How to Find the Right Sources
Few college-bound students have the financial resources to pay for their post-secondary education entirely out of pocket. Even students with substantial college savings plans typically find that they are left with sizable amounts of unmet need. The average total cost of attending a public four-year college is more than $20,000 per academic year. Students planning to attend a private college or university can expect to spend more than $30,000 per academic year. A college education is a costly proposition, and all indications are that those costs are only going to increase.
With the cost of a college education continuing to rise, most students will need to consider various types of financial assistance. It is not unusual for a student’s college fund to be comprised of some combination of personal savings, family contributions, scholarships, grants and student loans.
When preparing a college fund, no financial resource should be ignored. Education grants are one of the most popular, and most valuable, sources of financial assistance for college students. With the right grants, students can make their dreams of a higher education a reality.
How College Grants Differ from Scholarships & Student Loans
Unlike student loans, college grants do not require repayment. College grants are just like scholarships with 1 exception: cholarships may be need-based or merit based, whereas most grants are typically need-based. Students must fill out a FASFA to check their elegibility for federal grant programs.
College grants are primarily awards of free money, that do not require any repayment on the part of the recipient. They can be directed toward specific educational expenses, specific types of students, or general purpose. Unlike scholarships, which are typically awarded on the basis of academic achievement or athletic, artistic or extracurricular performance, grants are awarded according to financial need. This is not to say that academic merit will not be considered, only that financial need is given greater weight in the final decision making process.
As students begin to investigate possible grants for college, they will likely find a variety of award-for-service grants. These types of grants are typically allied to a distinct course of study, and are applied to students with definite career goals. Typically they address critical shortages in certain professional fields including healthcare, legal aid, teaching and social work. A grant-for-service requires recipients to agree to a predetermined term of service, working within their chosen field, at a critical need facility or in an under-served community. If the student fails to meet their obligations, the grant will revert to a standard student loan, and the student will be expected to repay all monies received plus interest.
Grants for college-bound students are supported by a variety of different sources, including:
- Federal and State Governments
- Colleges and Universities
- Public and Private Organizations
- Professional Associations
Regardless of the source of the grants, the purpose remains the same: to make a college education more accessible to all students by supplying the necessary supplemental funds to help them meet their total college costs.
Federal grant programs for college-bound students form the bedrock of all financial aid in the United States. These programs should be the first stop for all students looking for financial assistance to help them pay for college. Federal education grants are funded by the government, and administered through the U. S. Department of Education. Federal education grants help thousands of students pay for college every year. Without these grants, many students would not be able to realize their higher educational goals.
The following Federal grant programs are currently being offered to U.S. Students.
- The Federal Pell Grant – Since 1972 the Federal Pell Grant has been helping students in the United States fund their college educations. More students rely on Pell grants for financial assistance than any other grant program in America.
- The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant – The FSEOG is designed to give financial aid to undergraduate students with extreme financial need. The FSEOG program is funded by the Federal government, and administered through the financial aid offices of participating colleges and universities. Students must apply through their college of choice, and grants are awarded on a first come, first served basis.
- The Federal TEACH Grant – The TEACH Grant is an example of an award-for-service program. The grant provides Federal funding to students who agree to take up a teaching position in a high need field, or critical shortage facility, following graduation. Recipients must sign a contract agreeing to a predetermined time of service. Students who fail to fulfill their teaching obligations will have their grant revert to a student loan, and will be responsible for the full repayment, plus interest, of that loan.
Every state in the union has a Department of Higher Education that monitors, and regulates, the colleges and universities within that state. Most states offer their resident students some degree of college financial aid, either through their Department of Higher Education or through a dedicated Student Assistance Commission. Scholarship and grant programs are common at the state level, and are typically supported by state and local taxes, and/or state lottery funds.
State-funded college grants typically address financial needs of low-income students, as well as encouraging and supporting women and minority students in their college careers. States also often offer career-specific grants-for-service to those students pursuing degrees and careers in high demand fields such as teaching and nursing.
Grant programs will vary widely from state to state, and students are encouraged to refer to our section on State Supported Grants and Scholarships for more information on state-funded financial aid programs, and for links to information on financial aid programs specific to their state.
Once students have exhausted the available Federal and state supported grants, they may wish to look to other sources for financial assistance. Many grants for college-bound students can be found in the private sector. Corporations and professional associations often offer grants for deserving students who are pursuing degrees in fields closely allied to that business or organization. College grants can also be found through religious organizations, as well as clubs and associations dedicated to community service. These grant programs may have very specific eligibility requirements, but they do offer substantial financial assistance to those students who meet the necessary criteria.
Colleges and universities can also be prime sources for grants. Often, colleges will be given private endowments from individuals and businesses for the purpose of providing financial aid to deserving students. Again, privately endowed grants and scholarships tend to have highly specific eligibility requirements, and may target certain portions of the population such as women or minorities. They may also be dedicated to students pursuing degrees in specific fields or disciplines.
Students searching for non-government funded college grants should begin by combining their status as a student (undergraduate or graduate), their field of interest and their personal background (minority status, gender, etc). Many grant programs can be found with a focused search of the internet, or through the financial aid offices of colleges and universities. This can be time consuming, but the rewards can be substantial.
Some college grant programs are open to all students regardless of background or field of study. These are considered General Grants, and typically are decided according to financial need and academic performance. A great number of college grants, however, are designed to target specific portions of the population or students pursuing particular degrees or career paths. These can be broken down into the following categories.
As with all college grants, funding may be provided by a variety of sources, including state governments, professional associations, corporations, colleges and universities.
Popular Student-Specific Grants
The width and breadth of the student population in the United States continues to grow and change as more and more students head to college to improve their education and professional opportunities. The American collegiate population is made up of a diverse array of students of all types and backgrounds. Grants for college-bound students are often designed to benefit specific types of students, and to address their particular financial needs. The most common student-specific grant programs fall into the following categories.
- Low-income and culturally disadvantaged
- Military and their dependents
Women and minorities make up a large section of the national student body, and there are a large number of grant programs that target both groups. We will discuss grants dedicated to their needs in a later section.
The traditional model of a college-bound student is beginning to change. While the majority of college students are still newly minted high school graduates, more and more adult learners are headed to colleges and universities across the country. Some may be returning to school to finish degrees that were interrupted by work and family commitments, while others may be attending college for the first time for training courses to help them achieve greater success in the national workforce. Non-traditional students include single parents, displaced workers, returning military veterans and adults seeking new career opportunities.
Grants for non-traditional students are sponsored by variety of different sources, including state and local governments, corporations, advocacy groups and professional associations. These programs provide vital financial assistance to those non-traditional students who are looking to improve their lives, and the lives of their families, through higher education.
Low Income and Disadvantaged Students
Most college grants are designed to address the needs of students who are facing a financial shortfall in their college funding. That being said, a wide range of grant programs are dedicated to providing financial aid to students in more extreme circumstances. Grants for low-income students are specifically designed to address the financial needs of students from economic or socially disadvantaged backgrounds. Typically, these programs will be sponsored by state and Federal governments, advocacy groups and charitable foundations.
In addition to grants dedicated to the economically disadvantaged, there are a wide range of grant programs designed to target the needs of students with both physical and mental disabilities. Grants for students with disabilities help to increase college accessibility to students facing a wide range of personal challenges, including blindness, hearing impairment, autism, and decreased mobility due to physical impairment. Disabled students looking for grants to help them pay for college should begin their search by focusing on advocacy groups and charitable foundations dedicated to the needs of people with their particular disability.
Grants for Military Students and Families
One of the most significant sources of grants for college is the United State’s Armed Forces. Education grants from the military help enlisted service-members, their spouses and their dependent children, find the resources they need to pay for college. Each branch of the military, including the army, navy, air force and marines, provides financial aid programs to benefit their service-members. Military sponsored grants are also offered to the children and spouses of service-members who have been killed, or disabled, in the line of duty.
While military sponsored grant programs offer valuable financial assistance, it should be noted that they are only available to enlisted members of the armed services. Serving one’s country in a military capacity is a noble and honorable choice, but it should not be made lightly. Students considering military sponsored financial aid for college should be certain that they fully understand their obligations as enlisted personnel in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Many grant programs are dedicated to the needs of students pursuing specific degrees, and with specific career goals. Typically, these programs are designed to encourage and support those students who are pursuing professional careers in high need fields such as science, mathematics, healthcare, and education. These subject specific grants are sponsored by a variety of sources, including Federal and state governments, corporations and professional associations.
The STEM Subjects
There is currently a national push to encourage students to pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The United States is currently falling behind in the number of students graduating with professional degrees in the STEM fields. Consequently, grants have become more abundant for students pursuing studies in these fields. These grant programs are typically sponsored by Federal agencies, state governments and professional associations.
Many regions of the country are currently experiencing critical shortages in licensed healthcare personnel. Nurses, nurse practitioners, and primary care physicians are all in great demand across the country. Grant programs, supported by both public and private sources, have been put into place to encourage students to pursue careers in the healthcare industry. Many of these grants are award-for-service programs, and recipients will be required to serve a predetermined time of service in a high need medical facility, or under-served urban or rural community.
The American school system, like the healthcare system, is also experiencing a critical shortage of qualified professionals. Teachers are in great demand, particularly in historically under-served communities. Grants for educators are available from a variety of sources, including professional teaching associations, private endowments, and state governments. Many of these programs, particularly those supported by state governments, are award-for-service programs. Recipients will be required to sign a contract agreeing to a term of service teaching at a high need school, or in an under-served community.
A Note on Grant-For-Service Programs
Many grants dedicated to specific career paths are, in fact, award-for-service programs. These programs perform two functions; they give much needed financial aid to talented students pursuing careers in high need fields, and they help to secure and retain talented professionals in communities that are experiencing critical manpower shortages. Students entering into a grant-for-service program should understand that they are agreeing to a binding contract, and will be obligated to fulfill all the of the particulars of that contract. Students who fail to meet their award-for-service obligations will find that their grants will revert to standard student loans, and they will be expected to repay all monies received plus interest.
Degree Level Specific Grants
Grants for undergraduate students are a large part of the financial aid landscape. These programs may provide general grant funding for students pursuing any number of degrees, or they may be specific to undergraduates enrolled in science, mathematics or engineering courses. Grants for undergraduate students are available from Federal and state governments, colleges and universities, corporations and professional associations.
Graduate and Doctoral Students
Grants for doctoral candidates and graduate students are highly competitive, and focus on the financial needs of students engaged in research to complete their high level degrees. These grants are often referred to as fellowships, and are typically sponsored by colleges and universities as a way of bringing the best and brightest graduate students to their campuses. Unlike the more traditional undergraduate grants, these programs place a great amount of weight on academic achievement. Financial need is a secondary consideration. Grants for graduate and doctoral students are typically high dollar awards, and will include funds for research related travel and stipends for living expenses.
Minority Specific Grants
Many grant programs exist to serve the needs of minority groups who have a history of being under-represented in the American higher education system. While great strides have been made over the last few decades, more work needs to be done to expand and diversify the American collegiate student body. Grants for minorities, and for women, are sponsored by a variety of sources, including state and Federal governments, professional associations, corporations, colleges, universities, charitable foundations and advocacy groups.
Grants for African American Students
African-American students will find a wide range of grants designed to help them pursue their dreams of a college education. For too long African-Americans were under-represented in the halls of academia. But with the help of publicly and privately funded grant programs, they are beginning to take their rightful place on college campuses across the country. Over the last decade, the number of African-Americans graduating with a four-year degree has risen sharply, and dedicated grant programs for African-American students are helping more and more students of color pursue their dreams of a higher education.
Hispanics are now the fastest growing minority population in the United States. Unfortunately, the rise in population numbers is not yet adequately reflected in the number of college-bound Hispanic students. This is beginning to change, however, and the availability of dedicated college grants for Hispanic students is on the rise. Grants for Hispanic students are supported by charitable foundations and advocacy groups, as well as by corporations and professional associations dedicated to diversifying the American workforce. Hispanic students will find a large number of grants designed to encourage them to pursue specific career paths, with an emphasis on science, mathematics and technology.
Native American Students
Grants for Native American students may be less prevalent than those for other minorities, but they are beginning to become more plentiful. State governments, advocacy groups and private endowments support a growing number of grants dedicated to helping Native-Americans pursue a college education. Many of these programs target members of specific Native-American tribes, and students will be required to present documentary evidence of their American Indian heritage. A large number of grants for Native-American students are career-specific, with an emphasis on healthcare, education, science and technology.
Asian American Students
Asian-Americans are one of the fastest growing ethnic populations in the United States. While Asian immigrants have been part of the American workforce for more than a hundred years, they have been historically under-represented in mainstream colleges and universities. That is beginning to change, and more Asian-American students are headed to college than ever before. For many, they may be the first in their family to pursue a college education. Grants for Asian-American students are supported by a variety of charitable foundations, corporations and private endowments. Like many grants dedicated to the financial needs of minority students, many grants for Asian-Americans place a particular emphasis on specific career paths, including science, technology, education and journalism.
Grants for Women
Women make up 51% of the population of the United States, yet are still considered a minority. While the numbers may prove that women are a majority of the American populace, they unfortunately remain under-represented on most mainstream college campuses across the country. Private women’s colleges have a long history of providing solid educations with an emphasis on career self-sufficiency. But the need for greater diversity at mainstream colleges and universities still remains, as does the need to diversify the American workforce.
Many organizations, professional associations and advocacy groups have developed a wide range of grants designed to help women take their rightful place in America’s halls of higher education. Grant programs for women are designed to encourage female students to pursue degrees, and careers, in a wide range of fields in which they have been historically under-represented. Education grants for women typically focus on disciplines in need of greater diversity, such as science, mathematics, technology and business.
Grants provide much needed financial support for students of all types, and from a variety of diverse backgrounds. For many students, education grants mean the difference between achieving their college dreams and having those dreams deferred. Students should make the search for college grants a priority when preparing for college. Before considering any high cost college loans, students should investigate the many and varied grant opportunities that may be available to them.