All About Grants for College Students
Getting into college is problematic for many aspiring students, not just because of their grades. Higher education is expensive in the U.S. According to a report, the 2021-2022 school year has an average tuition cost of over $43,000 for private colleges.
Public schools aren’t cheap either, with tuition and fees surpassing $28,000 for the 2021-2022 school year. This marks a 2% increase from the previous year. This kind of financial responsibility can be overwhelming.
Luckily, student loans and a wealthy family aren’t the only ways to get into a good college and minimize the costs. Various grants for college education exist for students as alternative financial aid forms. There are many ways to pay for college without taking on massive loans.
Why is it essential to get a grant if you’re eligible? Unlike loans and even some scholarships, college grants rarely, if ever, have to be paid back. Students pursuing a grant rarely have to worry about making repayments.
Of course, grants for college education are unlikely to cover the full tuition. But they still provide substantial financial support, and schools should therefore encourage students to apply for as many grants for college as possible.
On that note, here are the basic eligibility criteria and the types of grants you need to know about. What is also important to note is that most grants have a free application. It doesn’t require anything for high school seniors to apply.
Grants vs. Other Funding Methods
Before discussing grant types for a secondary school in more detail, it’s crucial to understand how this form of funding differs from the rest.
Scholarships and grants are often used interchangeably. But while there are similarities, the two are very different.
To qualify for a scholarship, a student must meet specific performance requirements. Some scholarships are only awarded for getting specific grades or achievements.
But students can also apply for sports scholarships which could be awarded on talent alone.
The average amount awarded per graduate student was around $9,500 in 2019. Since then, there has been a slight increase.
Scholarships can come from various sources, like grants, as you’ll soon find out.
However, here come the differences.
A scholarship is either merit, talent, performance-based, or a combination of all. A grant is almost always awarded based on financial need. It has nothing to do with academic or athletic achievements and potential.
Performance, conduct, and merit can play a role in maintaining eligibility after receiving a grant. Still, they rarely matter during the application process.
Finally, you have the dreaded student loans.
Unlike scholarships and grants for college, student loans are a very different form of funding.
They can be issued by private lenders or the government, but the main difference is that they have to be repaid within a set time frame.
In addition, student loans will charge interest like most types of loans.
Although they can allow students to pursue an education in the short term, the long-term financial effects can be devastating in some cases. Thus, calling a student loan a form of financial aid wouldn’t be accurate. Instead, it’s mostly a funding method.
Loans also differ from scholarships and grants for college for another reason. The eligibility criteria are based on the applicant’s ability to repay the loan. This often involves having a parent or guardian co-sign the loan.
Federal and private lenders have little interest in academic accomplishments, merits, or the chosen discipline.
Therefore, getting a grant is one of two ways to reduce your education costs and expenses with non-refundable funding.
The Baseline Criteria for Most Grants
Every applicant must demonstrate financial need to be considered for a federal, state, or institutional grant. However, this might not be an essential factor for private grants.
U.S. citizenship automatically qualifies applicants for educational financial aid. However, it’s also possible to be eligible as a non-U.S. citizen. This means that permanent residents, refugees, and other criteria can allow various students to obtain grant money and reduce their education costs.
A valid SSN will be necessary to apply, as will either enrollment or acceptance into a school. This is often a misunderstood part of grant applications. Many students set out trying to find the money before getting into their desired program.
However, you can only apply and receive an award after being accepted by the school.
Obviously, this satisfies other requirements like having a GED, high school diploma, and other qualifications.
With that said, every grant can have unique criteria that applicants must meet to access financial aid funds.
Federal Pell Grants
These are the most common grants for college that undergraduate students apply for. They’re expressly awarded to those with exceptional financial needs who don’t have professional or bachelor’s degrees.
The application process for this grant is pretty simple. It starts with a free submission to FAFSA and completing the form.
The amount can differ from one calendar year to the next in terms of money. For instance, the maximum amount awarded under this grant for the 2022 – 2023 school year is $6,495.
Although that’s the ceiling, every student has their maximum grant award calculated based on several factors.
The cost of attendance and the expected family contribution help determine the maximum Federal Pell Grant award based on the program. Additionally, the full-time or part-time status and the length of the program can also influence the final number.
What’s interesting about this grant is that students can receive more money than their maximum calculated total. For instance, a student who only qualifies for a $2,000 grant can receive an additional $1,000 in financial aid if they meet specific criteria.
However, no student may receive more than the predetermined $6,495 or multiple Federal Pell Grants from different schools.
It’s essential to know how grants for college payments are made. Once you are awarded a grant, the payments can be arranged as follows:
- Schools directly apply for the grant money and subtract it from the tuition cost
- You can get the grant money and pay the school yourself
A combination of these methods can also work. Although, it’s probably best if the school handles everything so that students aren’t tempted to spend the grant money on something other than their tuition.
FSEOG – Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants
The FSEOG Grant awards less money to students with exceptional financial needs compared to the Federal Pell Grant. Students can’t receive more than $4,000 through this grant program.
There are two key considerations here. The first is that fewer schools are participating members of the program.
That means your school selection will play a significant role in how much grant money you can get to offset tuition costs.
Secondly, schools only get limited FSEOG funds. Hence, it’s important to apply as early as possible, and here’s why.
- With the Federal Pell Grant, you don’t have to worry about how many other students receive the award.
- Everyone who qualifies for the grant will get their financial support.
- Under the FSEOG program, a school’s funds can run out. If enough students have been awarded grants, late applicants might meet all eligibility criteria but see no money in return.
The reason for this is simple. The Pell Grant is federal financial aid, while FSEOG is financial aid provided by educational institutions.
Of course, you can reapply the following year as all grants are given on a per-year basis.
The applications for the FSEOG are carried out through the FAFSA platform. That’s because colleges need to make their own determinations as to how much money you need.
Now for some good news.
A student can qualify and receive both a Federal Pell Grant and an FSEOG, thus benefiting from two grants for college and reducing their tuition and expenses significantly.
Additionally, a Pell Grant recipient is more likely to get awarded an FSEOG as long as they apply while the school still has funds left to distribute.
This prioritization is excellent as it gives even more financial aid to students who really need it. It’s better than splitting the funds between too many applicants to the point where no one is getting substantial assistance.
TEACH – Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education
The TEACH grant is for a specific category of students. This federal grant program is designed to help students pursue a teaching career.
Undergraduate, graduate and postbaccalaureate applicants can qualify for this program.
Of course, some of the same baseline criteria for federal student grants will apply.
But what’s different about this grant is that it’s conditional. In fact, other grants for college only care about what the student does while enrolled.
Students must fulfill a teaching obligation with the TEACH Grant after finishing their studies.
This usually involves working in a teaching capacity for at least four years after graduating. While it sounds challenging to meet the demand, there is some leeway.
Grant recipients have up to eight years from the moment of graduation to satisfy this requirement.
Furthermore, most TEACH Grants are only awarded if applicants commit to serving as full-time teachers and pursuing a career in an in-demand field. Educational institutions and agencies serving low-income students are also targeted.
The idea here is to give back for the help you’ve received.
In addition, students have to meet various academic requirements, such as a cumulative GPA of 3.25 and above, scoring in a specific percentile in certain disciplines, etc.
It’s essential to get more detailed information from the colleges to understand what’s expected to maintain eligibility.
The TEACH program awards grants of up to $4,000 per year in terms of money.
This may not sound like much, but it can be combined with other grants. For example, someone pursuing a career in teaching might want to strongly consider applying for a TEACH Grant and others if they meet the criteria.
TEACH Grant Agreement
Whenever you receive a grant, you sign an agreement. After all, you have to maintain specific criteria to keep your eligibility.
But due to the different structure of this grant, the agreement covers post-graduate obligations.
Why do students have to sign this?
It’s the government’s way of getting them to hold up their end of the bargain. For example, suppose TEACH grants for college don’t fulfill their four-year obligation as teachers within the given time frame. In that case, the grant will be converted into a loan.
This can significantly impact the graduate’s financial situation because all unsubsidized loans have to be paid with interest.
With that said, the agreement or decision can be contested.
Anyone who can prove they have been meeting their service obligations can ask for reconsideration.
Loans can be changed back into grants, but it always depends on what the recipient can argue in their favor.
What Are the TEACH Program’s Areas of Interest?
Not anyone aspiring to become a teacher can benefit from a TEACH Grant.
This form of financial aid is aimed at high-interest or high-need fields. It’s the government’s intent to help train more teachers and educators in specific areas.
Therefore, the grant money is a subtle attempt at guiding recipients toward a specific career path. Should they decide to switch, the government will make back its money with interest.
Usually, high-need fields include foreign languages, special education, science, mathematics, and others.
Every year, applicants can check the Teacher Shortage Area, and Nationwide Listing. This comprehensive report defines and shines a light on high-need fields based on the number of available educators and other factors.
Receiving a TEACH Grant will have a lot to do with what discipline you choose covered in that list.
Note that whether your area of expertise will still be considered a high-need field or not after you graduate isn’t essential.
What’s essential is that it’s considered as such when you sign the TEACH Grant Agreement.
Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants
As the name suggests, this grant type comes with precise eligibility requirements. The grant is only awarded to students with a deceased parent or a legal guardian who died as a member of the U.S. armed forces.
Furthermore, the death must have occurred due to military service in Iraq or Afghanistan, post 9/11. Service fulfilled before the attacks or death outside of military deployment won’t qualify students for the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants.
It’s also important to note that one of the eligibility criteria requires applicants to be either under 24 or already enrolled in college when their parent or guardian died.
This grant can be beneficial because it can still be awarded even if a student doesn’t qualify for a Federal Pell Grant. So even if the expected family contribution is sufficient to cover most of the tuition costs, Iraq and Afghanistan Service grants for college can still be awarded.
Compared to the Pell Grant, the Iraq and Afghanistan Service’s maximum awarded amount is $6,124.
One of the most crucial aspects to understand is the interaction with the Federal Pell Grant.
The student must be deemed ineligible for the Pell Grant to receive the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant.
If you already qualify for that grant, you can’t benefit from this one, or at least not the total amount.
But the calculations for the Federal Pell Grant are based on various factors. In extreme cases of financial need, students can get the full $6,495.
For most, it’s usually lower.
However, say a student meets the military service criteria of the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant. Then, they can get a higher Federal Pell Grant. It’s a contributing factor that’s worth taking into account, even if you can’t combine both grants.
Other Grants You Should Know About
Many more options are available if you don’t qualify for a federal grant or need more money to cover your tuition and education expenses.
Here are some of the things you can do.
Apply for State Grants
Almost every state has an elaborate grant program that doesn’t depend on the federal government. Instead, state authorities determine and distribute the funds for state grants. For this reason, the eligibility criteria can be very different.
For example, some state grant programs only accept applicants who can commit to staying in the state and working there after graduating.
This is similar to how TEACH Grant Agreements work, but it can include other professions.
In general, state grants have the most varied criteria, and crossing borders can expose students to an entirely different set of requirements to receive financial aid.
When it comes to money, the amount isn’t always substantial. For example, based on their unique calculation formulas, around 20 states only award up to $500 per student in grant money.
However, you also have states like Georgia which average up to $2,000 in grant money per student.
In any event, subsidizing your federal financial aid with a state grant is worth considering when every penny counts.
Seek Out Private Grants
For a long time, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and wealthy individuals have sponsored students. Therefore, private grants have remained an excellent way to minimize education costs and expenses.
Furthermore, private grants can be considerably more generous than government or educational institutions offer.
Throughout the country, you can find private grants from the following benefactors:
- Philanthropic and religious institutions
- Advocacy groups
- Trade unions
Unfortunately, the system isn’t perfect. While the private grants for college generally cover more, there aren’t many of them to go around.
Sometimes, finding private grants can be an exercise in patience, research skills, and networking.
That said, someone with exceptional financial needs might have the necessary motivation to identify and explore all funding options.
Apply for a School Grant
Most colleges have their own grant funds set aside for various students. However, this money doesn’t overlap with FSEOG funds.
In many cases, the school grants award recipients more money than the federal programs.
A College Board report showed that grant aid from schools and colleges had increased substantially in the previous decade.
In 2020, schools offered an average of $17,250 in grant money per student. The same report showed that this resulted in a 72% increase between 2010 and 2020.
Naturally, researching school grants makes perfect sense.
Schools receive funds from various benefactors. Some institutions and individuals actually prefer donating money for schools to distribute as grants instead of setting up private grants.
Of course, the eligibility requirements can differ wildly depending on the state, school profile, and other factors.
What’s essential to understand is that these grants exist and can cover a wide range of needs.
Some schools have grants for low-income students who need laptops. It’s not a lot of money, but it’s a welcomed financial aid that can help those with exceptional financial needs get what they need to attend classes and learn.
How Do You Keep Your Grant?
Some students only apply for one-year grants. But for the most part, they need money to finish a three to four year program.
Once awarded a grant, students can reapply for it again the following year. However, the process isn’t shorter or easier because the grant money can change.
Keeping the grant will require students to maintain their eligibility. However, these criteria can differ slightly depending on the program, school, amount, and other factors.
By default, maintaining the same enrollment status is one of the most critical factors.
The eligibility will expire after a student finishes 12 terms or earns a professional or bachelor’s degree.
Is It Possible to Have to Repay a Grant?
In some situations, grants might have to be repaid. However, understand that this only happens if the student doesn’t maintain eligibility, meet specific requirements, or hold up their end of the agreement.
For example, withdrawing earlier from college and not finishing could constitute grounds for repayment of various grants for college.
A similar situation can occur if a student’s enrollment status changes enough to affect their eligibility for the grant. This usually happens when students make a switch from full-time to part-time programs.
Naturally, the exact details can differ on a case-by-case basis. For example, some students may only have to make partial payments and have their grant money reduced.
Likewise, a student’s financial eligibility can be a factor. Applying for a grant doesn’t prohibit students from seeking additional financial support from other grants and scholarships. As the student’s financial position improves, their need for federal financial aid is reduced.
Such scenarios could result in cutting a portion of the federal grant money.
It’s essential to pay attention to all eligibility criteria and research how to maximize grant money.
Should the situation occur when a student has to repay a grant, in full or partially, schools generally notify them.
In that event, it’s best to try and pay as soon as possible. Students who fail to repay their grants on time can find themselves in satisfactory repayment arrangements.
Students may lose all eligibility to apply for other federal or private financial aid forms.
It can spell further financial trouble, likely increasing the overall education debt due to paying interest. Unfortunately, TEACH Grant recipients who don’t fulfill their obligations in time often find themselves in this kind of trouble.
Advantages and Drawbacks of College Grants
One of the best things about grants is the shortlist of criteria required to receive one. But unfortunately, in general, most grants only care about financial needs.
Therefore, they’re intended for a specific portion of the population. If you can demonstrate financial need, you’ll likely qualify for many types of grants.
But there are some disadvantages. They tend to cover fewer expenses than scholarships. Additionally, the more sources of financial aid you have, the less money you get in grants.
The reasoning behind this system is to adequately distribute grant money among the students who need it the most.
However, this can create a ton of confusion for students counting on a specific amount of grant money based on national average estimates. The calculations are done on a case-by-case basis, and the students don’t have control over the outcome.
Say you were counting on an extra $2,000 in grant money to cover part of your tuition so you could afford to live off-campus. However, the people working out the numbers could decide that your financial situation only entitles you to a $500 grant.
While grant money can help, it’s best to understand how the awards are calculated and decided before planning out your future. Then, unfortunately, you might get a lot less than you were hoping for.
It usually happens when you don’t account for all sources of income, family support, etc.
Financial Aid Interactions With Athletic Scholarships
As discussed at the beginning of the article, grants and scholarships can overlap, but they’re pretty different in scope and behavior, although they can both benefit disadvantaged students.
Nevertheless, it’s essential to understand where it fits with athletic scholarships regarding financial aid.
Say you want to apply to college. Unfortunately, you don’t have money, but you’re a gifted athlete or talented in a particular sport.
In that scenario, you could benefit from an athletic scholarship. This sponsorship comes in monetary support that will allow you to attend a college in return for various athletic contributions.
In a way, an athletic scholarship is a form of financial aid. However, it’s not distributed by the government or private institutions. It also doesn’t interfere with a school’s grant funds. The athletic scholarship is almost exclusively calculated and awarded by a school’s athletic department.
So, what would an athletic scholarship cover?
They can cover total tuition costs, accommodation, meals, school fees, books, and other expenses. But most scholarships will only offer partial tuition coverage.
Of course, this will differ significantly between schools and divisions. Policies and available funds aren’t the same across Division I and Division II programs.
It’s worth noting that Division III schools rarely offer athletic scholarships.
But this should come as no big surprise as Division I schools have more money to distribute among their athletes.
This is very important to know when applying for college. If you’re counting on an athletic scholarship, understand that some schools will offer more support than others.
On that note, this support is not the same kind of financial aid that you get from a grant. Every athletic scholarship is still a scholarship, so it doesn’t consider your financial needs. Instead, the awarded money is calculated based on your projected impact and contribution to the school’s athletic program.
In recent years, you probably read or heard about various scandals involving student-athletes losing their scholarships because they accepted financial aid from other sources.
Whether or not students should have as many sponsors as they can is still a hot topic of debate. But the rules don’t prohibit students with scholarships from getting additional financial support, such as from grants for college.
Take the Federal Pell Grant, for example. If your athletic scholarship would only cover half your tuition cost and you have no other means to support yourself through college, you can still apply for a grant.
There’s also nothing stopping you from securing a student loan if you need even more money. This is even the case for those looking to attend community colleges. Having a scholarship might significantly reduce the amount of grant money you can get. Still, it won’t disqualify you and vice versa.
That said, there are some interactions you need to know about when it comes to what exactly is considered financial aid. You also want to consider how much financial aid you will be requiring.
Concerning athletic scholarships, the funding sources that qualify as acceptable financial aid can differ from that of academic scholarships.
As a student-athlete, you’re allowed to supplement your scholarship with money from federal financial aid grants if you qualify for them.
Private grants can be tricky because of how strict the NCAA is about student-athletes getting money from professional sports teams and agents. All federal grants are transparent and easy to check, but collaborations with private institutions can be frowned upon.
Before making any decisions, it’s best to discuss the matter in detail with the athletic department.
An interesting exception occurs if the institution where the student is enrolled gives financial aid. This would be recognized as falling under the athletic scholarship definition due to how the NCAA regulates athletic budgets.
When to Apply for College Grants
Any student applying for a domestic college can fill out the FAFSA form. It’s the go-to paperwork for those eligible for a need-based grant.
In 2016, a change was made to the submission deadline enabling students to apply for grants in October instead of January.
What hasn’t changed is the actual due date for submitting a completed FAFSA form. That’s still June 30 of every year.
Note that this deadline only applies on a federal level.
While it’s okay if you want to be accepted into a federal grant program like Pell, FSEOG, or TEACH, state and college programs may end sooner.
It’s also worth remembering that, unlike the Pell Grant, money tends to run out in state and school funds. As a result, not every applicant will receive financial aid from colleges or state governments, even if eligible.
Therefore, you must start researching grants and applying as early as possible to maximize your chances of receiving aid.
Previously, this wasn’t always an option. The FAFSA form asked for tax information which had students waiting for their parents or guardians to finish filing taxes.
Among the changes introduced in 2016, using prior-year tax returns for the FAFSA form was one of the most impactful.
These days it’s easier than ever to put together the paperwork, answer the questions, and register. Thus, there’s no benefit in postponing.
Additional Paperwork You Might Need to Receive Financial Assistance
Students who need financial aid rarely consider applying to more selective educational institutions. However, when it happens, additional paperwork could be required to get grants for college. Yes, different college grant programs are going to have different requirements.
In this case, we’re talking about the CSS Profile.
This financial aid application form is used by hundreds of universities and colleges in the U.S. However, it’s only required when applying for institutional grants from some schools.
At its core, the form is similar to its FAFSA counterpart. But it goes into much more detail. As a result, filling out the CSS Profile can give colleges and universities an almost holistic portrait of an applicant’s financial situation.
This form takes longer to complete as it won’t just account for the information contained in the tax returns. It also looks at expenses, present and future, and other criteria.
There’s a reason these schools are called selective.
In some cases, the grant money awarded can be significantly higher. Although, it’s to be expected due to the expensive tuition costs of these private educational programs.
More information is necessary due to the more generous grants. The CSS Profile is a way for schools to get peace of mind that they’re distributing the funds correctly among recipients.
Even though the CSS Profile is very comprehensive, you will still have to fill out the FAFSA form and submit it.
Informed Applicants Always Get a Head Start
Most, if not all, private and government-funded grant programs will take into account timing. Students who apply early get additional consideration, especially if they meet the grant criteria. Of course, academic achievement is always going to be an issue here.
Many college grants are given out on a first-come-first-served basis. However, there are also many merit-based grants and career-specific grants to consider as well.
If you’re looking to maximize your financial aid, understand that it’s never too early to look for one or more grant programs that can help you minimize tuition costs and student loans. Keep in mind that there are plenty of grants for disabled students as well.
Even students who come from different areas of the world, such as Hispanic students, Asian American students, African American students, and Native American students, may also be eligible for specific types of financial aid. Minority groups will often get special consideration and be eligible to get minority grants.