Many university or college-bound students today face rising education costs and finding alternatives, such as grants, can help defray some of the expenses of attending. Grants are grouped by student-type and subject-specific, and are meant to help make higher education accessible to financially-needy students. Different from a loan, which accrues interest and is meant to be paid back by the loaner over a period of a time (determined by the lender), grants are monetary "awards" given out for need-based purposes or for merit achievements. Additionally, there are some grants specifically designed on degree level or minority/disability basis. It is important to know which kind you might qualify for before applying for one or more. Identifying the major sources of grants is key before beginning your search. Grants can be awarded by federal or state governments, by colleges and universities, and by public or private organizations.
The Federal Government offers hundreds of thousands of students the monetary resources to make higher education aspirations a reality. Popular federal grants include the Pell Grant, one of the primary sources of federal funding for millions of low-income students; the Academic Competitiveness (AC) Grant, available to undergraduate freshman and sophomores with outstanding academic records and leadership capabilities; and the National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grant (SMART) which rewards undergraduate junior or seniors studying computer science, mathematics, or science. Offered by the U.S. Department of Education, each grant has different eligibiltity requirements and award amounts differ according to each. Over 1,000 grant programs are offered by 26 federal agencies.
Some State Governments award grants to resident students according to need, merit, and sometimes area of study. Not all states offer grants and the ones that do might favor a cross-section of communities, from the academically gifted to adults continuing their education, from the disabled to American Indians. Researching your state government's website will usually be a good indicator of whether or not they award grants.
Student-specific grants can run the spectrum according to a wide array of need. Some basic categories include non-traditional students, low-income or disadvantaged students, graduate and doctoral, high school and undergraduate, and military. Non-traditional is defined by those students outside the average college student's age of 18-24 years old. Today, many older adults are choosing to continue their education and some students, especially those in post-secondary or advanced placement classes, are attending college at a much younger age. There are many grants to choose from according to your specific situation as a student, and don't let need-based circumstances defer you from applying to private schools. Many smaller, private colleges offer generous amounts in addition to financial aid, as they are interested in attracting the brightest students regardless of background or need. The Montgomery G.I. Bill provides assistance to those who have served in the military and seek a college education or vocational / technical training. There are many organizations who support disabled degree-seekers. Some popular organizations that offer disability-based grants are the National Federation for the Blind, Jewish Guild for the Blind, and the National Association of the Deaf.
Subject-specific grants are awarded due to specific interest or area of study the student wishes to pursue. Many organizations both public and private have active educational funds to attract students to their career field. These internships, fellowships, scholarships, and grants reward the most academically-driven, curious minds as a way to offer experiences and opportunities within the student's area of interest. Many subject-specific grants favor minorities and women to diversify typically white male-driven atmospheres.
Minority students can greatly benefit from the federal government's proactive stance towards educational need. Statistics show that typically grants from the federal government are awarded to minority students and women. One of these, the Pell Grant, is considered one of the greatest opportunities for those applicants who qualify. However, if you don't apply or qualify for the Pell, you are also automatically eliminated from several other federal grant opportunities such as the AC and the SMART grants mentioned above. Minority foundations and well-known organizations such as the United Negro College Fund, the Hispanic College Fund, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the American Indian College Fund are the next best place to search. They all maintain funds and scholarship programs designed for ethnic minority students.
Last but not least, make sure to complete your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) before applying for any grant! Most government, public, and university programs require that you complete and submit the application before considering you for further awards. FAFSA deadlines vary by state, so check now and don't miss out!