Grants are monetary awards available to college students that don’t have to be repaid, except under exceptional circumstances where the recipient is unable to fulfill the requirements of the grant. College grants can be used to pay college expenses. Grants are generally awarded based on financial need, whereas scholarships can also be based on other criteria, including student achievement or participation in sports and the arts.
Award-for-service grants are common. They are designed to fill a need in fields that have more job openings than graduates to fill them. These kinds of grants can address the need for STEM graduates. Underserved areas, like rural hospitals or schools in rural or economically suffering areas, also provide grants to those able to fulfill the requirements and work in these areas.
It’s a good idea to learn how grants help you pay for college. They can be used along with scholarships, work-study jobs, and student loans, to pay college expenses and reduce or eliminate student debt.
Federal Pell Grants
Federal Pell Grants are an example of grants that are awarded based on financial need. Students must fill out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) every year to maintain eligibility. Students can begin the application process as early as October 1st, and the application must be resubmitted every year.
The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is based on a family’s income and assets. The EFC is compared to the Cost of Attendance (COA), including tuition and all other expenses, to determine the amount of the grant. While receiving funds, students must continue to make satisfactory academic progress.
The maximum award is $6,345 for the 2020-2021 school year. The award can be extended as long as six years depending on the number of courses taken. Eligibility usually ends upon graduation, except for some special programs designated to fill specific needs. Lifetime Eligibility Used (LEU) is calculated to determine the amount of funding still available to a student.
The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant
The TEACH Grant is a federally funded program that can help pay for college for students who are interested in teaching. It focuses on students majoring in areas of study that have trouble attracting qualified teachers. STEM subjects are among those considered. Prospective teachers must also be willing to teach in under-served areas. Recipients can be awarded as much as $4,000 a year while in school.
Once a teacher graduates and begins working to fulfill the requirements of the grant, the teaching salary is not affected. TEACH Grant recipients must teach a minimum of four years at an approved school or educational agency. In addition to the requirements for any federal student aid program, students must be enrolled as an undergraduate or graduate student at a school that participates in the TEACH Grant program.
Academic requirements include maintaining a minimum 3.25 cumulative grade point average or earning a score in at least the 75th percentile on at least one part of an approved college admissions test.
In addition to the FAFSA, the TEACH Grant Initial and Subsequent Counseling (TEACH Grant counseling) and Agreement to Serve (ATS) must be resubmitted yearly. The ATS includes the grant’s requirements and possible penalties if the requirements aren’t met.
The Academic Competitiveness (ACG) and the National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (National SMART) Grants
Recognizing the need to increase graduates in the STEM fields, the ACG and SMART Grants were established in 2006. Students must meet the requirements for the Pell Grant in order to qualify for these grants. The ACG is designated for college freshmen and sophomores, while the SMART Grant addresses the financial needs of juniors and seniors. Designed to complement the federal Pell Grant, it was created by The Higher Education Reconciliation Act of 2005.
Incoming freshmen must meet the same academic requirements for the basic Pell Grant in addition to specific academic standards required for those transitioning from high school to college. Rising sophomores must maintain an overall GPA of 3.0 after the freshman year. In order to qualify for the SMART Grants, a 3.0 GPA must continue to be maintained.
It’s a good idea to begin preliminary research into ways of paying for college in the sophomore year. The high school financial counselors can help students learn about available funding. It’s not too early for students to reach out to the local state school financial aid office as early as junior year. Getting a head start can help open up more grant opportunities to aid in paying for college.
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