For those who don’t know, grants are like scholarships. They’re money for college that you don’t have to pay back. And when you fill out your FAFSA each year, you’re being put in the running for both grants and loans.
One of the main factors that determines your eligibility for grants through the FAFSA is your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). That’s the presumed amount of money your family can contribute to your college costs, regardless of whether they intend to pay. If your EFC is too high, you’ll receive loans, not grants.
Take a look at some of the many opportunities below, starting with federal grants you might receive through the FAFSA, followed by grants you can seek out if that leaves you empty-handed.
Federal grants for college
First of all, let’s talk about federal grants for college. When you’re filling out your FAFSA each year, these are the grants you could theoretically get.
- Federal Pell Grant: For students acquiring a bachelor’s degree or post-baccalaureate teacher certification who have exceptional financial need.
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant: Also for undergraduates with exceptional financial need. (It’s also first-come, first-served, and not all colleges participate.)
- Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants: For students who lost a parent in active duty military service after 9/11, and who have also been deemed ineligible for the Pell Grant.
- Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant: For undergraduate, postbaccalaureate, and graduate students pursuing a career in education and willing to sign on for at least four years of work in a high-need school. (Not all colleges participate.)
- Academic Competitiveness Grant: A merit- and need-based grant for college freshmen and sophomores.
- National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grant: College juniors and seniors can apply for this merit- and need-based grant.
State grants for college
Once you’ve exhausted your options for federal grants, your next option is to explore state grants. There are many ways to do this, but one of the easiest might be to contact your state grant agency.
With this map of state grant agencies from the Department of Education, you can easily find websites to lead you to more information on what your state has to offer. And if you come up short, give the organizations listed a call and ask if there are state grants for college you can apply for.
Grants from your school
The FAFSA is not the only way to get financial aid. You can also try filling out the CSS Profile. This is more in-depth than the FAFSA and can help you unlock additional funds for school, including grants.
This application does cost money. It’s $25 for your first application and $16 for each additional school. Unfortunately, not all schools participate. The CSS Profile can be a good way to see if a school you thought was too expensive might be able to give you more aid than others.
Grants for women
For much of history, women have not had the same opportunities as men. Luckily, many organizations have stepped up to support women’s education and career development.
Below are a few grants in support of that mission.
- American Association of University Women (AAUW) Career Development Grants: For women who have a bachelor’s degree but want to take classes to further their careers.
- Soroptimist Live Your Dream Award: For women with financial need who provide financial support for their family (can be children, spouse, siblings, or parents).
- The Education Support Award from the Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Foundation: For low-income mothers pursuing a degree or vocational training.
- The P.E.O. Program for Continuing Education (PCE): For women whose education was interrupted and need to return to school to support their families.
College grants for graduate school
When it comes to getting grants for your field of study, there are many you can take advantage of if you attend graduate school.
If you’ve already secured a fellowship for graduate school, this might not apply to you. But for everyone else, look to your college and professional organizations in your field to find graduate school grants to keep costs low.
And don’t forget to research student loan repayment assistance programs that might be helpful to you when you graduate.
Turn to scholarships when grants aren’t enough
Sometimes grants just aren’t enough to cover the cost of your college tuition. In that case, turn to scholarships.
Lehman College Assistant Professor and member of the AICPA Financial Literacy Commission, Sean Stein Smith, explains the subtle difference between scholarships and grants.
“Grants are generally awarded based on demonstrated financial need for assistance in paying for college, and can be awarded by the federal government, state government, or individual universities.
“Scholarships are, generally speaking, awarded using some sort of merit-based criteria, and can include athletic, academic, or artistic requirements. Scholarships can be awarded by a wide range of institutions, including colleges universities, foundations, and community organizations.”
You can also get scholarships just for being the unique individual you are. For example, there are scholarships for black students, LGBTQ students, students who’ve survived cancer, and countless others. And this is just the beginning of how you can find free money for school.
Check here for more ways to earn more grants and scholarships so you can graduate with as little student loan debt as possible.
College grants are worth the effort
College enrollment is baptism by paperwork. It’s the first of many adult transitions that require you to sign stacks of forms, some of which you might not even fully understand. It’ll happen again with job offers, insurance forms, mortgage applications, and more.
“Form fatigue” might make it tempting to end the process with the FAFSA form, even if you only received offers for loans and not grants. But stopping there without looking for other grants for college means you could be walking away from free money.
Don’t let the deluge of paperwork prevent you from doing all you can to find college grants. The more free money you find now, the less student loan debt you’ll have later.
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