Profession-Specific and Subject-Specific Grants

As the United States struggled to come out of the recent economic recession, a lot of people have found themselves suddenly unemployed as businesses all over the country failed. In many cases, even the corporate elite were not able to escape unscathed. However, despite the downturn, there were some professionals who found themselves securely entrenched in their jobs not so much because of tenure or skill but simply because they were working in fields with a high level of demand. Nursing and education are two of such fields, and the shortage of new hires continues up to the present. In fact, the shortage is so dire that government and private agencies are offering profession-specific grants to encourage more college students to enroll in these courses.
If you are sincerely interested in studying to become a teacher or a nurse (or other professions where there is currently a great hiring shortage) profession-specific grants can be a way for you to receive a good university education without resorting to student loans. Many of these grants are based on need, while others will have additional criteria for awarding such as scholastic achievement, proof of community involvement, etc. There are even grants reserved for those willing to serve in high-need areas after graduation.

Consider these figures: the average total cost of a four-year study in a public college is around $20, 000. For students enrolled in a private college or university, the cost can reach $30, 000 or even higher. Since not everybody is fortunate enough to easily afford these fees out of pocket, many students and their families are searching for ways to come up with the money for a college education.

A good way to start your search for educational funding is to get in touch with the local chapter of the Student Assistance Commission, or alternatively, the financial aid office in your college. Both venues will have a lot of information on what’s available from both federal and private sectors. When it comes to looking for profession-specific grants, don’t be timid about casting about for opportunities: you will never know what kind of financial assistance you could be eligible for if you don’t ask.
Some grants are given to students based on need, which means that you will have to demonstrate that you cannot otherwise afford to pursue your education without financial assistance. Other grants are merit-based, meaning that they are awarded to students who meet certain academic performance criteria. Some will also be based on a combination of need and merit.

To help you get started in your search, we provide an overview of the most popular options:

Federal Profession-specific Grants

To apply for federal grants, you will need to fill up a document called the Free Application for Student Aid or FAFSA. FAFSA forms are distributed after January 1. Before applying for and accepting grant awards using FAFSA, make sure that you have understood all attached conditions, especially any post-graduate commitments such as years of service.

The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant Program is a profession-specific federal grant. TEACH Program awardees can receive up to $4,000 in student aid. To qualify for this grant, you should be prepared to teach in low-income school districts and major in high-need fields of study such as special education, foreign languages, science and math, etc. for at least four academic years. The U.S. Department of Education will determine which school districts are to be classified as high-need; in general, these are the ones serving low-income and minority populations. You will be asked to sign a contract to this effect. In the event that a TEACH grant awardee belatedly decides not to comply with the conditions of the TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve, then the money received is converted into a federal loan. A six-month grace period will be given on the loan before entering repayment status.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) awards nursing scholarships for nursing students who commit to a 2-year service term in a critical shortage health care facility. The scholarship is provided in the form of a monthly allowance plus tuition and other fees.

To qualify for the National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) grant, you have to meet the following pre-screening criteria: (1) you must be a Pell awardee; (2) you must be a third- or fourth-year college student majoring in science, technology, engineering and math; (3) you must have a GPA of 3.0 or higher; (4) must be enrolled in at least one class in the eligible field of study on the year that the granted will be awarded; and (5) you must demonstrate a need for additional funding beyond the assistance provided by the Pell grant.

Students who win a SMART scholarship get up to $4000 for each year of study. This scholarship is part of a national effort to boost the number of students in the STEM subjects, since the United States is already falling behind other countries in terms of the number of professional degree holders in these subjects.

Aside from federal funding, there are also certain state incentives for going into careers that have a high local demand. A good example of this is the Illinois Future Teacher Corps (IFTC) Program for third- to fourth-year students who are planning to stay and teach in Illinois after teacher certification. Indicating your intention to seek assignment in Illinois school districts with high teacher churn will increase your chances of being awarded.

School-Awarded Career Grants

Another source of possible funding is specialty colleges. If you already have your heart set to follow a certain career, then your search for funding should include community and technical colleges that specialize in the field you are interested in. Many of these colleges have grant funds set up by specific departments or by the alumni body. The University of Minnesota (UM), for instance, has grants under the administration of the Women’s Center. UM students, staff, and even faculty members who want to pursue women’s studies and related special projects with the aim of enhancing the campus climate for women are eligible to apply for these grants.

For those who are working towards post-graduate degrees or research, there are also grants or fellowships available for almost any field of study. These grants can be used for endeavors that will give you valuable experience and enhance your professional credentials, such as internships, academic research, and other career advancement activities. Law school students and alumni of Santa Clara University who are interested in pro bono activities and other volunteer positions for summer and the interim can apply for said funding.

Just like nurses and teachers, the supply of social workers in the United States has fallen so far behind the actual demand. For post-graduate students who are considering this field, The Licensed Mental health Services Provider Educational Program awards as much as $15, 000 to doctoral level students who are already a licensed mental health practitioner with a practice in a high-demand area of mental health in California. The amount is intended to be used towards the repayment of student loans.

Grant Opportunities from Outside Organizations

Aside from federal agencies, private groups, and schools who provide financial assistance to qualified college students, there are many outside organizations that are also willing to do the same. Some notable organizations include:
• The National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities (NFAH) –the NFAH has opportunities available for students who intend to pursue a career in library science;
• The National Association of Black Journalists – offers several grants for black student journalists who are also association members of good standing;
• Corporations – generally offer funding for training and professional development activities to valuable and loyal employees and other beneficiaries. For example, the popular Denny’s chain offers a one-time need- and merit-based scholarship award worth anywhere between $500- $5000 to full-time college undergraduates majoring in business, marketing, or entrepreneurship.

Whether you are just starting college or in the process of studying for a career change, one of the first things you need to do when searching your grant opportunities is to exhaust all possible options within your reach, especially those being awarded through local channels. The truth is that there are many grant opportunities available no matter which area of study you are interested in.
Different awarding organizations will have various requirements after the period of study has been completed: some will require you to render year/s of service while others will ask nothing more from you except maybe try to pay it forward. Many, however, are classified as grant-for-service programs, which are also known as award-for-service programs. The purpose of these is two-fold: (1) they provide talented students with the financial aid that they need to complete their training in high-need areas of study; and (2) they are effective means to ensure that talented professionals are retained in the communities where they are much needed. A grant agreement is a binding contract; you should only enter in it if you are ready to commit to fulfilling all conditions that have been outlined. Otherwise, any money awarded will revert to a standard student loan; you are expected to pay the principal amount plus the interest.