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The most sought-out scholarships for college education funding are grants, as they do not need to be repaid. Especially in tough economic periods, receiving free money for college will be highly competitive, so the sooner you apply, the more chances you will have.

The most popular grants are broken down by the federal, state and college level. These tend to be more generous, and fortunately, there are other funding sources outside these main categories. Students possessing particular, unique attributes or skills are eligible for a multitude of scholarships. Student loans should always be kept at a minimum or avoided if possible when financing college education, and there are ample opportunities to accomplish that.

Applying for Grants

The first step in applying for grants, especially federally-funded awards, is filling out a FAFSA, which comes up with the student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC). That EFC will determine what the government expects from you financially when funding college education. The students needing financial assistance the most will be eligible for grant funding on the federal level; although students pursuing high-needs fields will have a plethora of options for grant funding. Private group grants will typically have applications that look for: need, academic experience, or major study interests.

Federal Grants

The most popular federal grant is the Pell Grant. Students determine their eligibility by completing their FAFSA. A student’s EFC is compared to their Cost of Attendance (COA). Students whose families whose income is approximately $50,000 may be eligible for the need-based funding; though most Pell grant money goes to students with a total family income below $20,000. These grants go primarily to undergraduates, although some students receive Pell funding to help pay for their first professional degrees. The grants depend on federal funding. The maximum Pell grant for the 2015-2016 school year is $5,775. The total funding available to colleges is determined by government funding, and most students receive less than the maximum.

Students who are eligible for Pell Grants may also receive funding through other grants, including the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) program. This grant is for undergraduates with the greatest unmet financial need, and students can earn up to $4,000 depending on the intended college and EFC.

State-Sponsored Grants

Other specific criteria that tend to be awarded are minority demographics and interest in high-needs fields. For example, Texas students who have been in the foster care system and are between 16-23 years old may be eligible for the Education and Training Vouchers for Youths Aging out of Foster Care program, if they attend Texas colleges. Contact state-based educational organizations, local higher education assistance foundations, your high school and your intended college for up-to-date state-based grant opportunities. Many scholarships are also grouped by state, and easily found via scholarship search.

College-Based Grants

Most colleges will have funding available to assist low-income students in attending their school. The first step in applying for these grants is usually filling out a FAFSA to determine the student’s need. Grants may also be awarded based on merit, field of study or student-specific criteria. Athletic grants may supplement sports scholarships at schools to draw the most talented athletes to a college, and will usually require a minimum GPA in addition to high-level sports talent. As funding is usually supported by endowments, funding levels for college-based grants may vary year to year. Contact your intended college or start with a college search to find out more information about college-based grants.

Career Specific Grants

Grants awarded to students interested in pursuing a particular career have become more common as there has been an increased need for new hires in particular fields. The federally-funded Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant Program, for example, provides grants of up to $4,000 for those who intend to teach in low-income school districts. Grants targeting nursing students include the Nursing Scholarship Program through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which rewards prospective nurses with a monthly stipend and covers tuition and fees in exchange for two years of service at a health care facility where there is a nursing shortage. Both teachers and nurses also have a number of scholarship opportunities available to them, as the two fields are currently in high demand.

Grants by Degree Level

Most grants target undergraduates, as they are primarily a needs-based population. High school students relying on scholarships and grants to cover tuition not addressed through student loans should apply to those funding sources early and often. The first step will be filling out a FAFSA to determine whether you’re eligible for federal, state and college-based grant funding. Incoming freshmen with relatively certain career choices may be eligible for other grants depending on their situation.

Though they are harder to find, graduate student grants are generous. Graduate grants will often not only fund your education, but help pay for internships, career-advancement opportunities and research positions that give graduates valuable experience once completing the program. If you’re a returning student, check with your employer. Often, private companies will offer scholarship and grant opportunities for employees looking to further their educations with master’s degrees, and may even offer a pay bump after completing the program. Such programs usually require service repayment – if you take money from a particular company or organization, anticipate working for them post-graduation.

Student Specific Grants

As with scholarships, there are grants available for a multitude of criteria. Whether you come from a military family or a low-income family, play the tuba or have survived cancer, chances are there is a grant you qualify for. Make a list of your unique attributes, interests, and skills, and investigate the major organizations, local groups and private corporations that fund higher education with respects to this criteria.

Minority grants are the most common, student-specific awards. Many organizations fund groups that have been traditionally underserved in higher education- all to entice more minorities to attend college. The United Negro College Fund for African Americans, for example, mainly awards students attending historically black colleges. Students with disabilities also have many options to not only help pay for school, but to cover special accommodations without paying out-of-pocket. Thanks to the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1975, schools are more cognizant of students with special needs.

Unique Grants

As scholarships come in all shapes and sizes, so do grants. What is good about unique hobbies like rocketry or writing haikus is that they are less competitive than needs-based or minority-based grants. Consider what makes you unique and search beyond the resume when seeking grants. Consider contacting local organizations if your field of interest is particularly unique. You may be eligible for more funding than is advertised by your intended college.

Last Edited: August 2015

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