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Any college student and their parents can tell firsthand how expensive it is to pursue a degree.
Trends show that tuition has more than doubled by 6.8% in the 21st century, with most students in the United States paying about $35,551 per year.
Since the pandemic, immediate college enrollment from high school has declined dramatically by four to 10 percentage points, a rate most noticeable amongst lower-income students. Additionally, 79% of low-income students are likely to drop out of college by the second year, while 60% take about six years to graduate with a four-year degree.
Fortunately, financial aid is available to low-income and minority students through grants. If you’re looking for financial assistance for college and want to know how to apply for grants, this guide will walk you through the steps.
The Difference Between Grants and Scholarships
During the 2015 – 2016 academic year, minority and low-income students accounted for 78% of the 20 million enrollees — increasing by 29% and 21%, respectively. Although the numbers are optimistic, the lack of affordability often interferes with degree completion.
About 25% of American families apply for grants and scholarships to offset the cost of college. With more than 1.7 million private scholarships valued at over $7.4 billion yearly, there are several awards to go around.
Although most people use “grant” and “scholarship” interchangeably, there’s a fundamental difference. Scholarships are merit-based for achieving high academic standards and interests and cover partial or full tuition. Meanwhile, grants are needs-based and awarded according to your or your family’s financial situation.
Many government agencies and universities offer grants to low-income students. Like scholarships, grants do not need to be repaid and are considered a “gift aid.” However, they also tend to be more limited.
Types of Grants Available
Students can apply for these four different types of grants to help pay for college:
- Federal Pell Grant: Undergraduate students with exceptional financial need can apply for a Federal Pell Grant — the current maximum award amount is $6,895 for the 2022 – 2023 academic year.
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG): College students can apply for an FSEOG grant to earn between $100 to $4,000 per academic year, depending on their financial needs.
- Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant: Students who’ve lost a parent or guardian because of military service in Iraq and Afghanistan can receive a grant equal to the current Federal Pell Grant award amount.
- Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant: Students working toward a teaching degree can receive $4,000 in financial aid when they teach for four years in a low-income school.
Although students don’t have to repay most grants, those who receive a TEACH grant and fail to complete the four-year teaching requirement must pay back the award.
5 Steps to Apply for Grants
Eligible students should apply for grants to keep their college loan debt manageable. Depending on the financial situation, grant awards might vary from a few hundred dollars to one’s entire degree program.
Interested students should follow these five steps for applying for grants early to maximize their opportunities.
1. Apply for Federal Financial Aid
Because grants are needs-based, filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) determines which grants students qualify for and how much money they’re expected to pay out of pocket.
Remember to fill out a FAFSA form every year you attend school to continue receiving financial aid.
2. Determine Your Eligibility
The federal government will consider a student’s and their parent’s earnings when determining how much financial aid they can receive. The amount informs students about the eligibility requirements they meet for each grant.
For instance, students with a family income of $20,000 or less are eligible for the Federal Pell Grant. Those who qualify for a Federal Pell Grant can also apply for FSEOG and other funding for low-income individuals through their university.
Some grant eligibility specifies race/ethnicity, a particular degree program, or an intended career — others may have additional requirements, such as relocation or working for a specific company for a certain timeframe.
3. Search for Grants
Students can search for grants online through various government websites. For instance, Grants.gov contains a free database of funding opportunities that students can filter based on their financial aid eligibility.
State, county and city websites also post available grants for students to apply for, sometimes even publishing links to external opportunities.
Of course, students should speak to their college or university’s financial aid office for collegiate funding opportunities.
4. Fill Out an Application
Once students have determined which grant(s) they want to apply for, they’ll probably need to register an account to fill out the application.
For example, Grants.gov requires applicants to create a “Workspace” account to apply for grants more efficiently by managing various application profiles and storing their work in one place.
Other online application features students might stumble upon are editing tools to update their profiles with the most current information and somewhere to upload necessary forms and supporting documents.
5. Track Your Progress
The benefit of online application systems is tracking an application’s progress as it works through each review stage.
Students might be able to review changing statuses next to their applications, such as “Submitted,” “Under Review,” or “Accepted.”
Most grant databases like Grants.gov will also retain an application for a few years so students can look back at what they’ve previously submitted.
Afford a College Education With Grants
Every student should have access to affordable education regardless of income, race, or background. For low-income students, grants make earning a degree possible and less stressful by reducing tuition costs and student debt.