If you’re wondering how to get grants for college, welcome to the maze of financial aid. Take the right route, and you could secure funds via the government, directly from your school or elsewhere. Get lost, and you could find yourself having to rely on student debt to meet your cost of attendance.
To ensure you head in the right direction, let’s review how to apply for college grants and where to find them. We’ll also cover turning to scholarships, when grants aren’t enough.
How to apply for grants for college
For those who don’t know, grants are like scholarships. They’re money for college that you almost always don’t have to pay back. And when you fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year, you’re put in the running for both grants and student loans.
One of the main factors that determines if you’re going to be offered grants through the FAFSA is your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). That’s the amount of money it’s presumed your family can contribute to your college costs (regardless of whether they intend to pay). If your EFC is too high, you’ll be given loans, not grants.
Of course, not all grants show up automatically on your school’s financial aid award letter. Take these steps to ensure you’re not missing out on grant opportunities:
- Complete federal and state financial aid forms: The FAFSA and your state’s equivalent are the gateway to grants and scholarships, and it’s worth filing them even if you think your parents make too much for financial aid to even be possible.
- Check eligibility requirements: Like other forms of financial aid, grants carry specific criteria. Ensure you meet a program’s rules before going to the trouble of step 3.
- Compile your application materials: Some grant programs rely exclusively on your FAFSA or other financial aid forms, while others might have scholarship-like requirements, including grade transcripts, recommendation letters and personal statements.
- Look beyond your school’s aid package: Whether or not your school’s offer letter contains grants for college, seek out grant (and scholarship) money that isn’t initially awarded and can be found using resources we’ll review below.
How to find grants for college
Whether through the government or your school or for your unique background or degree program, there are various grants for college and graduate school available nationwide. Start with these resources:
Federal grants for college
When you’re filling out your FAFSA each year, these are the federal grants you could theoretically be awarded:
State grants for college
Once you’ve tapped out your options for federal grants, your next option is to explore state grants. There are many ways to do this, but one of the easiest might be to contact your state grant agency.
Our complete guide to state grants for college also lists opportunities. Only Nevada, New Hampshire and Utah are among states that don’t have active grant programs available for resident students.
Most state grants are need-based, but some states have grant programs specifically for:
- Students in Advanced Placement or dual enrollment programs
- First-generation students
- Minority students
- High-achieving students
- Students pursuing an in-demand career
- Graduate or professional students
- Adults returning to school, perhaps on a part-time basis
- Children of public servicemen and women
Again, your state’s grants are likely accessible only after you complete the FAFSA and your state’s unique financial aid application (if it has one).
Grants from your school
The FAFSA is not the only way to get financial aid. You can also visit the College Board to fill out the CSS Profile, which goes more in-depth than the FAFSA and can help you unlock additional funds for school, including grants.
This application does cost money, though. It’s $25 for your first application and $16 for each additional school, although application fee waivers are available.
Unfortunately, not all schools participate. Still, the CSS Profile can be a good way to see if a school you thought was too expensive might be able to give you more aid than others.
Grants for women
For much of history, women have not had the same opportunities as men. Luckily, many organizations have stepped up to support women’s education and career development.
Below are a few college grants for women in support of that mission:
College grants for graduate school
When it comes to getting grants for your field of study, there are many you can take advantage of if you attend graduate school.
If you’ve already secured a fellowship for graduate school, this might not apply to you. But for everyone else, look to…
Grants not enough? Before you resort to student loans for your second degree, consider other financial aid for grad school.
Turn to scholarships when grants aren’t enough
Sometimes grants just aren’t enough to cover the cost of your college tuition. In that case, turn to scholarships.
Like grants, scholarships are a form of gift aid that only needs to be repaid in rare scenarios, such as dropping below half-time enrollment or not meeting a certain grade point average.
Unlike grants, however, scholarships are typically…
- Merit-based, meaning that you up your chances of winning one by being a top student or athlete or by taking on extracurriculars
- Found outside the government sphere, mainly from school endowments, private foundations and community-based organizations
You can also get scholarships just for being the unique individual you are. For example, there are scholarships for cancer survivors.
Ask yourself how you stand out from the pack, and seek out scholarships that fit your identity, interests and achievements.
Applying for college grants worth the effort
College enrollment is like a baptism by paperwork. It’s the first of many adult transitions that require you to sign stacks of forms, some of which you might not even fully understand. It’ll happen again with job offers, insurance forms, mortgage applications and more.
“Form fatigue” might make it tempting to end the process with the FAFSA form, even if you were only offered loans and not grants. But stopping there without looking for other grants for college means you could be walking away from money for school.
Don’t let the deluge of files prevent you from doing all you can to find college grants. The more money for college you find now, the less student loan debt you’ll have later.
Andrew Pentis contributed to this report.
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