There's a widely held misconception that grants are for specialized graduate students paying for their research or nonprofit organizations seeking to increase their reach.
Grants, like scholarships, however, are a form of gift aid and should be an initial step toward funding anyone's higher education experience, whether it's a four-year college or a two-year business school.
Unlike scholarships, which are rewarded based on merit, grants are very often awarded because of financial need.
Eligibility for grants depends on three main variables:
According to College Board data, grant awards in 2015-2016 originated from four sources: the federal government (34%), state governments (8%), academic institutions (43%), and other organizations (14%).
Here are a few tips on how to navigate each source of grants.
There are four main types of federal grants with varying types of eligibility. None of them can be earned without first filling out a FAFSA. Your school — whether it's a college, university or postgraduate program — will then use the information within your FAFSA to estimate your amount of federal aid. (This isn't a perfect process, so make sure you're not leaving federal dollars on the table.)
Pell Undergraduates — Up to $5,920
Supplemental educational opportunity Undergraduates — $100 to $4,000
Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) undergraduate, post-baccalaureate, or graduate student — Up to $4,000
Iraq and Afghanistan Service Undergraduates —Up to $5,815
It's important to be aware that you may have to repay part or all of an awarded grant if you stop meeting its requirements, such as withdrawing from school.
After filing your FAFSA, the best way to get started here is to find your state's financial aid office. The national association of student aid administrators hosts a clickable map that directs you to your state's aid webpage.
Be aware that not all states offer expansive grant programs. In fact, the University of California Berkley's Affording the Dream study, released in February, found that California, New Jersey and Wyoming all provide more grant aid to students than the federal government. On average, however, most states disperse much less grant money the federal government.
The public grants offered at the state level vary from state to state, but the types of grants can be categorized as those designed to benefit:
Before stepping on campus, memorize one fact: your school's financial aid office should be your one-stop shop for all education financing questions and concerns. The aid officers working here — every campus, no matter its size, has one — are trained and have the knowledge to particularly address the topics of financial aid, such as scoring grants and scholarships.
With that in mind, no two schools or financial aid reps are the same. One constant: What you put into the relationship with your financial aid officer is what you'll get out of it.
While grant opportunities vary from school to school, there are some common facts to consider:
Remember that even if your school offers limited or no grant opportunities, its financial aid office should be able to point you in the direction of additional funding sources.
Beyond the more obvious sources of grant money, it's important to consider this fourth avenue toward gift aid. Start by surveying profit and nonprofit organizations related to the field you are pursuing. These organizations could take the form of employers, unions, professional associations and community and special interest groups.
But don't stop there. Beyond your major or future career, look at your personal profile to find grants that could be a fit for you. You may run into grant opportunities, for example, that are looking to support students of your ethnicity, gender, location and veteran status, to name a few characteristics.
There are many aggregator websites, such as FindTuition.com and Unigo, that specialize in connecting students with scholarships and grant opportunities. During your search, just make sure you avoid websites that are either geared toward awarding grants for nonprofit groups (instead of individuals) or sites that aren't reputable.
As you're looking to finance your college or postgraduate education, it's best to consider all potential sources of grants because they are a source of gift aid. Gift aid, which also includes scholarships, doesn't need to be repaid like loans, so it's wise to rack up as much of it as you can.
In the process, be mindful of eligibility requirements and application deadlines. The perfect grant opportunity won't be of any use if your submission is tardy.