Paying for College: State and Federal Grants
Unlike loans, grants do not have to be paid back. Grants are usually need-based and can be awarded by state and federal governments. If you’re looking to use grants to fund your college education, it’s important to know what grants are available – as well as to understand the parameters and limitations on them.
Grants are not available to everyone. The best candidates for grants are usually those without a previous college education who have exceptional financial need. As they are awarded based on need, it’s possible your financial situation may not qualify you for a grant. Grants are usually only available to those who have not earned a degree before, so if you’re going back to school for an advanced degree or to get a Bachelor’s degree in a different subject, you likely won’t qualify. Some grants are also only available to specific demographics, such as teachers of children of military members.
Available grants include:
Federal Pell Grants: This type of grant is usually awarded to undergraduate students who have not earned a Bachelor’s or professional degree and have exceptional financial need. The amount of financial aid you can receive from a Pell grant depends on your need, the cost of the school you’re attending, whether you are a part-time or full-time student and other considerations, but generally the annual award is capped below $6,000 ($5,775 for the 2015-2016 school year). If the Pell grant is an option for you, keep in mind that you can only receive a Pell grant for 12 semesters (6 years).
Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG): Like the Federal Pell Grant, the FSEOG is for undergraduate students with exceptional financial need. These grants are awarded directly through each participating school’s financial aid office. The good news is, if you qualify for a Federal Pell Grant, you will also qualify – and receive priority – for the FSEOG program as well. The bad news is, not every school participates in the program, and each school only receives a limited amount of funds each year. Once all those funds have been awarded, no more funds will be available. Award money generally ranges from as low as $100 to as high as $4,000.
TEACH Grants: If you are interested in becoming a teacher, the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant is available to undergraduate, post-baccalaureate and graduate students who are taking coursework necessary to become teachers. Under this grant, you can receive up to $4,000. The caveat? In order to qualify for the grant, you have to sign a TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve in which you agree to teach for at least four academic years within eight years of completing your degree, in either a high-need field or an elementary school, secondary school or educational service agency that serves low-income families. High-need fields include: bilingual education and English language acquisition, foreign language, math, reading, science and special education. If you don’t keep the signed agreement, the funds you received will be turned into a direct unsubsidized loan that you must then pay back. (Learn more about financial aid opportunities for teachers.)
Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant: This grant provides financial aid to students whose parent or guardian died as a result of military service in Iraq or Afghanistan. This grant has the same maximum award as the Federal Pell Grant.
Cal Grants: California residents who have not earned an undergraduate degree may be eligible for a Cal Grant, a merit- and need-based state grant. There are several divisions of Cal Grants, including the High School Entitlement Award (for current high school seniors and recent high school graduates), Transfer Entitlement Award (for students who plan to transfer directly from a California community college to a 4-year university) and Competitive Awards (for students who are not eligible for the entitlement awards). The Entitlement Awards come in two divisions. Cal Grant A is renewable for up to 4 years; Cal Grant B is for a program that is only one year in length, but includes an additional annual Access Award for living expenses.
California Chafee Grant for Foster Youth: If you are a current or former foster youth in the state of California and have not yet reached your 22nd birthday, you may qualify for a California Chafee Grant for Foster Youth. This grant awards up $5,000 a year for college, and can also be used to help pay for child care costs, rent or transportation expenses while you’re in school.
Don’t qualify for federal or state grants? Don’t sweat it. There are plenty of other ways to fund your education. For more information, see the original post “How to Pay for College without Federal Loans”, or check out the post “Paying for College: Public Service Opportunities.”