What are Education Grants?
Education grants are monetary awards given to students to pay for education costs. Grants can come from government sources as well as private sources. Grants are literally free money to the student. There is no requirement to repay them. Most grants do not come directly to the student however. Most go to their financial aid office to pay for tuition, feeds, room/board, and other expenses. If there is any left over, the grant may allow for disbursement to the student of the remaining funds. Most grants have a maximum amount available to a given student for each semester they attend college.
In the United States, one of the most common education grants is the Pell Grant. This grant is at the core of the federal financial aid program to help low income families afford to send their children to college. Part of the Higher Education Act of 1965, this grant program focuses on providing monetary awards to help students from low income families attend institutions of higher learning. In the 2010-2011 academic years, the maximum award amount given was $5,500. For students from especially low-income families, the Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant is an option. This grant offers an additional $100 to $4000 per academic year to qualified students.
Some education grant programs tie academic requirements to financial need to determine eligibility. A good example of this is the National Science & Mathematical Access to Retain Talent Grant (National SMART Grant). The first requirement for this grant program is the student must qualify for the Pell Grant's economic requirements. After that, the student must be an upper classman in pursuit of a scientific, mathematical, or technological degree. Another grant program in this category is the Academic Competitiveness Grant (ACG). This grant also requires Pell Grant eligibility first. The academic requirement is to be a first or second year student meeting certain grade and class requirements.
There are education grants that are not needs based. The Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant program is an example. This program is only open to children of service members lost during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11. The TEACH Grant is another example. This program requires a student to agree to teach certain subjects to low-income students for four years after graduation. Neither of the grant programs is needs based. They do have strict requirements though.
Who can apply? Eligibility Requirements
Most education grants are needs based. The critical criterion for eligibility is the student's financial status. The Department of Education uses a standard formula to determine this eligibility. It takes into account the student's income and assets. If the student is still dependent on parents, it also accounts for the parents' income and assets. It looks at the size of the household in which the student resides. If the parents have other children in postsecondary education, it also looks at that factor. These factors go into determining the estimated family contribution amount.
For the education grants that require academic qualifications, the students must meet the financial guidelines first. Then the college looks at the student's individual academic record to see if he or she qualifies for the ACG or the National SMART Grant. The ACG requires a student to be a freshman or sophomore holding a 3.0 GPA. Continuing that grant means keeping the grades at that level or better. The National SMART Grant requires the student major in specific technological, scientific, or mathematical areas in order to qualify. The student must also be in the third or fourth year of study (fifth year if a five-year program). If the student meets the particular academic and financial requirements, then they are eligible for the grant program.
For education grants that are not needs based, the qualification process is a bit different. For the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant program, the student must provide proof that they lost a parent or guardian due to active military duty in the Iraq or Afghanistan conflicts since 9/11. For the TEACH Grant, the student must request the grant and sign an agreement that the student agrees to teach in a specific subject at a low-income school for four year after graduating. These grants still go through financial aid offices at universities and colleges.
How to apply for Education Grants?
All students applying for Education Grants must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This Application is available through your university financial aid office or the FAFSA website. This application form requires the applicant to provide full information on financial status for the student and the parents if the student is still a dependent. This application also gathers information on assets and other members of the household. This information goes into determining how much aid the Department of Education will grant to an individual student.
The exact amount of aid depends on whether the student is a dependent, independent without dependents, or independent with dependents. The student will receive a Student Aid Report stating the full award mount. That can include both grants and student loans. It also contains the student's expected family contribution amount. Once the student receives the Student Aid Report, the school has the paperwork necessary to receive the grant. Once the Department of Education releases the grant, the school has three options. It can release the money directly to the student. It can apply the money towards academic costs. Or it can use a combination of both.
A TEACH Grant is a bit different. Because of the necessary agreement, the student must request this grant first. The financial aid office in the university can help set this grant up. The student must sign an agreement to teach in a certain subject at a low-income school for four years after graduation. Once the student signs the agreement, the school can release the funds to the student either directly or as an application against standing academic costs.
For more information on education grants and the FAFSA, please visit the following websites:
Grant Application Guides and Resources
It is always free to apply for government grants. However the process may be very complex depending on the funding opportunity you are applying for. Below are some of the published guides that have been helpful to past recipients: