If you would like to go to college but don’t have the money to bankroll your education, a better option would be applying for a student grant or a scholarship. Among college students who cannot afford to pay tuition out of pocket, roughly 40% of college students get by on grants.
A smaller number, about 2%, are able to get scholarships which are typically based on academic merits. The rest, which makes up the majority, ends up getting student loans which are then paid off for a given number of years after graduation. A study-now-pay-later option may be preferable than not going to college at all, but individuals who take out loans for college will have the burden of debt right around the time when their careers are taking off.
Unlike student loans which have to be paid back for a number of years after graduation, student grants and scholarships are given with no payment expected. However, student grants and scholarships are based on need and granted on a first-come, first-served basis which means that you have to qualify for financial assistance and you have to get your grant application in early before the funds are parceled out to other applicants.
We also want to stress that you should get an early start when looking for a college grant, because the application process is highly competitive. At the very least, your application needs to be sent in at least 12 months before you actually start attending school.
If you are still in high school, consult with your guidance counselor. He or she should be able to give a good idea of which grants you may be eligible for, as well as an overview of the application process. Some grants are also awarded to those who want a second degree, or to individuals who are deserving of assistance such as single parents. Financial need, meritorious achievement, ethnicity or disability are just some of the condition which can pre-qualify you. There are also grants given out based on the field of study, so your chosen major can also play a role.
Below are some major grants available in the US:
As with most financial assistance packages for education, state grants are for students who cannot afford to pay for college on their own. Some may be given to encourage enrollment in certain areas of study. Your state’s student aid department or commission on higher education should have this information.
Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants
These are applied for through college financial aid offices and are reserved for applicants with the greatest need. They bestow anywhere from $100 to $4000 per eligible student.
Institutional grants are funded by the colleges themselves and are typically awarded when federal and state aid is not sufficient for the number of qualified applicants, or to encourage a certain candidate to enroll in their institution as in the case of a sought-after student. Usually, institutional grants are not applied for as it is the college’s prerogative to extend a grant offer but you can increase your chances of being offered an institutional grant if you target certain colleges who have an incentive to want you in their campus.
Federal Pell Grants
This grant program is most comprehensive in scope, being available in all the states within the country. A student can receive anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars in financial aid. Each eligible institution is allocated a fixed annual fund and given the discretion to dispose it according to federal guidelines. Once it runs out, it will not be replenished again until the following school year.
Supplementary Pell Grants
In 2006, there were several additional grants introduced for college students who were already receiving Pell benefits. Pell awardees who are majoring in math, science or social science may additionally qualify for the Academic Competitiveness Grant which bestows up to $750 for the first year and $1300 for the second year of study. Math and science majors are also eligible for the National SMART Grant, which can award up to $4000 yearly for the third and fourth years of study.
Applying for Aid
If you qualify for a grant, a key step is to apply early. Most colleges set the deadline for applications by the middle of February. However, note that by the time the deadline rolls around, most of the grant reserves have already been given out. You can actually submit applications as early as the first week of January.
Request a FAFSA (Federal Application for Student Aid) form through your school’s financial aid office or the US Department of Education at (800) 433-3243. Note that when you submit your accomplished FAFSA form (which can be done online), you will need to attach tax information as basis for eligibility.
Once submitted, your grant application will be forwarded to a federal center and processed. There, your information will be taken into consideration so that the amount of financial need can be computed. The amount of grant money that you are entitled to will be computed based on this.
If you also intend to apply for state aid, get in touch with their student-aid offices. FinAid, the College Board, and the Department of Education are good venues to start with in doing your research. There are also private companies which give out college financial assistance. Your parents should check whether their employers provides grants to their employees’ dependents, like the CocaCola Corporation does.
The submission of forms and tax returns need to be done each year to ensure that your grant corresponds to the correct amount of financial need.
Most of the time, you will find that a college grant is not really enough to provide all of your education-related expenses. Therefore, you need to be proactive when it comes to looking for additional funding for your studies. You will often find that there are various offerings from institutions, the state or the federal government which cannot be used simultaneously. In other words, if you are already receiving a certain grant, you are disqualified from applying for another. In this case, refrain from lying or omitting information because it can count against you in the long run. If found out to have given fraudulent data, you could end up losing all benefits altogether and blacklisted.