College is expensive business in the U.S. Students have to shell out anywhere from 20 grand per year in a public college to 60 grand a year if it is a private college. Recent reports indicate ‘outstanding student loan debt topping $1.2 trillion nationwide’ (MainStreet). Gathering the much-needed moolah adds to the stress of academics with many graduates continuing to pay off their student debts long after they leave campus. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 60 per cent of college students graduate with student loan debt.
Money for college can come from various sources: personal and family funds, student loans, scholarships, and grants. Grants are often the antidote to students with financial needs. Failing financial support, these students may lose out on a college education. The advantages of grants against student loans and scholarships are that they don’t have to be repaid with interest, and they are not based on academic merit alone. When considering grants, it is the financial needs of a person that becomes the core focus of the decision-making process.
But wait, grants may also come with strings attached. For example, students who make use of the award-for-service grant like the Federal Teach Grant or those offered by states specifically for teaching and nursing are bound by certain commitments. Failing to meet these commitments will lead to the grant morphing into a loan, which means the student will need to repay the cost of the education.
If you are looking for a grant, it is necessary that you do your homework to help you select the right grant that meets your academic goals and your financial needs.
Types of Grants
Grants are offered by the government, universities and colleges, and various organizations. Federal government grants are the most sought-after. State-funded grants can vary from state to state, and these address not just students from low-income groups but also minority groups. State and federal government grants are usually the first preference. Apart from that, students can also explore private organizations, and colleges and universities for grants that are given to students who meet their eligibility criteria.
Colleges and universities have financial aid departments that can be approached for grants. To score the right grant, keep in mind your educational qualifications, your academic and career goals, and your income status or if you are considered to be part of a minority group. Colleges and universities also issue grants that are specific to students, degrees and minorities. Those specific to students include adult learners, military veterans and students with disabilities.
Advocacy groups and charitable organizations are known to offer grants to students with disabilities, while the U.S. Armed Forces offers grants to veterans and to the families of soldiers who have been killed or injured. The Federal Government’s Iraq and Afghanistan Grants are an example of this. Minority group grants are awarded to African-Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, and women. Academic achievement enters the picture in case of doctoral grants that colleges and universities are willing to sponsor. Here, financial needs take a backseat, and the student’s grant money extends to cover living expenses, not just tuitions.
Applying for Grants
Now that you know the types of grants out there and who sponsors them, it is time to consider how to get one.
- Submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for federal government grants like Federal Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) , Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants, and Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants. The deadline is usually June 30 every year.
- Meet a financial aid counselor at a university or college’s financial aid office to understand if the grants they sponsor are merit-based or need-based, and if they undergo changes annually. A few college grants out there are Elmhurst College Grants and State of Illinois Grants.
- To find state grants, the Department of Higher Education may be helpful. Grants sponsored may be specific to students and choice of subjects like minority groups and STEM applicants.
- Some organizations, specifically in the area of research and healthcare, offer grants to students who wish to pursue studies that are related to the company’s business functions. Taking a grant from such companies will require you to work for them after completing your academic course. Such opportunities may be found on the U.S. Department of Labor’s website.
Other places to scout for grants are advocacy groups, professional associations and volunteer organizations. Some examples of such organizations are the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, Elks National Foundation, and the Alexia Foundation Student Grants.
Grants: The Game Plan
Some ways to streamline the grant-hunting process are:
- Know the eligibility criteria and where you fit in
- Make sure you meet the deadlines set for grant applications
- Don’t let your grades slide. Even if you are looking for needs-based grants, your academic records will be looked into.
- Find a mentor who can help you through the process
- Send out a letter requesting financial aid
Wish Granted, Now What?
Once you receive a financial aid letter, make sure you understand: what are the costs that the grant will cover, how to handle situations when the tuition costs change or your financial situation changes, the amount of money to be repaid, the number of years it’ll take to complete your degree, and other terms and conditions. Find out when you are expected to confirm, and use that time to compare the grant with others that you may get to find the one that fits your needs best.
Remember, it doesn’t end here. You have to apply for grants each academic year and keep your eyes out for increases in tuition and other expenses. If the grant does not cover all your expenses, you also have to consider student loans and scholarships to supplement that. The planning and time spent on choosing a grant is worthwhile as it will help you reach your academic goals while managing finances intelligently to avoid massive student debts.