TEACH Grants: A Guide for Aspiring Teachers

 August 26, 2021
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If you’re planning to work as a teacher after earning your degree, you might be eligible for the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant.

This federal program provides up to $4,000 per year to qualifying students, and there’s even a proposal under consideration to double that amount to $8,000 for upperclassmen.

But while the TEACH Grant can help you pay for college or graduate school, it comes with some strings attached: You must agree to teach for four years in a high-need field at school that serves low-income students. If you don’t, you’ll need to pay the grant back — with interest.

Let’s dive into TEACH Grants and how they work by answering the following questions:

What is a TEACH Grant?

A TEACH Grant is a form of federal financial aid that’s available to both undergraduate and graduate students who plan to pursue teaching. Currently, the TEACH Grant provides up to $4,000 per year to qualifying recipients.

Unlike some other federal grants, the TEACH Grant has a service requirement. If you receive one or more TEACH Grants as an undergraduate, you’ll need to teach in an eligible school for four years within an eight-year window after you graduate.

If you also receive one or more TEACH Grants for graduate school, you may have to teach for another four years. In some cases, however, you can use some or all of the same teaching service to satisfy both your undergrad and graduate grant obligations.

Note that failing to fulfill your service requirement means your grant will be converted to an unsubsidized loan. Not only will you have to pay back the grant, but you’ll also need to repay all the interest that accrued since the date of disbursement.

How much is the TEACH Grant award?

The TEACH Grant usually offers up to $4,000 per year to undergraduate or graduate students.

As part of the proposal dubbed the American Families Plan, the award would double for juniors, seniors and graduate students to a maximum of $8,000 — while freshmen and sophomores would continue to be eligible for a $4,000 award.

However, for students who receive a TEACH Grant between Oct. 1, 2020 and Oct. 1, 2022, the award amount will be reduced by 5.7% for a maximum award amount of $3,772.

How do you qualify for a TEACH Grant?

To qualify for a TEACH Grant, you’ll first need to study in an eligible program at a participating school. Not every college offers TEACH Grants, and not every program of study qualifies. Check with your financial aid office to find out if TEACH Grants are available at your school, and if so, how they work.

Here are some other requirements you may need to fulfill to get a TEACH Grant:

  • Be eligible for federal student aid and complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
  • Meet the academic requirements put in place at your school. This often means scoring above the 75th percentile on a college admissions test or maintaining a GPA of 3.25 or higher.
  • Undergo TEACH Grant counseling for every year you receive the grant.
  • Sign a TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve or Repay, which says you’ll agree to fulfill your service agreement or else repay your grant back as an unsubsidized loan.

What is the TEACH Grant service obligation?

The TEACH Grant has some pretty specific rules around your postgraduate teaching service. You must:

  • Be a highly-qualified teacher, meaning you have a bachelor’s degree, full state certification or licensure and are knowledgeable about the subject you teach.
  • Teach a high-need subject, such as math, science, foreign language, bilingual education, English language acquisition or special education.
  • Work in a school or educational service agency that serves low-income students. You can find eligible schools on the Teacher Cancellation Low Income (TCLI) Directory. Schools operated by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) — or on Indian reservations by tribal groups under contract or grant with the BIE — also qualify.
  • Complete your four years of service within eight years of earning your degree.

In which cases do you have to pay back a TEACH Grant?

Plans change, and you might find yourself unable to complete your four years of service. If you can’t fulfill your TEACH Grant contract, your grant will be converted into an unsubsidized loan.

You’re expected to contact your TEACH Grant servicer to let them know you can’t complete your service. It’s a good idea to let them know as soon as you can, since waiting could result in higher interest costs.

For the 2021-2022 year, interest accrues on unsubsidized loans at a rate of 3.73% for undergraduates, and at 5.28% for graduate students.

What circumstances could free you from an obligation to repay the grant?

If you have extenuating circumstances that prevent you from fulfilling your service obligation, you might not need to repay your TEACH Grant. These special circumstances include:

  • Going back to school to receive licensure from a TEACH Grant-eligible program
  • Having a condition that qualifies under the Family and Medical Leave Act
  • Being called to active duty as part of the Armed Forces or National Guard (or having a spouse who is)
  • Residing or working in a federally-declared major disaster area

Your grant servicer may also consider other reasons, so it’s worth reaching out if you’re unable to complete your teaching service.

How do you apply for a TEACH Grant?

To apply for a TEACH Grant, you’ll need to fill out and submit the FAFSA. This free form becomes available at StudentAid.gov every year on Oct. 1.

You’ll also need to enroll in a school that participates in the TEACH Grant program and study in a qualifying program of study. Speak with your school’s financial aid office to make sure you’re meeting this criteria.

Completing TEACH Grant counseling

If you’re offered a grant, you’ll need to complete the initial TEACH Grant counseling. This online session will go over the conditions of your grant, and you’ll need to complete it each year you receive the grant.

You will also have to sign an agreement to serve (or to repay your loan if you do not) for each year you get the award.

Also, as you near graduation, you’re required to complete TEACH Grant Exit Counseling, which will review the terms and conditions of your award.

Finally, if you don’t fulfill your service requirement, you may have to complete TEACH Grant Conversion Counseling, which will go over how to repay your grant as a loan, as well as your repayment plan options.

What recent changes have been made to the TEACH Grant program?

In July 2021, the Department of Education announced changes to the TEACH Grant program to provide greater flexibility and promote better outcomes for teachers and students.

“Our teachers are champions of students’ potential and stewards of their success,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement.

“Respecting and honoring teachers who serve students with the greatest needs also requires that we ensure these educators receive the support to which they are entitled from this important federal program without having to jump through unnecessary hoops.”

Here are some of the changes to the TEACH Grant program:

  • The TEACH Grant Exit Counseling (as described above) is now required.
  • The TEACH Grant servicer, FedLoan Servicing, will send detailed notifications every year that goes over obligation requirements, documentation reminders, accrued interest estimates and other important information. (However, FedLoan’s contract expires in December 2021, so future grant recipients will work with a different loan servicer.)
  • Grants will no longer be converted into loans if recipients don’t start their teaching service within 120 days of leaving school.
  • Recipients whose grants were converted to loans in error will have more options for relief.

Overall, the changes offer more flexibility to grant recipients, who will no longer have to worry that a small misstep, like failing to send in their annual certification of teaching service, will automatically trigger the conversion of their grant into a loan.

Meanwhile, the proposed the American Families Plan discussed above has other planned reforms that could benefit aspiring teachers, including stopping interest capitalization when a grant converts to a loan.

What other options do teachers have to pay for school?

While the TEACH Grant offers a great way to make your education affordable, there are some other great options out there.

Future teachers can benefit from the wide variety and large number of scholarships available for this profession. Check with your college or university, as well as with the state government where you study (or where you plan to teach).

Also look for scholarships and grants from nonprofit and other private organizations. Or even better, check out our guide to scholarships for education majors.