With the average cost of attending college exceeding $20,000 a year, you don’t want to leave any stone unturned when it comes to financial aid. Grants are one of the best types of financial aid to receive. They’re essentially free money that you don’t have to repay (seriously!). For the best chance of success, start your research early and explore a range of sources.
Resources to help you find grants in college:
Your university’s financial aid office. Check out the university’s website and schedule an appointment to meet with one of their financial aid counselors. They’ll have a wealth of information about various types of grants available through their institution as well as through other sources.
Ask whether the school offers need-based and/or merit-based grants and which ones they think are the best fit for you. Also, ask the financial aid counselor how much the grant award is likely to change each year that you’re in school. It’s important to know what the requirements are for renewing the grant so you know how much money you’ll receive in subsequent years.
FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Complete the FAFSA as soon as possible this year (prior to June 30, 2016) and do so every year you’re in college. This application will determine your eligibility for federal grants as well as other federal financial aid. Common federal grants include:
- Pell Grants – primarily for low-income undergraduate students as well as some post-baccalaureate students pursuing a teaching degree
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants – for undergraduate students with an exceptional financial need
- Academic Competitiveness Grants – for low-income freshman and sophomores who have received a Pell Grant
- Federal TEACH Grants – for students who will commit to filling a teaching position in an area of critical need once they graduate
- Spouse Education Assistance Program – for military personnel and their families across each branch of service
Department of Higher Education or Student Assistance Commission in your state. Visit their websites to find state-issued grants. These grants are typically given to lower income students, female and minority students, as well as students pursuing a particular career path. For example, there are many grants offered by state and federal agencies as well as employers to encourage students to pursue degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.
Area employers. You’re likely to find many “grants for service” through corporations. These organizations award grants to students who are pursuing degrees in fields that are closely aligned to their core business. This is particularly common among research-focused businesses such as biotech and health care. You can find many of these grants through your university’s financial aid office or the U.S. Department of Labor’s free scholarship search tool. Tip: Some corporate grants require a commitment to work for the organization once you graduate, so be sure you read the fine print before you accept corporate grant money.
Professional associations. There are many associations, including the American Nurse Practitioner Foundation and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, that award grant money to students pursuing a degree in nursing.
Advocacy groups. Nonprofit groups that advocate for the rights of specific populations, such as disabled or otherwise disadvantaged students, often offer financial support for college. For example, the nonprofit Capture the Dream helps support single mothers in California who are looking to earn their degree.
Service organizations. There are numerous volunteer organizations that promote community service and higher education. For example, the Lions Club is one of the most well known service organizations, and they award grant money at the local level to students in their community who might otherwise not be able to afford to go to college. Check with your local Lions Club chapter for opportunities.
Researching college grants:
Earning grant money doesn’t have to be so time-consuming. Just follow these easy steps to stay on track as you research college grant opportunities.
- Think about grant selection criteria. Consider the different categories where you fit in to be eligible for grants. This includes your education status (undergraduate/graduate student), financial status, ethnicity, background, academic performance, special skills (athletic, arts, etc.), and your field of study. This will help you get started with researching which grants you’ll be the best fit for.
- Subscribe to a reputable scholarship search engine such as the College Board or FinAid.org. Important: Avoid financial aid scams; don’t ever pay a site to provide you with grant information.
- Prioritize. Start out by looking for federal and state grants since they offer the most money, and then look to other sources.
- Focus on your grades. Although many scholarships are based on financial need, they often tend to have additional GPA and other academic requirements you must meet.
- Keep a calendar. Write down important deadlines for grant applications. Be sure to allow enough time to gather any supplementary information needed for the application, such as tax returns, letters of recommendation, etc.
- Ask around. Let friends, family, teachers, your employer, and mentors know that you are looking for grants. You never know who might be able to help! Also, meet with your high school counselor about potential grant awards you may be eligible for.
- Proofread. Read grant application instructions carefully. Before you submit applications, ask a friend or family member to proofread them for you to make sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors. It’s always helpful to have another set of eyes to prevent unnecessary mistakes.
- Pace yourself. Many grants are highly competitive but if you take your time to research the best grant options and apply to as many as you can, you’re likely to succeed in winning some valuable grant awards!