The price of earning a college degree is higher than ever before, but there are many opportunities for students to get financial aid to cover most or all of their expenses.
The average cost of attending a public four-year college is $9,410. For out-of-state students, that amount is $23,890. Want to attend a private college? Multiply that in-state rate by three. And that’s not even including room and board.
Most students take out loans they’ll be paying off for decades after graduation when they could’ve received free grants or scholarships to help cover the costs.
What is the difference between a grant and a scholarship? Unlike loans, these two awards don’t need to be paid back. Grants are typically need-based and scholarships are merit-based.
Do you need help finding grants to pay for college? Keep reading below to find out how you can get your hands on federal, state, and institutional grants.
Step 1: Submit a FAFSA to Receive Financial Aid
Before you can be considered for any financial aid, you must complete a Federal Application for Free Student Aid.
You’ll provide some personal financial information like your income, bank statements, or tax returns, and the Office of Federal Student Aid will email you a Student Aid Report.
This report will include your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and an estimate of how much aid you qualify for. It’s also sent to your college so financial aid counselors can build you an award package.
Here’s an important tip: your award package includes all types of aid. They will list grants and student loans, so look over everything carefully before signing on the dotted line.
Obviously, you want grants or scholarships to cover your tuition and fees. Student loans should only be a last resort. With that being said, let’s discuss the types of grants available to students of all ages and backgrounds.
Step 2: Do You Qualify for Federal Grants?
The federal government provides grants to college students through the U.S. Department of Education. The Pell Grant is their largest and most well-known program.
Pell Grants are awarded to undergraduate students who display “exceptional” financial need. The amount you’ll receive is based on your EFC and the maximum amount for 2020-2021 is $6,345.
Not everyone gets the maximum award and it can change each year.
Do you still have costs that the Pell Grant didn’t cover? The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) is given out by participating schools. Awards range from $100 and $4,000 a year and are based on financial need.
The federal government manages other grant programs as a benefit to military personnel and to incentivize particular degree tracks.
The Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants are for students who don’t qualify for Pell Grants because of their EFC but had a parent or guardian who died as a result of military service or during the events of 9/11.
School teachers are in high demand right now. The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant provides up to $4,000 a year for students training to be K-12 teachers.
As a condition of receiving these funds, new teachers must work in a high-need field like special education, a school serving a majority of low-income families, and complete at least four academic years within an eight-year window.
Step 3: Does Your State Provide Grants to Students?
Chances are the state you live in provides back to school grants. Visit this list of state contacts from the U.S. Department of Education. Select your state and find out where to look for grants.
Need-based grants aren’t the only type awarded by state governments. Funding is also given for academic achievement, minority students, students with disabilities, veterans, and students pursuing careers in high-need fields like nursing.
You can even find free grants for online schools if you’re working while taking classes. Some people prefer the flexibility of virtual classes.
This financial support is available for all student types, there are even grants for adults returning to college.
Finding grants may take a little time, but they’ll help you pay for college. Your school’s financial aid office should be able to help.
Step 4: Your College Can Help With Finding Grants
As we mentioned above, your school’s financial aid office is your best resource. They can help you identify grant opportunities you never considered before and give you tips on applying.
Most schools offer institutional grants separate from the federal or state government. Whether these funds are for academic excellence, athletic participation, or housing allowances, they’re worth checking out.
Nearly every college has an advancement office. Their job is to bring in money through fundraising. They collect funds for new facilities and student grants and scholarships.
While you’re searching for college or university grants, also consider scholarships from non-profits. These don’t need to be paid back.
Scholarship applications often require students to do a variety of things to earn the award, including essay contests, video submissions, personal interviews, volunteering, or requesting letters of recommendation.
Don’t expect that every scholarship you get comes with no strings attached.
More than 1.7 million private scholarships and fellowships are awarded annually. That adds up to about $7.4 billion per year.
Google is the best place to find scholarships, besides your high school guidance counselor or college financial aid office. Applying for scholarships isn’t a requirement of going to college, although by not doing it you’re missing out on a big opportunity.
Time to Start Applying for Grants
There are so many sources of financial aid available to college students. The problem is most students don’t know where to look or think they won’t qualify. Hopefully, this article has demonstrated that’s not true.
You’ll never know if you qualify unless you give it a shot! Start by submitting your FAFSA and then investigate potential grant programs at the federal, state, and college levels. Finding grants is easy, thanks to Google.
Are you starting college soon? Our website offers more tips on preparing for the college lifestyle, paying for textbooks, and selecting the right major for your future success.