You might have thought you were all done with preparing for college simply by applying to the colleges on your list. However, if you will require financial aid in order to go to the college of your choice, then you’ve just started another educational venture, which is learning all about financial aid in the form of grants, scholarships, work-study programs and student loans. This article takes you through what you need to know about applying for federal grants that can help you to pay for college.
To apply for a Pell grant and other federal grants, you start by filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. You can read AcademicInfo’s article on it here and it tells you what you need to know about the FAFSA.
Pell grants are for financially needy students. According to the Department of Education’s 2012 budget, $41 billion was budgeted for the Pell grant program, awarding amounts up to $5,500 each to students with a financial need, around nine million of them. By filing your FAFSA form early in January of the year you’re planning on attending college in the fall, you’ve automatically applied for the Pell grant. When you receive your Student Aid Report from the federal government, you’ll be notified if you qualified for a Pell grant and how much you’ll receive.
It’s as simple as filling out the FAFSA form, so don’t neglect this important step, even if you think you won’t qualify for financial aid.
Qualifying for a Pell grant isn’t difficult as long as you show financial need on the FAFSA, but you will have to have the following:
- A high school diploma or pass the General Education Development test
- Register with the Selective Service if you’re a male between 18 and 25 years old
- U.S. citizenship or eligible non citizen
- Complete the FAFSA and show financial need
- Social Security number
- Show progress in academic studies
- Are applying or have applied to approved college or university
Keep in mind that you’ll need to fill out a FAFSA for each year you are in school. You can receive Pell grants each year, but the amount awarded may change annually.
Other Federal Grants
The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity grant may award between $100 and $4,000 a year to undergrads with exceptional or significant financial need. Usually, the SEOG is given to students awarded Pell grants whose families have the lowest EFC (expected financial contribution).
TEACH stands for Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education, which is an acronym that almost works. It offers up to $4,000 to students who want to be teachers in elementary or secondary schools with low income students. TEACH grants are awarded to students if they fully intend to become a teacher in a needed area, such as math or science, in a school in a low income area. You’ll be required to teach for a certain time period. Not all colleges have TEACH grant eligible programs, so check with your colleges ahead of time. Keep this in mind, if later you do not fulfill the obligations of the grant that you serve as a teacher in a low income area for four years, then the funds you received through this grant will be turned into an unsubsidized loan which you’ll have to repay.
The Academic Competiveness Grant is awarded to a student who qualifies for a Pell grant, is a U.S. citizen or eligible non citizen, has a GPA of 3.0 and who took challenging courses in high school such as honors or advanced placement classes. If you took the tough classes in high school and your grades were good enough, you may be awarded an extra $750 if you are going into your freshman year at college or $1,300 if you’re going to be a sophomore. Created in 2006, it rewards rigorous academic work. Go for it if you’ve got the grades and the classes.
National SMART Grant
The federal government simply loves acronyms and thus the national SMART grant or National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent. This grant offers $4,000 to juniors and seniors in college who qualify for the Pell grant, earn a 3.0 GPA in a technology, computer science, life science, mathematics or critical or needed foreign language major. SMART grants are awarded through the auspices of colleges and universities at their discretion. You must fill out the FAFSA to be awarded this grant, as with all federal grants.
In summary, you can perhaps now see the importance of filing a FAFSA form each year you’ll be in college. Both need and some merit-based aid are based on this form and your qualifications for each type of grant. Apply for all that you think you may qualify for, and gain the most in financial aid for your college education that you can obtain.