Every college student is hoping to complete their education without amassing burdensome financial debt along the way, welcome to the world of grants as a major source of financial aid. (In the process of writing this, I researched a ton of options and have linked them throughout this article.)
Grants can help anybody who wants to go to college, it does not matter if you’re a student, women, man, felon, existing student or a working adult. Even military spouses, single moms, minorities, veterans, government workers, and first generation college students have plenty of options.
Did you know? Your college can be located in Alaska, Oregon, Maine, Florida, California, Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan, New Jersey New York, Virginia, Colorado or Texas. In fact, most colleges anywhere in the United States will qualify for some kind of grant program.
Unlike loans, grants and scholarships do not require repayment. If you we’re too look up the technical meaning of what a college grant is, it’s definition would be “a sum of money given by a government or other organization for college.”
Grants, more than scholarships, are based largely on financial need, but it’s possible to find grants awarded on merit or a combination of both.
Merit-based grants are typically based on ability or achievement.
Your background and aspirations may uniquely qualify you to receive funding. Before beginning your grant search, make a list of your personal characteristics that may be relevant. Then make a list highlighting characteristics of your parents and grandparents.
Your list should include race, ethnicity, gender, hobbies, artistic talents, subjects in which you excel or which you plan to study, military service, religion, disabilities, awards, and more. You know yourself better than anyone, so be honest with yourself.
Evaluating yourself will you discover some possibilities for grant applications you might not otherwise consider.
Grants originate from many sources including state and federal governments, businesses, schools, corporations, foundations, and special interest groups. There is no limit on the number of grants for which you may apply. The usual federal and state grant programs are well known, and the average student will likely receive some aid via those programs.
The search through the thousands of private grants that may provide an untapped gold mine!
Best Federal Grants To Apply For
Federal and state government grants usually require completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Colleges use the form to determine eligibility for various forms of financial aid. Grants are often awarded on a first come, first served basis, so anything that requires the FAFSA, the sooner you file the form, the better chance you will have to secure a grant.
Federal Pell Grants are based on financial need and are the most common and well-known source of federal grants. The current maximum grant is $6095 annually.
Academic Competitiveness Grants are intended for college freshmen and sophomores and are based on both merit and need. Amounts up to $1300 are awarded to recipients who also qualify for Pell grants and who agree to major in “critical need” subjects including sciences, technology, and foreign language.
Juniors and seniors may qualify based on need or merit for Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) grants of up to $4,000. Studies must focus on STEM subjects; science, technology, math, or engineering.
Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants provide funds for low-income students. Early completion of the FAFSA is encouraged since these grant funds are distributed on a priority basis until funds are exhausted.
TEACH grants are for students who agree to teach at schools serving low-income families for at least four years. Failure to fulfill the teaching requirement will convert the grant to a loan that must be repaid.
Grants are available for students whose parent or guardian passed away as a result of military service in Afghanistan or Iraq after September 11, 2001, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid Office. The grants, which have a maximum amount similar to Pell grants, are for students who meet Pell grant requirements but not eligible for that grant based on the expected financial contribution of family members.
Finding The Best State Grants To Apply For
Each state has established a variety of grant programs that provide funds based on need or merit. Completing the FAFSA is often required. Here are a few examples.
- Alaska Education Grants provide $500-$4000 annually to students based on income.
- Oregon offers five grant options including awards for current or former foster children, children of disabled or deceased public safety officers and a Promise Grant based on high school G.P.A.
- Maine offers grants of $1500 to students attending in-state schools.
- Florida has a First Generation Matching Grant program which distributes funds based on need to students whose parents did not obtain a baccalaureate or higher degree.
A good starting point for any grant search is your high school counselor. A minimal amount of time searching online will also provide details on government grants available in each state where you may attend college. To find a specific grant program for your state, just do a simple google search with the query “your state name College Grants”, for my state California, I just search “California College Grants”.
Best School Grants To Apply For
In addition to federal and state grants, colleges and universities often manage their own grant programs. Information is usually available from the school’s financial aid office. For example, California’s Blue and Gold Opportunity Programs covers tuition and fees for students with a family income of less than $80,000. Arizona State University offers a Study Abroad Planning Scholarship of $4000 for first-generation, second-semester freshmen. Funds can be used during the following five semesters.
The University of Colorado provides up to $4000 in grant funds to incoming freshmen who plan to live on campus and whose parents do not have education or training beyond high school. The University of Utah offers a $500 travel grant to fine arts graduate students for presentation of research at national and international events. Once you select your preferred schools, look at the financial aid offerings for each. Don’t overlook nearby schools. They may not be your top choice, but the potential financial aid they offer could be attractive.
Private and Foundation Grants
This is the area where the effort and diligence of your search efforts can really pay off. Grants are available for literally every kind of student and every subject of study. Many grantors are private foundations that require very specific qualifications. While many private grantors award funds based on need, merit, and achievement tend to receive greater consideration by a majority of the organizations providing financial assistance. The most unlikely of sources may prove valuable.
The following examples are typical of the variety of grantors offering educational funding.
Women’s organizations and private colleges offer an assortment of financial assistance specifically targeted at women experiencing financial difficulty or who may also be raising children while going to college. The Patsy Takemoto Mink Foundation provides up to $5,000 to low-income mothers 17 and older who are pursuing a college education or vocational training. The Soroptimists distribute more than $2 million annually for education and training to women who are the primary earners in their families. The Business and Professional Women’s Foundation awards grants of $500-1000 for women age 25+ who enter programs with a plan to upgrade skills or re-enter the job market.
Superior ability in a sport has long been a basis for grant awards. While the NCAA is the most well-known grantor, don’t overlook state programs or specialized donors like the National Strength Conditioning Association, U.S. Bowling Congress or U.S. Tennis Association. The Stephen R. Lett Foundation awards $2500 annually for student golfers.
Musical talent may qualify you for grants. Music educator associations in each state usually offer financial aid for college-bound students. The BMI Foundation awards funds to music composers in pop, classical, Latin and other genres. Skill in visual arts and writing also serve as the basis for numerous grants.
Current or planned study in a specific field may qualify for a grant. Students focusing on STEM fields will find many grant donors, including the Raytheon Company, American Math Society, and the National Science Foundation. The Future Farmers of America offers $2 million annually to agriculture students. Future florists may benefit from the American Floral Endowment Fund. The National Recreation and Park Association gives financial assistance to students studying park and recreation management. The National Society of Accountants offers awards ranging from $500-2200 for undergraduate study.
The background of your parents or grandparents often provides a path to college finding. For example, the Military Order of the Purple Heart distributes funds to spouses and children of those who received the award. The Military Officers Association of America provides grants and interest-free loans to children of active and retired military members. Many high school alumni associations award grants or scholarships to descendants of school graduates.
Church membership can serve as a basis to successfully apply for grants. The Baptist Life Insurance Agency provides several $1000 awards annually. The Marguerite Young Endowment Fund awards $1500 to students studying theology. Other examples include The Catholic Knights Financial Company, DeSales University, Loyola University, the Disciples Leadership Program, and the Jewish United Fund.
Even dealing with an illness or disability can be put to advantage and result in college funds. The Cancer Survivor’s Fund, American Cancer Society, Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, National Hemophilia Foundation, and the Komen Foundation are just a few examples of the health-related organizations offering college funding. Diabetes Scholars provides students managing Type 1 diabetes annual awards of $5000 and is just one of many organizations providing financial assistance to diabetics for their education.
These examples illustrate a small offering of the wealth of funding sources that can reduce reliance on student loans. Your skills, talents, hopes, career goals, family background, heritage, faith, and lifetime experiences, both good and bad, will serve you in your search effort. Approaching your search with the big picture in mind should result in discovering numerous funding opportunities.
Do-It-Yourself Search Strategies
Be flexible. Grants are often available for study in specific subject areas. If you can’t find grants available for your preferred area of study, look for grants in related fields. Grant funds in one area may get your education started before you truly focus on a chosen major. If grantors are not available in one state, look for grants in nearby states. The available money may be worth considering schools outside your initial targets.
Grant applications must be well written, thoughtful, and persuasive. Proofread your application multiple times to eliminate grammar and spelling errors and to ensure your writing is clear and concise. The application should convey enthusiasm for the subject you plan to study, and for your desired career. Clearly explain why the grantor should invest in your education and future career.
Be sure to complete all sections of the applications!
In addition to grants, financial aid may also come from work-study, scholarships, and family contributions. All these sources should be pursued before accepting loans which require repayment. Adopting this strategy will go a long way to minimize your education debt after you graduate.
Have a successful grand or scholarship story that got you free money? Any other tips you know about? Share it in the comments below.