A college education is important for landing a career with great potential, but when you struggle with financial hardship, the idea of paying for college can seem unrealistic. When it’s hard just to pay your rent and bills, feed your family, and maybe try to get out from under debt, the added costs of higher education—which can be considerable—aren’t something many people think they can take on. And the thought of adding student loans and more debt to the picture doesn’t help.
Grants subsidized by the Federal government can make college far more affordable, though. Depending on your circumstances and other factors, they may cover all or most of your enrollment costs, as well as other related expenses like books.
What Is a Grant?
Grants are one of several types of financial aid used for going to college. They are sometimes called “gift aid” because they don’t have to be paid back. The only exception might be if you don’t complete a semester or year that the grant was applied toward. Grants are typically need based; they’re awarded based on income and other factors used to determine how much financial need you have.
Scholarships are another type of “gift aid” that doesn’t have to be paid back. The main difference between these and grants is that they’re usually merit based, not need based; they’re awarded for some exceptional performance, often relating to grades, sports, musicianship, or other areas of interest.
A common example of financial aid that isn’t considered “gift aid” would be a low-interest student loan. This money has to be repaid after finishing school, but if you have financial need, you can qualify for an interest rate well below market rates.
Types of Federal College Grants
There are four categories of college grants paid for by the Federal government:
- Federal Pell Grant
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)
- Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant
- Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant
Federal Pell Grant
Federal Pell grants generally go to undergraduate students with financial need. Amounts awarded depend on your level of need, the cost of your school, whether you attend full or part time, and whether or not you’re enrolling for an entire academic year. The maximum amount changes every year, but was $5,815 for the 2016-2017 school year. Learn more about Federal Pell grants.
Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)
FSEOGs are for undergraduate students with extreme financial need. Federal funds are given to participating colleges and universities to distribute. Amounts awarded depend on your level of need, what other aid you receive, when you apply, and the number of qualified applicants at your school. Currently, recipients may get up to $4,000 per year. Learn more about FSEOGs.
TEACH grants are given to students who agree to complete appropriate coursework to become a teacher in a high-need field, and then to teach for at least four years at a school in a low-income area within eight years of graduating. You can currently receive up to $4,000 per year. If you don’t meet your obligations, all grant money changes to a loan that must be repaid. Learn more about TEACH grants, and pay close attention to the commitments required.
Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant
Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants are for students who were under 24 or enrolled at least part time in college when a parent or guardian died as a result of US military service in Iraq or Afghanistan. Other eligibility factors also apply. The maximum amount awarded is the same as the year’s maximum Federal Pell grant ($5,815 for the 2016-2017 school year), and it won’t exceed the cost of attendance for the year. Learn more about Iraq and Afghanistan Service grants.
Applying for Federal College Grants
Get detailed information about applying for Federal college grants on the page of the specific grant(s) you’re interested in. Use the links above.
The first step in applying for any of these four types of Federal grants is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. In fact, this is the first step in applying for any type of Federal student aid, even those that aren’t grants. Fill out and submit your FAFSA online here.