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 debt.
Primary sources for low-income grants include:
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.
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.
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:
Check with your own state government’s higher education office to stay abreast of low-income state grant programs thatare available to you.
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.