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Student Loan Debt is Offset by Free-Money Grants

College funding concerns are a reality for most students preparing for the transition from high-school to college.  Higher education is expensive, so simply writing a check for your tuition is usually not possible.  Ancillary expenses associated with your schooling also add up quickly, so don’t overlook housing, books and general living expenses, as you work to get a handle on just how much your education will cost.

Financial aid is available to students who qualify, and it generally comes in three forms:  Scholarships, loans and grants.  Some aid funding is based on performance, like scholarships that reward students for good grades or outstanding athletic achievements.

Loans and grant awards reflect an income-based component that places money in the hands of those who need it most. Grant programs for low income students are designed to increase access to higher education, for those who would otherwise not be able to attend college.

Unlike loans, grant money is not repaid by the students who receive it.  Like scholarships, grants provide funds for tuition, books, housing and living expenses that do not require repayment.  It is common for students to draw from financial aid packages that include scholarships, loans and grants.  The value of low-income grants cannot be overstated – it is free money that will not leave you with post-graduation student loan aid

Primary sources for low-income grants include:

  • Federal Government
  • State Governments
  • Colleges and Universities

Federal Grants

The United States Federal Government has the deepest pockets for low-income student grants.  If you are seeking financial aid, your first order of business is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  

The FAFSA represents the most important source of documentation used to determine your need for financial-aid during college.  Your income, your parents’ financial profile, and other information about your family are analyzed to compute your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

Your EFC comes from a realistic interpretation of your family’s financial picture, including whether or not you have siblings who are in college. Once your EFC is established, it is used to compile an individual Student Aid Report (SAR) that outlines your college financial aid needs.

Your individual SAR is distributed to colleges you choose, and serves as the most important tool that college financial aid offices use to measure your eligibility for grants, loans, and other student assistance.

Federal Low-Income Grants for College Students

  •  The Federal Pell Grant program issues the greatest number of grants to low-income students. Pell Grants provide financially needy undergraduate students with tuition assistance that does not require repayment. A blended financial aid package that includes loans and work-study, in addition to grants, is usually offered. Each year’s eligibility is computed using your FAFSA information and is determined based on four specific criteria.
  • How much money you’ll need beyond your Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
  • Expenses associated with attending your particular school
  • Your status as a full or part-time student
  • Yearlong enrollment as a student

The maximum individual award varies each year based on Congressional funding for the Pell Grant program, but student maximums currently stand at approximately $5000 per academic year.

  • Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) areU.S. Government grants that are available only to students with considerable financial needs. Students that have an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) of zero on their Student Aid Reports (SAR) are the first applicants to be consideredfor this type of grant. If there is further funding available after these students have been issued grants, the remaining federal FSEOG funds are offered to students exhibiting the next greatest level of need. Grants continue to be disbursed this way until FSEOG funding is gone. Because funds are limited, time is an important consideration, if you are depending on this aid.
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants are awarded to students, regardless of need, if either of their parents were killed serving in the military. The program is like the Pell Grant Program, but need is replaced by military sacrifice.
  • Academic Competitiveness Grants (ACG) and Science and Math Access to Retain Talent (SMART) grants are offered to financially disadvantaged Pell Grant candidates.  $750 - $1300 is awarded annually to disadvantaged students who maintain eligibility standards, including GPA requirements.  ACG targets first and second year students and the SMART program distributes grants to third and fourth year students.  Eligibility targets those college students who are studying math, science, engineering and other technical disciplines.
  • Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) is a grant program for low-income students who plan to teach upon graduation.  Up to $4000 is awarded annually to education majors who commit to teaching in specific schools when they graduate.  If who receive grant money from TEACH, you must fulfill your teaching obligation for a period of 4 years, as a teacher in a primary or secondary school that enrolls primarily low-income students.  This type of arrangement illustrates what is known as a ‘grant for service’ financial aid.
  • 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 its 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 college expenses for qualifying veterans.
grants for students

State Grants Serving Low-Income Students

States put forth individual grant programs of their own.  Submitting your FAFSA and choosing the schools that receive your resulting SAR, automatically places you in consideration for some state grants.  Others states do require separate applications, so consult with your guidance counselor for access to the best information about your state.

It is also important to communicate with the professionals at your school’s financial aid office.  These examples illustrate the types of grants states issue.

CalGrants  is a large California student aid program. Eligible students are grantedup to $9,500 annually to help meet college costs. Financial need is the primary variable for determining need, but students must also meet basic requirements like citizenship and GPA maintenance.

Your FAFSA must be submitted within deadlines to be considered for CalGrants funds, and you must be an undergraduate student who does not possess a college degree.

In Wisconsin, the Higher Education Aids Board lists these state grants:

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

Check with your own state government’s higher education office to stay abreast of low-income state grant programs thatare available to you.

Grants from Colleges and Universities

Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) also provide grants.  These grants offset the financial divide between what a student is able to pay, and the anticipated costs of a particular school. Don’t overlook grants available from colleges and universities, your FAFSA might not be enough to place you in contention for the funds.

Some institutional grants are need-based, while others require high academic performance.  Merit awards reward academic achievement in a way that resembles scholarships.  Merit grants from colleges are sometimes tied to financial need.

Don’t discount your dream college just because the tuition is high.  Give them a chance to offer you a financial aid package that meets your needs.  Many schools give grant money to students they’d like to have on board; even slashing tuition for low-income and disadvantaged students.