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GoCollege Guide to Student Grant Programs

Why College Grants Make Sense for All Students

Grants are monies allocated by issuing agencies for accomplishing specific goals.  Of the thousands of grants issued in the United States each year, very few are offered directly to individuals, and even fewer are specifically related to educating you.  As you wade through the various available programs, look for individual student grants that you can apply for directly, rather than those that are issued to institutions or communities.

Grants are like scholarships in that they provide financial aid that is not required to be repaid.  The funds are applied to school expenses in the same way student loans are.  Tuition, books, housing, and other costs associated with post-secondary education are paid for or offset by grants.  These programs are typically administered by participating institutions of higher education (IHE), so your funds are collected from the financial aid office at your school.

Federal and State Governments commonly fund student grant programs, which are typically awarded based on a series of metrics that includes economic need, ability to pay, student status and academic achievements. Though your level of need is considered, grant awards are not exclusively based on your family’s income. In fact, two general types of grant programs stand out for college students Need-based grants and Merit-based grants.

Federal Grants

The Federal Government is the largest provider of student grants.  For those seeking aid, it all starts with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).   The standardized application gauges your need for financial assistance.  Student income, parental income and assets, and family size are used to compute your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your EFC is then used to create an individual Student Aid Report (SAR) that spells out your anticipated financial aid needs.

Your personal SAR is sent to colleges of your choice, and acts as the analytical tool that financial aid offices use to evaluate your eligibility for grants, loans, and other forms of assistance.

  • The Federal Pell Grant program offers the deepest pockets for needy students. Pell Grants providecollege grants financially disadvantaged undergraduates with tuition assistance – often as part of a blended aid package that also includes loans and work-study. Eligibility is determined annually based on submitted FAFSA information and reflects four specific criteria.
    • Financial need beyond Expected Family Contribution
    • Specific cost of attending your school
    • Academic status as a full or part-time student
    • Consistent yearlong enrollment
    The maximum individual award varies each year based on Congressional funding for the program, but it has recently amounted to around $5000 per academic year. (
  • The Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant program or (FSEOG) are awarded only to students with exceptional need. Students that have an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) of zero on their SAR are considered first. Once they have been funded, remaining FSEOG funds are used to provide assistance to students with the next greatest level of need. Money continue to trickle down in this manner until funding is exhausted, so time is of the essence if you are counting on this aid.
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants are awarded to students, regardless of need, if one of their parents was killed during service in the military. The program mirrors Pell Grants in size and scope, but without the financial need component.
  • Academic Competitiveness Grants (ACG) and Science and Math Access to Retain Talent (SMART) grants are reserved for the most needy Pell Grant candidates.  $750 - $1300 can be awarded yearly to disadvantaged students who maintain GPA and eligibility standards.  ACG is for first and second year students, while SMART awards funds to third and fourth year students who are studying math, science, engineering and other approved tech subjects.
  • Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) is an education initiative that provides tuition assistance for individuals who agree to teach in specific schools upon graduation.  Up to $4000 is awarded yearly to education students who commit to the program.  Graduates who receive TEACH money must teach for 4 years in an approved primary or secondary school that serves low-income students.
  • The United States Military pays for college and other vocational training for veterans. The Montgomery G.I. Bill is one of the oldest federal educational assistance programs, while it’s successor, the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill, provides for current and future soldiers. Whether they are interpreted as benefits or as grants, the programs pay for tuition, housing, books and other expenses for qualifying veterans. (

Institutional, State and Merit Based Grants

Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) also provide financial aid.  These programs target the financial shortcomings that exist between what a family is able to pay, and what the school actually costs.  Some institutional programs are strictly need-based, while others are tied to academic performance. 

“Merit Awards” are school contributions that reward academic achievement in a way that resembles giving scholarships.  Merit awards are sometimes tied to financial need, but in many cases eligibility is open to all high-achievers, regardless of their ability to pay.

States initiate grant and scholarship programs of their own.  When you submit your FAFSA and have your resulting SAR submitted to colleges within your state, you are automatically considered for some state grants.  Others require separate applications, so consult with the financial aid office where you plan to attend school.  College financial aid departments are best equipped to provide information about specific grant programs that might yield fruit for you.

State grants are linked to need, achievement, and a host of other individual features that define eligibility. Specific program requirements can often be accessed through individual states’ issuing agencies.  For example, the Wisconsin Higher Education Aids Board lists the following opportunities:

  • Wisconsin Higher Education Grant (WHEG) – Need based program for in-state tuition assistance.
  • Wisconsin Tuition Grant (WTG)
  • Talent Incentive Program (TIP) – Funds reserved for the most economically disadvantaged college-bound Wisconsin students.
  • Indian Student Assistance Grant
  • Hearing and Visually Handicapped Student Grant
grants for college

How to Apply for College Grants

The process yields funding for your education, so give due diligence to uncovering whatever funding opportunities exist for you.  Above all, here are 7 simple points to improve your chances:

  1. Submit your completed federal application on time, according to FAFSA deadlines. For quickest attention, forms can be filled out online.
  2. Make sure required state applications are submitted on time, and to the proper administering agencies. 
  3. Allow time for corrections and clarifications related to your applications.  If a source has finite funding, it could run out of money before your flawed application is considered.
  4. Align yourself with the financial aid professionals at your school.  The financial aid landscape is always changing, so up-to-date knowledge is reserved for those who administer these programs every day.  Some applications incorporate recommendations from individual financial aid offices, so you definitely want these staffers to be familiar with your situation.
  5. Maintain eligibility requirements.  Don’t overlook GPA and other requirements that influence your eligibility for ongoing awards.
  6. Exploit your uniqueness.  Investigate opportunities that target students like you.  For example, music grants for musicians, race eligible programs, vocational options, and so on.
  7. Provide proper documentation. Be aware that some applications specify extra documentation that must be submitted for consideration. Academic transcripts, proof of residency, ethnic verification and other paperwork should be made available on request.