Student Grant Programs
Grants are similar to scholarships in that they are free financial aid that you are not required to repay. Federal and state governments commonly fund student grants, which are typically based on things like economic need, ability to pay, student status and academic requirements. The federal government is one of the largest providers of student grants. In order to qualify, you must file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) annually. Grant programs are typically based on merit or financial need.
Merit-Based Grants - Merit-based grants provide free college funds to students based on academic performance, sometimes in combination with financial need. The most common types of merit-based grants are state-based grants, which award education money to students with certain grade point averages and income levels. State grants usually require a separate application form, but may also require you file the FAFSA. Most state-based grants may be found directly on your state’s higher education website.
Need-Based Grants - Need-based grants are often awarded to students who may not be able to attend college without the funds. Sometimes your family income is a key in the formula for determining ability to pay and sometimes it is not. Most need-based grants are funded by the federal government. The most common federal grant is the Pell Grant, designed to provide financially disadvantaged undergraduate students with financial assistance. The amount you receive each year may change depending on federal budget restrictions, your family’s expected cost contribution and your student status. The Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) is awarded only to students with the most need. Federally-funded work-study programs provide financially needy students with on-campus job opportunities.
Qualifying for a Need-Based Grant - Qualifying for a need-based grant does not necessarily hinge on your family income, so don’t rely on this to self-qualify yourself for aid. In fact, plenty of college students have a significant family income, but still qualify for federal grant aid based on other factors such as number of dependent family members, number attending college and expected family contribution.
Other Types of Grants - There are plenty of other grants out there, such as grants for minorities, women, disabled individuals, etc. The Montgomery G.I. Bill enables students who have served in the military to possibly qualify for federal funding. Do some research online at the official Federal Student Aid website, CollegeScholarships.org or FinAid.
Applying for Grants - Most types of grant programs also require you to file a FAFSA, so make this the first application you fill out. By filing the FAFSA, you already are automatically considered for any federal grants. State grants often have different deadlines and requirements.