Applying for college grants is one of the smartest and simplest ways to finance your online education.
The process is easy, and the U.S. Department of Education awards more than $150 billion a year in grants, work-study funds, and low-interest loans to more than 15 million students. The payoffs can be huge for those who qualify. Financial aid grants, unlike loans, do not have to be repaid. Grants are essentially free money, earmarked for your online education.
Applying for Federal College Grants
The best resource for college grants is the U.S. Department of Education. By completing and submitting the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA), students are immediately eligible for student grants, loans and work-study opportunities. All of the federal grants listed below are awarded through student FAFSA applications. In addition, most colleges and universities use the FAFSA to award their institution's financial aid. To receive the best financial aid package possible, you should apply on January 1st of each year.
Major Grants Awarded
Federal Pell Grant
Pell Grants are generally reserved for undergraduate students who have not earned a bachelor's or a professional degree. They are the foundation of federal financial aid, to which aid from other sources (federal and non-federal) can be added. The amount each student is eligible for changes annually and depends on a variety of individual factors, including financial need, costs of attending school, full-time or part-time student status and plans to attend school for a full academic year or less.
Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)
The FSEOG program is designed for undergraduates who demonstrate exceptional financial need. Recipients of the Pell Grant with the lowest expected family contributions (EFCs) as outlined on the FAFSA application are first in line for these education grants.
Academic Competitiveness Grant
This 2-year grant, which provides aid through the freshman and sophomore years of undergraduate study, is available to full-time students who are eligible for a Pell Grant and have successfully graduated from a "rigorous high school program." This broadly refers to students who have excelled in programs such as the State Scholars Program, the State Scholars Initiative, and Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses. These programs must be completed with passing grades, or scored with a three or higher for AP exams, or four and above on IB exams. In addition, second year students must have a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 to be eligible.
Miscellaneous Student College Grants
While federal grants are a good jumping off point, there are many grants available for tenacious students who know where and how to look. Most colleges provide institutional grants to help bridge the difference between college costs and what a family can be expected to contribute through their combined savings, income, loans and student earnings.
Some grants are geared specifically towards minority students or women. Other grants, known as merit awards or merit scholarships, are awarded on the basis of academic achievement or from a department based on an individual's field of study. Some merit awards are reserved for students whose families demonstrate financial need; others are bestowed regardless of family finances. You'll want to investigate the types of grants offered by each college or university to which you are applying.