College Grants in 2014

With graduate school application due dates looming on the horizon and college bound seniors poring over campus brochures, it is time to start thinking about potential funding sources to cover the costs of college attendance. As the average tuition was just over $18,000 in 2013 and schools continually struggle to keep up their scholarship funds, looking into grants seems like a good idea for many parents and students-to-be. There are various types of grants based on a multitude of factors that may include state of residence, state of school, ethnic background, military background, field of study, and socioeconomic factors. The following overview covers the most common types of college grants available to students.

Federal Grants

It is always a good idea to start with programs available through the federal government. For the most part, even non-federal programs require applicants to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) before they can be considered for alternative grants. Students can find the FAFSA application and additional information regarding various federal grant programs on the Federal Student Aid website (http://studentaid.ed.gov) maintained by the U.S. Department of Education. The most common grants student make use of are the Federal Pell Grant and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG). Admittedly, considerably more students are eligible to receive the Pell Grant than the FSEOG, and more colleges participate in the former than the latter as well. The Pell Grant provides approximately $5,000 annually to undergraduate students working towards their first degree. It is based on the student’s financial need and it is available for the first twelve semesters of studies. The actual amount of the grant varies yearly and it also depends on the specific circumstances of the student applicant. The FSEOG may provide and additional $4,000 to a student that has an exceptional financial need. Recipients are usually undergraduate students already funded through Pell Grants, and the actual amount of the grant varies from school to school.

State Government Grants

college grants in 2014The second type of widely accessible resource for most college students is their state’s educational program. Many states offer a variety of student loan programs with the potential for loan forgiveness, and there are also a fair number of states with educational grants. For the most part, students need to attend an institution of higher education in their state of residence in order to be eligible for these types of grants, but there are some exceptions. The National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs website (http://www.nassgap.org) provides links to all state government education programs that contain information specific to each state. For instance, Alaska offers up to $3,000 annually through its AlaskAdvantage Education Grant to qualifying students. Eligibility is based on financial need and program of study, with priority given to students enrolled in workforce shortage programs. Vermont, on the other hand, offers Incentive Grants to its undergraduate part-time and full-time student residents attending any school of postsecondary education in the United States or Canada that participates in the federal Pell Grant program. The average grant is approximately $1,800 and it is awarded on a first come first serve basis. The actual grant amount depends on the annual state budget, student needs, and availability of funds.

Specialized Grants

The third type of grants college students can take advantage of are more difficult to characterize than the previous two. They are also more restrictive in eligibility requirements and have well defined target populations. These types of grants are usually set up to serve the needs of certain students and the criteria can range from military service or ethnic background to educational excellence. One example of the latter is the National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) grant that is available to third, fourth, and fifth year Pell Grant eligible undergraduate students majoring in technical fields and certain liberal arts programs with a 3.0 GPA. Some of these programs are also based on the ethnicity of the applicant, such as the various opportunities available at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (http://www.chci.org/about) or the American Indian College Fund (http://www.collegefund.org/). Many of these specialized grants may also cross-cut several larger categories. For example, the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grant is a federal program for undergraduate students in education fields while the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant provides funding for descendants of U.S. armed forces members who died during their military service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Researching and following up on these various educational grant opportunities may seem like a daunting task, but there are substantial benefits at stake. Students and parents alike will greatly appreciate having the opportunity to reduce student loan debt through college grants and they will find it is well worth the effort and time it takes to fill out the relevant applications.