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Applying for Grants

Although finding money for college is not easy, it is not as difficult as many claim it to be. As with college scholarships, grants are free money awards that do not need repayment. Since many will qualify for some level of grant funding, make sure to conduct your research to see how much you’re eligible to receive. This will help keep your student loan debt at a manageable level post-graduation. Grants can vary from hundreds of dollars to free rides, so make sure to take advantage of the opportunities in funding your college education through grants.

Know the Basics

The first step in applying for most grants, particularly federally-funded awards, is completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The application calculates your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which will determine what the government expects from you financially. The results of your FAFSA, which is seen on the Student Aid Report (SAR) sent to you, will provide a better idea as to what grants you could receive from the government, the state, and your prospective college. Some state-sponsored or college-based grants will require additional applications for their grant funding, since many have academic requirements outside of any need-based qualifications. Pay attention to the details of each award you’re going for so that you don’t submit an incomplete application. Grant funding waits for no one. Funding levels of federal grants change annually, so if you apply after the deadline or too late in the season, you may be out of luck.

Am I eligible?

The students in most financial need will be eligible for the most grant funding on the federal level. Federal Pell Grant recipients, for example, take into account both the student’s and that student’s parents’ income levels. Most Pell grant money goes to students with a total family income below $20,000. Those found eligible for Pell Grants may also find themselves eligible for other grants, including the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) program, Academic Competitiveness Grant and the National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grant. Most colleges will also have a pool of funding available to assist low-income students in attending their school.

While the vast majority of grants are need-based, there are those that focus on student-specific characteristics. The most popular grants are broken down by the federal, state and college level; but many private organizations and local groups have established funds to support higher education. Students pursuing fields where graduate students are needed may also find a plethora of options for grant funding. Many states offer grants to students based on specific criteria, such as whether the student is a minority or planning to pursue a particular high-need field, especially if that state has particular high-needs fields. Grants are very specific, so focus on the ones you are likely to receive. Be sure to read the fine print, as well. Some grants will be awarded with the understanding that you will contribute back to the grant provider, such as spending several years teaching in a high-needs school district. Conducting your own research will allow you to maximize your chances of not only landing more free money, but learning all the possibilities out there.

Last Edited: July 2015

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