For many students today, borrowing and acquiring debt are assumed parts of going to college. Instead of automatically applying for loans, students should investigate all other options of funding their education. Grants are an excellent way of paying for college because they are considered need-based gifts and usually do not require repayment, unlike student loans. In addition to private sources, like clubs and specific schools, the US government also issues grants.
Federal grants are a common source of funding for students, and they are relatively easy to apply for. Simply fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and submit it. Every student should submit the FAFSA, even if they don’t think they will qualify, as there is no penalty for not receiving aid. The FAFSA should be submitted as quickly as possible since some federal aid programs have limited availability.
There are four main types of federal grants:
- Pell Grants are usually given to undergraduate students who have not earned a degree yet. As of July 1, 2012, you can only receive Pell Grants for twelve semesters.
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) are for students with exceptional financial need. These grants are awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis, so submit your FAFSA as soon as possible.
- Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants are designed for students aspiring to become teachers. Recipients must sign an agreement which requires them to teach a high-need subject for at least four years at a school that serves low-income families. This grant is only available to students in an approved program of study, so ask your financial aid office to find out which programs are eligible. Details about the agreement and requirements are available at the TEACH Grant website.
- Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants are awarded to students who have lost a parent or guardian during their military service. In order to qualify, your parent or guardian’s military service had to take place in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11. Additionally, at the time of their death, you must have been enrolled in college at least part-time or been under the age of twenty-four.
Grants are also available from state-level governments. In most cases, your state will use your FAFSA and/or your tax information to calculate aid, although other documents might be needed. In addition to needs-based grants, states offer awards based on special criteria such as school performance, minority status, disability status, or studying a high-need field. Programs and their requirements vary from state to state. A list of state grant agencies can be found here, or you can contact your state’s department of education for information about available grants.
In very few cases, you might have to repay a grant – for example, if you leave school without graduating – but generally, grants are free money you can use to pay for college. Even if you still have to borrow money, grants can put a significant dent in your overall debt.