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Government Grants for College

Guide to Grants for Undergraduate and Graduate Students

With the average cost of a four year degree at an in-state, public college hovering around $50,000, today’s students are being forced to scramble like never before to pay for their college education.

For financially needy students, grants can provide an important asset in your plans for college funding. Unlike student loans, grants are free money gifts with no obligation to repay them.

While that may sound like a scholarship, there is one important distinction between college grants and scholarships: grant award decisions are made primarily based on financial need, while scholarships are usually merit-based – academic, athletic or otherwise.

Even if you have already qualified for and accepted financial aid in the form of loans and scholarship, you may still be eligible for college grants. The typical college grant is a relatively small money gift, which is designed to offset the cost of college, rather than to completely underwrite it.

This Guide to Grants for Undergraduate and Graduate Students offers an overview of federal and state grants, including their eligibility requirements and basic application information.

Federal Student Grants

There are a number of federally funded college grant programs, providing assistance to low-income students, ranging from a few hundred to several thousand dollars in aid per academic year.

Since 1972, the Pell Grant has been the largest federal college grant program in the United States, annually awarding over five million grants, ranging from $400-$4,310 per academic year. The average new Pell Grant award is $2,620. While any student from a family earning less than $50,000 per year may be eligible to receive a Pell Grant, most awards are made to students with combined family incomes of less than $20,000/year.

The Academic Competitiveness Grant is a federal program authorized in 2006 to provide additional assistance to Pell Grant recipients who have demonstrated outstanding academics and leadership potential. College freshman and sophomores are eligible to receive the AC Grant, which provides up to $750 for the first year of undergraduate study and up to $1,300 for the second year.

The SMART Grant (National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent) provides $4000 per academic year to Pell Grant-recipients who are majoring in math, science, computer science, or engineering. Undergraduate juniors or seniors may apply.

Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students are need-based grants provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for students studying in an approved health care profession.

The application process for federal grants is fairly simple. First, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), available online at www.fafsa.ed.gov. The FAFSA will identify and select eligible Pell Grant recipients.

If you qualify for a Pell Grant, and you complete your FAFSA online, you will be automatically prompted to answer relevant questions about the Academic Competitiveness Grant. If you submit a paper FAFSA, you will need to contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center directly, at 1-800-4FED-AID.

There is no separate application required for the SMART Grant. Simply complete your FAFSA and be sure to indicate that you have declared an appropriate major.

State Grants

Every state offers need-based grants, and many offer merit-based grants as well. Additionally, some states have reciprocity agreements with neighboring states to enable residents to attend an out-of-state school with an in-state grant. For example, Minnesota and Wisconsin have agreements to allow their residents to attend schools in either state at in-state tuition rates.

Additionally, the following dozen states provide need-based assistance for residents attending any out-of-state school:

  • Alaska, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

African American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American students may also be eligible for state-sponsored ethnic minority grants. Many states also provide grants to women, particularly those studying in underrepresented fields, such as mathematics, science and engineering.

Likewise, non-minority students pursuing a degree in an underrepresented field, such as nursing and teaching, may earn grant assistance. Often times, these particular grants are conditional, dependent on a student’s willingness to make a minimum commitment to work in a particular school district or hospital.

For more information on available grants available to you, check your state’s Department of Education website.


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