Grants & Fellowships Tips

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How do I apply for grants for college?

How to Apply for Federal College Grants

Qualifying for grants for college expenses can certainly help ease the financial burden of paying for higher education. Grants are just one type of financial aid for college. Grant programs are need-based, and typically do not cover all college expenses. The first step in applying for financial aid is to complete the Free Application for Federal Financial Student Aid (FAFSA). This form is the basis for determining eligibility for all federal financial aid programs including Pell grants, student loans, and work-study jobs.

Every student who is planning to attend college should fill out a FAFSA, regardless of whether or not he or she expects to qualify for federal aid. Students are sometimes pleasantly surprised to discover that they qualify for more than they expected. Additionally, some states use the FAFSA as the basis for awarding state-specific aid that is not need based.

It is recommended that you complete your FAFSA online for the fastest processing. However, paper applications are also accepted, and you may request one by calling 800-FED-AID. It is advisable to complete your FAFSA as soon after January 1 of the year you plan to start school as possible.

You will need a variety of information to complete the FAFSA, including:

  • Driver's License
  • Social Security Card
  • Tax Returns or close estimate (student and parents)
  • W-2s, 1099s, and any other income records
  • Documentation of untaxed income
  • Up-to-date bank statements
  • Mortgage details
  • Records of investments
  • Business ownership records (if applicable)
Fill out the FAFSA thoroughly and carefully. Any errors can result in a processing delay. Assuming that the form is filed correctly, you can expect to receive documentation verifying the information submitted and stating your expected family contribution. Following this process, you will receive an award letter from your school's financial aid office detailing your eligibility for federal aid. It will state the specific amount of grant funding that you can receive for the coming academic year.

Are there grant programs designated for students who completed high school programs designated as rigorous secondary school programs of study?

Academic Competitive Grant Program for First and Second Year Students

The Academic Competitiveness Grant program was launched during the 2006/2007 school year. The program provides college grants to first and second year Pell-eligible students who completed a “rigorous secondary school program of study” recognized as such by the United States Secretary of Education.

First year students who qualify for this college grant money may be awarded up to $750. Only those first year students who completed high school after January 1, 2006, and who have never been enrolled in a post-secondary degree granting program are eligible for the grant program.

Second year students may receive up to $1,300. Second year students must have high school graduation dates after January 1, 2005, and must have earned a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher during their first year of college.

Upon completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), students will be notified if they are potentially eligible for Academic Competitiveness grants. Students may contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center (1-800-4FED-AID) or their school's financial aid office for questions about eligibility for these academic grants.

Are there grant programs specifically for math and science majors?

SMART Grants Provides Assistance to Students Majoring in Select Fields

The U.S. introduced the national Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) grant program in the 2006/2007 academic year. These academic grants are available to students majoring in specific areas within the disciplines of math, science, technology, engineering, and foreign languages deemed as critical languages. For a list of possible majors, contact your financial aid department for information on the SMART grant.

To receive a SMART grant, students must have a 3.0 college grade point average (on a 4.0 scale), be Pell Grant eligible, and be enrolled their third or fourth year of a baccalaureate program, degree granting college or university. Students who meet the criteria for SMART grant funding should contact their school's financial aid office to request consideration for funding.

Are there any federal grant programs that can supplement Pell Grant funding?

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants: Help Beyond Pell Grants

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) funds are awarded to postsecondary institutions for the purpose of providing additional financial assistance to the neediest of students.

These student grants are intended to supplement Federal Pell Grant funding for students who demonstrate high financial needs. Schools that participate in the FSEOG program must contribute one dollar for every three dollars of federal money.

Participating schools may distribute FSEOG grant funding to eligible students at their discretion up to a cap of $4,000 per student per year. In order to be eligible, students must meet the criteria for Pell Grant eligibility, and must not have a Pell Grant overpayment.

Do the individual states fund student grant programs?

LEAP Program Provides Federal Funding to States for Educational Grants

The Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership (LEAP) Program is a federal program that provides education grants to states for the ultimate purpose of disbursement to eligible college students with demonstrated financial needs. These funds are intended to be utilized for community-related work study programs and educational grants based on financial need.

The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) allocates LEAP funds to each state based on the proportion of the national population eligible to participate in the LEAP funding living in the state. Each state is required to allocate sufficient funding to match the federal LEAP education grant funds on a dollar-for-dollar basis. The DOE requires that a single state agency be charged with the responsibility of administering the LEAP program and remaining compliant with all program requirements.

College students who wish to apply for LEAP grants must apply to their state of legal residence. If a state does not use all of its funds, any overage is disbursed among the remaining states proportionally. For more information about the LEAP program, call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 800-FED-AID.

The LEAP program was once referred to as the State Student Incentive Grant (SSIG) program.

How can I get scholarships and grants to help pay for school?

4 Tips for Identifying Scholarship and Grant Funding Opportunities

When working on ways to come up with funding to pay for college, it is in your best interest to thoroughly investigate the many available programs for scholarships and grants. Here are four top tips for locating scholarships and grants:

  1. Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid early. The sooner you find out about your eligibility for federal student aid, the better off you will be. When you know how much federal funding you can receive, you'll have a better idea of how much additional money you will need to pay for your education. You should file your FAFSA as soon after January 1 as possible in the year that you plan to start school.
  2. Talk to your high school guidance counselor. Guidance counselors receive notifications about many different types of programs offering scholarships and grants. Make sure your counselor thinks about you every time he or she learns about a new funding opportunity for which you might qualify.
  3. Research organizations to which you are connected. Many civic and professional organizations sponsor scholarship programs. Some programs are open to all students, and others have specific criteria. If you are planning to major in counseling, check with the local professional organization for counselors to see if the members sponsor a scholarship program. Additionally, some companies have scholarship competitions for their employees' children. Get your parents to check with their employers. Research every possible source of grants for school. You may be surprised by what you discover in your own back yard. You'll never know if you don't ask!
  4. If you meet the eligibility requirements for a scholarship or grant program, take the time to apply for it. You might not win every single award, but you can't win anything if you don't apply. Keep in mind that many scholarships are not awarded simply because no eligible candidates apply for them.

What is a Pell Grant?

Pell Grant

The Pell Grant is a federally funded grant that is awarded to undergraduate students and does not need to be repaid. Pell Grants are awarded based on "financial need" and will vary from person to person. The maximum you can recieve is $4,000.00 but you can receive less depending on your financial sitation. Elibility is determined by a mathmatical calculation and although Pell Grants are normally offered to students with no undergraduate degree, they can be granted to those seeking higher education as well.

Funding for the grant changes from year to year, so availability also changes. Students do not need to be enrolled full time to be eligible for a Pell Grant. For more information about the Pell Grant and other government education programs, check out their website at

What is the difference between a Scholarship and a Grant?

Scholarships V. Grants

Shakespeare once said "A Rose by any other name would smell as sweet." So too would free money for school be just as free whether by scholarship or grant. Both are types of financial assistance offered to students that do not need to be paid back.

When searching for help with paying your tuition, be sure to look for scholarships and grants, as opposed to only looking for the right scholarships--this can make your tuition bill drop.

In many cases there are grants available from your school and sometimes grants available in relation to your area of study or your socio economic situation. There is a lot of money to be had out there - make sure you find it!


Conducting a Web Search for Scholarships, Grants and Fellowships

There are a lot of web resources out there for scholarships, grants and fellowships. If you go to Google and just type in scholarships you are likely to be bombarded with a ton of information and you are just as likely to miss out on certain opportunities. Although they all typically involve educational funding, scholarships, grants and fellowships can all require different applications, areas of study, financial need and even physical characteristics.

Knowing your search terms is going to be the key to a self run college funding search, so don't leave terms like "fellowship" or "grant" or even "scholarship grant" out in the cold during your web search.

Additionally, if you are passionate about a subject or an area of study and you know that is the direction you want to drive your career and your future, search according to topics and strengths. Try and focus your terminology as much as possible because relevant results will be far more likely.

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Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.