Pennsylvania Scholarships and Grants: How to Find Them and Apply

 February 26, 2021
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College in Pennsylvania isn’t cheap. Pennsylvania was second only to New Hampshire in terms of 2019 average per-student debt ($39,027), according to The Institute for College Access & Success. But you might avoid heavy debt if you apply for Pennsylvania grants for college, since they don’t need to be paid back.

The key to getting grant money for college in the Keystone State is knowing where to look. Whether you’re planning to root for the Quakers at Penn or the Nittany Lions at Penn State, here’s how to find grants and scholarships that will keep you from leaving school in the red.

How do you apply for Pennsylvania grants for college (and other aid)?

You can think of financial aid as coming in three main categories: Grants and scholarships, work-study and student loans.

Your first stop in accessing financial aid is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). In many cases, it makes you eligible not just for federal aid, but also for state and college-sponsored aid, too. You may also have to submit additional forms, like the CSS Profile and Pennsylvania-specific grant applications, to qualify for specific grants and scholarships.

Grants are available from the federal government and individual states, and they’re typically based either on financial need or specific characteristics, like your course of study. Scholarships can come from nonprofits, foundations or your college itself, and they can be need-based or merit-based, meaning they’re specifically for students who have certain academic or extracurricular credentials.

Work-study is available from the federal government. Student loans can come from the federal government, states or private lenders, but federal student loans generally offer the most flexible repayment options.

What Pennsylvania grants and scholarships are available?

The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, known as PHEAA, administers the state’s grants for college students. Pennsylvania’s state programs are primarily need-based, with the exception of the Ready to Succeed Scholarship, which also has a GPA requirement.

Certain universities in Pennsylvania also offer their own grants and scholarships to state residents too. The Mayor’s Scholarship at the University of Pennsylvania, for instance, is available to Philadelphia residents with financial need, and the award amount varies based on the student’s financial situation.

In addition, the following grants are provided by PHEAA to Pennsylvania residents regardless of school choice:

Pennsylvania State Grant Program

The main college grant for Pennsylvania residents, the Pennsylvania State Grant Program, is available to those pursuing their first bachelor’s degree, who are enrolled at least half-time and have financial need.

This grant award is based on income and covers a portion of financial need after any federal Pell Grant funds have been applied. However, Pennsylvania State Grants are disbursed without taking Pell Grant funding into account if you’re a veteran, or if your spouse or a parent died or became disabled on or after Jan. 1 of the previous year.

Awards ranged from $500 to $4,525 for in-state students in the 2020-21 academic year. The maximum award for Pennsylvania residents attending school out of state is $600 and $800 for veterans.

You can apply for a Pennsylvania State Grant online directly, after you’ve completed the FAFSA. The deadline is May 1 for most first-time applicants, and Aug. 1 for those attending a community college or trade school.

Pennsylvania Targeted Industry Program

PHEAA itself — not federal or state tax revenue — funds the Pennsylvania Targeted Industry Program (PA-TIP), which was founded in 2012 to encourage Pennsylvania college students to pursue in-demand careers. To qualify, you must major in a field related to energy, health advanced materials and diversified manufacturing or agriculture and food production. Check if your program of study is eligible before applying.

In order to qualify, you cannot have already received a Pennsylvania State Grant for the area of study you’ve chosen. However, unlike with the Pennsylvania State Grant, you’re still eligible for PA-TIP even if you’ve already received a bachelor’s degree or graduate degree. The maximum award is the lesser of $4,123 or 75% of education costs after other grants and other forms of aid have been applied.

Ready to Succeed Scholarship Program

The Ready to Succeed Scholarship is both a merit- and need-based award. It’s available to current college students in Pennsylvania who are succeeding academically and whose family’s income is $110,000 or less per year.

Participating colleges nominate eligible students who have at least 24 credits under their belt and a GPA of 3.25 or higher. While there’s no separate application for the program, students must have submitted the FAFSA and an application for the Pennsylvania State Grant to qualify.

Since scholarships are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, submit the FAFSA and State Grant Form as close to Oct. 1 as possible, when the FAFSA application period first opens.

Awards range from $500 to $1,000 for part-time students and up to $2,000 for full-time students.

How do you find more scholarships and grants?

Pennsylvania residents can — and should — also look into grants available nationwide. Many are for students with financial need. You can access these federal grants by filling out the FAFSA every year you’re in school.

  • Federal Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant: Up to $6,495 for 2021-22 for eligible students with a parent who died while performing military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11.
  • Federal Pell Grant: Up to $6,495 for 2021-22 for undergraduates with financial need who are pursuing their first degree.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG): Up to $4,000 for students with high financial need, particularly those who have already received a Pell grant. College financial aid offices administer this program, though not all schools participate.
  • Federal Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant: Up to $3,772 for 2020-21 for students pursuing a career as a teacher in a high-need field or school. Awardees must teach full-time for four years, or the grant converts to a loan.
  • American Association of University Women (AAUW) Grants: Women who are international students or are getting master’s degrees in fields traditionally dominated by men can receive grants from this nonprofit. For example, the Selected Professions Fellowship can provide funds worth between $5,000 and $18,000 to women pursuing degrees in areas such as STEM, law and medicine.
  • National Health Service Corps: Students planning to provide medical care to underserved communities can apply for scholarships, plus a monthly living stipend of around $1,400, through this federal program run by the Department of Health and Human Services.

There’s a huge variety of grants and scholarships out there, but in most cases it’s up to you to find them. Start with your college’s website, and look for any opportunities you might qualify for based on your personal characteristics or academic or extracurricular background. Check for scholarships with local community organizations and your parents’ employers, as well.

Private nonprofits and foundations provide scholarships to students with particular interests, like music, photography or poetry. There are also scholarships for you if you identify as LGBTQ, as well as scholarships for Black and Latino students.

Once you land on a major (say, for example, nursing), professional organizations and foundations offer scholarships, and if you plan to study abroad, there’s funding for that, too. Student Loan Hero even offers a scholarship.

Final thoughts on getting scholarships and grants in Pennsylvania

The more money you’re able to get for college, the better, so take the time to research and apply for as many scholarships as you can. Don’t be discouraged by seemingly small award amounts — several of them can add up, and you could use them to help offset the cost of a new laptop or textbooks.

Once you’ve maxed out grant and scholarship aid, accept any work-study funding you’re offered — and make sure to submit the FAFSA as early as possible to get access to it, since it’s first-come, first served.

Next, apply for federal student loans, which typically have lower interest rates and more forgiveness and repayment options than private student loans. Consider private loans as a last resort if you have a funding gap to cover.

Financing college in Pennsylvania means doing your best to avoid a big student loan bill when you graduate — and with determination and thoughtful research, you could do it.

Rebecca Safier contributed to this report.

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