Complete guide to grants for students
The cost of a college education is steadily rising, actually tripling over the last 20 years. The current average cost of college in the U.S. is approaching $36,000 per student per year, with public schools costing around $25,000 and private schools costing about $54,000 per year. Multiply that by 4 years and the price of a college education can become staggering.
If like many students, you’re actively seeking ways to help pay for your education, accept that the process may feel daunting or confusing. One thing you might not know is that grants are a great way to help bring down the overall cost of earning your college degree. A grant is a type of funding offered by a government body, an organization, or another entity. While many students take advantage of the financial opportunities offered to them, statistics show that more than $2 billion in student grants goes unclaimed each year. This is essentially free money left on the table.
Types of grants
Grants decrease the total cost of your college education, and come with the added benefit that the money doesn’t need to be repaid. They can significantly reduce the amount you need to borrow in loans that need to be paid back upon graduation.
Where do grants come from?
Grants come from many sources. They are offered by the federal government, individual states, colleges, and third-party organizations. Every year, money is allocated to state and local governments for education grants. It is anticipated that a huge surge in available funds is coming. For instance, in 2012, there was roughly $70 million whereas, in 2022, the figure is estimated to be closer to $150 million. This means a larger pool of students may receive funding due to additional monies being made available.
Federal grants come from the U.S. government. To qualify, students must meet specific criteria, such as financial need, being on a certain college curriculum path, being a member of a specific military service, or pursuing a career in teaching. Here, we take a look in more detail at the different types of federal grants available.
Federal Pell Grant
Undergraduate students in financial need who haven’t yet earned an advanced degree may be eligible for a Pell Grant. Most students who receive a Pell Grant have a total family income of $20,000 or less. However, students whose families have a total household income of up to $50,000 may also be eligible.
To apply for a Pell Grant, you must fill out a Free Application For Student Aid (FAFSA) form. You can reapply for a Pell Grant every year, but to maintain eligibility, you must fill out the FAFSA annually and continue to meet income criteria as defined by the federal government.
While most colleges and universities base their need-based giving on the FAFSA application, a growing number of school ask that students fill out College Board’s CSS profile in order to determine additional financial-aid eligibility.
Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)
The FSEOG is a type of grant that provides financial assistance to low-income undergraduate students who need more financial help than the total amount allowed by a Pell Grant. Many colleges participate in the FSEOG grant program, but it’s important to understand that not all of them do. If your college does participate, this grant is administered by its financial aid office which will evaluate your eligibility and financial need.
Many colleges participate in the FSEOG grant program, but it’s important to understand that not all of them do.
If you qualify for the FSEOG, your school may award you anywhere between $100 and $4,000 per year. To apply for this grant, you must fill out the FAFSA and attend a school that participates in this grant program. Apply early, because the money allotted for this program is limited and may run out quickly. Be sure to check your school’s deadline and apply as soon as possible. You can apply for this grant each year and will be awarded based on your eligibility and other school-based factors, such as how much funding is left.
Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants
Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants are available for students who lost a parent or guardian to military service in Iraq or Afghanistan following the 9/11 terror attacks. This grant money is stipulated for students who were younger than 24 or enrolled in college (at least part-time) at the time their parent or guardian died. Students must also meet all Federal Pell Grant eligibility requirements except the expected family contribution requirement. Those eligible for a Pell Grant cannot receive the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant. To apply for the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant, you must fill out the FAFSA. To receive future funding, you must continue to submit a new FAFSA every year while in school, up to 12 semesters.
Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant
TEACH Grants are offered to students who commit themselves to teaching for 4 years — at an elementary or secondary school or an educational agency that serves a low-income community — upon graduation. Students who qualify can receive up to $4,000 a year if they enroll in a TEACH grant-eligible program. To meet TEACH grant requirements, you’ll need to submit the FAFSA and meet basic eligibility criteria for federal student aid programs. This grant can be awarded to you each year, but you have to reapply annually, along with resubmitting a new Agreement to Serve with each application.
Students who qualify can receive up to $4,000 a year if they enroll in a TEACH grant-eligible program.
To maintain eligibility, continue to meet the grant’s requirements and maintain a GPA of at least 3.25. If you fail to fulfill your end of the agreement by not maintaining the minimum GPA or not serving at an approved teaching position for 4 years following graduation, you have to pay back the awarded money, with interest.
State governments have designated financial resources they set aside each year. Not all state grants are created equal — eligibility and award amounts may drastically vary depending the criteria each state sets. Typically, to apply for these grants, you’ll need to start by filling out the FAFSA. Check what else may be required, because some states have additional grant applications that need to be filled out before students are considered for grant money.
Visit your state’s higher education website to learn more about any financial need-based or merit-based grant programs that you may qualify for.
Individual schools also offer numerous different grants. These grants are usually a combination of financial need and merit-based opportunities. Students who qualify for federal grants are typically well-positioned to receive a need-based state grant. Students not in financial need may still be eligible for merit-based grants. To be awarded one or more state-funded or merit-based grants, you generally have to meet very specific criteria for each type or maintain a certain GPA. School grant criteria may include:
- being required to live on campus
- belonging to a minority group
- having served as a veteran
- struggling with a severe medical condition
- having a disability
- being a mature student
- pursuing a specific degree program
- enrolling in a high-need field of study
Some state grants may determine student eligibility based on a combination of criteria (e.g., a female student, pursuing a technology degree program). To learn more about what opportunities might be available, start by contacting your school’s financial aid office.
How are grants different from scholarships?
Grants and scholarships are similar in that they both offer students money that doesn’t need to be repaid, unlike student loans. However, some grants do need to be paid back, with interest, if the student fails to maintain the required eligibility criteria. The biggest difference between grants and scholarships is that grants are typically awarded based on financial need, whereas scholarships can be need or merit-based, depending on the stipulations set by the awarding entity. Students can and often do qualify for both grants and scholarships. As you pursue your financial aid options, it’s a good idea to explore many possibilities to help bring down the overall cost of your education.
When you may have to repay a grant
For the most part, grants don’t need to be paid back. However, there are certain circumstances in which a student is required to pay back any education money gifted to them. Some common examples of this could include:
- changing your enrollment status — usually, this occurs if you decrease your number of credit hours, e.g., go from full time to part time, in which case you might still qualify for a portion of your grant, but you’d have to repay the rest
- withdrawing early from the degree program you were in when you were offered the grant
- receiving grants and scholarships that eliminate or reduce your need for federal student aid
- being offered a TEACH Grant, but not meeting the requirements and obligations associated with the grant
Any time you accept grant money, be sure you fully understand the terms associated with the monetary award and then make certain you fulfill your end of the agreement. Otherwise, the consequences could be costly, and result in you carrying debt you didn’t anticipate.
How to get grants for college
If you want to pursue grant options to help you pay for your college tuition and other expenses, you have to take specific actions to be considered for a monetary award.
Fill out the FASFA.
This is the standard application you need to obtain any form of financial aid. Once you fill out the form, the government, states, and colleges use the information you provide to determine your eligibility for grant aid. The FAFSA can be completed online or through the myStudentAid app, available on both Android and Apple devices.
Fill out additional forms.
Different scholarships may require a variety of forms to be filled out. In addition to the FAFSA, be sure to check with the awarding entity to see what they require.
Complete additional tasks.
Before applying for any grant, be sure to thoroughly read all the requirements and steps. You may need to complete additional tasks, such as writing an essay, supplying transcripts, or answering certain questions.
To learn more about grant opportunities, you can explore the U.S. Department of Education website, which offers information on a variety of financial opportunities for students. You can also learn more about laws and data relating to financial aid opportunities and keep up with education news.