When it comes to paying for your post secondary education, nothing beats school grants. For one, you don’t have to pay them back (unlike student loans), and secondly, they are usually doled out without the expectation of scholastic performance (unlike a scholarship, for instance).
From the student’s perspective, this makes grant funding one of the most desirable means of paying for his or her continuing education.
These days, obtaining a post secondary education is critical step to obtaining a well-paying, sustainable career. At the same time, it has become prohibitively expensive to do so. Accordingly there are a number of grant programs and funding sources in place that can be accessed by almost anyone willing to get educated.
Let’s take a look at some of the essential information necessary to get school grants and make your education something affordable.
The basic principle here is that any citizen who can demonstrate “financial need” is eligible for a grant. However, what financial need means differs somewhat from grant to grant. Basically, it is based on the yearly income either of the individual seeking to enroll in the school program, or the individual’s family income (i.e. parents).
As we go over the various grant programs currently available, we’ll also take a look at what some of the eligibility requirements. Chances are that unless you or your family are really doing quite well financially (which is less and less common in these troubled economic times), you are eligible for some sort of grant.
Which ones will depend on the specifics of your financial situation as well as the school(s) to which you are applying.
The simplest way to apply for a large majority of available state and federal grants is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. The FAFSA form can be found online and more details about it can be found here! It can also be picked up in paper form at many different locations such as universities, libraries, legal offices, and so on. The FAFSA is the basic way that state and federal government find out about and processes your financial status so that they can determine your eligibility for grants.
The FAFSA has several sections. In the first section you fill out basic information such as your name and social security number, address, and so on. The next section requires you to answer questions regarding your dependency status (the majority of people applying for school grants are young and still dependent on their parents). The third section requires you to answer questions about the income situation of the parents, and the fourth section asks for information on the income/tax status of the student himself or herself.
Obviously, for people no longer dependent on parents, the third section is not important, and the fourth section is where all the relevant financial information is supplied. Various documents such as your tax returns and proof of income are needed to complete the FAFSA (there is a worksheet that goes along with the form to help you gather all the right documents before hand).
Types of Grants Available – Back to top
There are a number of school grant programs available in the U.S. Two of the main federal grant programs are PELL grants and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) grants. In addition there are other grant sources which include state grants available in the student’s state of residence, scholarships given by private foundations and organizations, and grants given by the educational institutions themselves.
Pell Grants (Back to top)
Pell grants are one of the most common and widely accessed type of federal school grant, and are funded by the U.S. department of education. This type of grant was originally called the Basic Education Opportunity Grant program and was named after Claiborne Pell, a US senator from Rhode Island. While the amount of Pell grant money issued has been steadily rising (in 2010-11 the maximum grant will be $5,550, up from $4,050 in 2006-7), the fact that tuition are also steadily rising means that it now covers less of the tuition than it used to. It currently covers about 30% of tuition on average while in 1990 it was around 60%.
The eligibility for Pell grant is based on what is called Expected Family Contribution, which is an assessment of how much either the student or more commonly the student’s family can contribute to education costs for the school year being applied for. Again, this information is accessed from the FAFSA – simply filling out the form and stating that you want to be considered for a Pell grant is all that is required to apply for one.
Some of the nice things about Pell grants is that the amount of grant money never runs out – the more students apply the more money is allocated, you can be reimbursed for tuition money you’ve already paid, and you can adjust the amount you are applying for in response to changes in financial status.
Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity (FSEOG) Grants (Back to top)
FSEOG grants are similar to Pell grants in that they are federal and are based on financial need. These grants are done in tandem with the school a student is applying for. The government puts up 75% of the grant amount awarded and the school provides the remaining 25%. The eligibility is also arrived at from information on the FAFSA form and again, this is the main way to apply for them. A few other stipulations are that you must be a U.S. citizen, you must not already have a Bachelor’s degree, you can’t have had an overpayment of a federal Pell grant, and you can’t be in default on any educational loan.
More information on the FSEOG can be found here!
State Grants (Back to top)
Virtually all states have their own school grant programs. It is very easy to find out about them by consulting our exclusive state by state listing of available programs. Although your eligibility for some of these will be determined after you submit your FAFSA, applying for some of these grants require submitting separate forms. These can be accessed either be from the school in question or from the grant program’s website. They are then submitted prior to the beginning of the school year.
Grants and Scholarships Given by Private Foundations or Educational Institutions (Back to top)
There are all kinds of foundations that give grants to students based on financial need, often along with good academic performance on the part of the student. These grants are known as scholarships. They may have various criteria other than simple financial need and good grades – sometimes they are for, say, underprivileged minority groups, students studying a particular field (for instance, electronic technology), and so on. Check our listing of state grants and scholarships and you will find many of these available programs.
Scholarships can often be secured from the very school a student is attending. If you have good grades and clear financial need, you may be eligible for one. Simply check with your school’s financial aid department and they can tell you all about scholarship eligibility.
Primary and Secondary School Grants (Back to top)
It should be noted that the above discussion has mainly been about grants for post secondary education – i.e. the college or university level. There are also grants/scholarships available for children attending private school at the secondary (high school) or even primary educational levels. These grants are a bit harder to find, but nevertheless many programs exist.
Probably the best advice here is to talk to the financial aid administrator of the school to which your child is applying. They can tell you all about both the grant and scholarship opportunities of the school itself, and of various foundations and government programs that you can apply to. You can also check with your state’s department of education.
If you want to go to school, the grant money is, more often than not, there. If you are truly wealthy enough not to qualify for any grant money, chances are you won’t be searching for grants anyway. So rest assured that if a grant seems like it will be necessary to help you out with education costs, you’ll probably be eligible for one. It may not cover the entire cost of your tuition, but the more effort you put into finding a series of grants (rather than just one) the more of your educational costs you can potentially fund.
The first step is apply to go for the main “big” grants – the federal grants listed above, plus whatever is available at the state level. For that, the key is submitting your FAFSA as early as possible in year you wish to attend school. After that is done, begin making a big list of all the more private grant sources available – everything from scholarships from your school, to private foundations, to even websites. When you’re done you should have a large list of potential sources. Simply apply to them all, and see what happens. If you’re lucky, you’ll find yourself with a good, substantial proportion of your education taken care of. Good luck!
Helpful Links (Back to top)
FAFSA web site