Grant is provided to each student who qualifies, so when a student’s financial circumstances change drastically, it pays to get in touch with the financial aid office in order to leverage any and all available sources of funding.