Among the many complaints voiced by students in need of federal aid are those concerning insufficient Pell Grant awards and a lack of consideration for students who are smart, but not exactly the braniac kind of smart. These are valid worries, and while they have not been tended to fully, the SMART Grant is a start.
Approved by the Senate in late December of 2005, the relatively new SMART Grant allows students who have demonstrated financial need to receive over and above their annual Pell Grant limit. Eligible students may receive up to $4,000 in SMART Grant money just by filling out a FAFSA.
Because the SMART Grant has been largely overshadowed by the more common and better-known Pell Grant, many students are unfamiliar with the award. The SMART Grant can more than double a student's grant money, but there are a number of stipulations that considerably narrow the eligibility pool.
To be eligible for the SMART Grant, students must have already demonstrated sufficient financial need and must have been eligible for the Pell Grant. But that in itself is not enough. Students must also be majoring in the physical, life, or computer sciences, mathematics, technology, engineering or in a foreign language determined critical to national security. To show that they are dedicated to graduating with a degree in one of the aforementioned fields, students must have already completed the first two years of their undergraduate program—while maintaining at minimum 3.0 GPA. Additionally, students must be enrolled full time and must be taking at least one course required for the completion of their major during the term the grant is received.
Assuming the student meets all of the above criteria, the SMART Grant can make a big difference in an individual's ability to cover college costs. A Pell Grant award may not exceed $3,410 for the 2007-2008 schools year, an amount unlikely to cover annual college tuition, let alone fees and living expenses. An extra $4,000 would certainly make a difference.