Government Educational Grants: Could You Qualify?

The information in this post is accurate as of October 19, 2021.

Did you know that the government can help make college accessible by providing financial support that you don’t have to pay back?

If you’re considering going to college, it’s easy to get discouraged about the high costs involved. After all, the average price of tuition increases every year, and most of us have plenty to worry about just keeping up with rising bills. There’s also the nationwide student loan crisis as well as increasing evidence that a college degree does not always equal a successful career, especially when heavy levels of debt are involved.

However, there are many benefits to a college education, and they are not all economic. Studies show that a college education can help people live healthier, happier, more satisfied lives.

If you are thinking that college might be right for you but the cost seems out of reach, the good news is that there are forms of financial aid you might not have considered. For example, in addition to federal student loans you would eventually have to pay back, there are government educational grants that you don’t have to pay back at all.

But what are the different available grants, and how can you qualify? Keep reading to discover the answers!

What Are Government Educational Grants?

Our guide will help you discover government educational grants, determine if you qualify, and ultimately apply for the aid you need to go to school. But, first, we need to answer a fundamental question: what are these grants, anyway?

The short answer is that grants are a form of financial aid for students who are attending college. Unlike student loans, you typically don’t have to pay grants back. Depending on how many programs you qualify for and how much work you do researching programs and filling out applications, you may use any combination of grants, scholarships, and loans to make college affordable.

One of the best things about grants is that there are many available. And because there is no cost to apply for government educational grants, you can apply for as many as you like to help pay for college.

The Basics of Grant Eligibility

As you might imagine, each grant has its own separate set of eligibility requirements. But there is one thing every governmental grant has in common. Before you can qualify or even apply, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (more commonly known as the FAFSA).

It’s free to fill out the FAFSA, and you can do so online. While the FAFSA will ask you many questions, the primary goal is simple: your answers help the government better understand your financial situation.

At the bare minimum, everyone who completes the FAFSA will be offered a certain Federal Stafford Loan support level. Depending on your financial situation, this may be split between subsidized loans (which don’t gather interest while in school) and unsubsidized loans (which do gather interest while in school). If you and your family are already on specific assistance programs, you are likely to be offered mostly (or only) subsidized loans on top of specific grants.

While loans are a valuable way to finance your education, keep in mind that you must pay them back, and it is easy to get into debt that can haunt you for years to come. Therefore, whenever possible, you are better off getting a grant rather than getting a loan.

Look Beyond Federal Grants

The rest of our guide is going to help you find and apply for various federal grants. Before that, though, we have a simple bit of advice: don’t be afraid to look beyond federal grants as well.

That is because while there are many great governmental grant programs, there are also going to be many grants unique to your state and your chosen college. On top of that, different non-profits and private organizations in your community and beyond will offer additional grants that you may qualify for.

We understand that you are likely busy, but you have nothing to lose but time when it comes to finding additional grant opportunities. And a little extra research time here and there can help you save thousands of dollars on your college tuition.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at some of the best government educational grants.

The Pell Grant

The Pell Grant is perhaps the best and most well-known federal grant. And the good news is that applying for it couldn’t be simpler!

Once you complete your FAFSA, you can instruct the government to send it to the college(s) of your choice. And based on the financial information you provide on that form, you may be offered a Pell Grant automatically.

Unlike things like Stafford loans, the Pell Grant amount you are offered is not a fixed amount. While Pell maxes out at about $6,500 per year, other factors may affect how much you receive.

For example, how many credit hours you take is a significant factor. You must take at least 12 credit hours to receive all of the Pell amounts, and taking fewer hours results in less grant money. How long you attend may also be a factor because most Financial Aid departments will award the entirety of your Pell Grant across fall and spring semesters, leaving nothing left for summer.

Finally, the actual cost of your college tuition may impact how much you receive.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant

Another popular kind of federal grant is the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant. While you only need to fill out the FAFSA to apply for the FSEOG grants on your campus, these are ultimately harder to qualify for than Pell Grants.

That is because when you fill out the FAFSA, the government determines your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This is an estimate of how much money your parents or guardians can contribute to your college education if you are a dependent student.

Generally speaking, FSEOG money goes first towards applicants who have an EFC of $0. Funds that are left over after that will be distributed to the neediest students and the amount you can be awarded ranges from a few hundred dollars to a maximum of $4,000.

To improve your odds of getting this grant, we recommend submitting your FAFSA as early as possible. As of this writing, the earliest you can submit your FAFSA for the following academic year is October 1st. 

Academic Competitiveness Grant

So far, the grants we have reviewed are entirely need-based. However, the Academic Competitiveness Grant is both need- and merit-based.

How does that work? To qualify for the ACG, you must also qualify for the Pell Grant. You will also need to be enrolled full-time at the college and maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

Generally speaking, the ACG grants are also given primarily to help students majoring in science and technology-related fields. These grants are also limited to your first two years of college, with a maximum of $750 for the first year and $1,300 for the second.

National SMART Grant

While the ACG grant provides funding for the first two years of college, the National SMART Grant may provide funding for the second two years. As with the ACG, this grant is intended for STEM students, though those majoring in “high need” foreign languages may also qualify.

To receive the SMART grant, you must already be Pell-eligible and maintain a GPA of at least 3.0. The award amounts are also higher than the ACG, and students can receive up to $4,000 per year.

One of the best things about the SMART Grant is that you should automatically qualify for this grant if you have previously received an ACG and maintained your GPA. However, if there is any confusion, try reaching out to your college’s financial aid department. 

Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education

Some grants are very specialized, including the ACG and SMART Grants focusing on STEM students. And if you are currently going to college to become a teacher (or are considering it), you should look into Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grants.

Aside from your major, you must also be willing to agree to teach in a high-need area after you graduate. This commitment is to teach in the area for at least four years, and you can receive up to $4,000 each year to help pay for things like tuition and fees, room and board (we recommend finding affordable housing off-campus), and books and supplies.

By the way, if you receive this grant and have also taken out student loans, you may also qualify for the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program.

Could I Ever Have To Repay a Grant?

In theory, the best thing about government educational grants is that you don’t have to pay them back. But all of these grants have specific rules and qualifying conditions, and many students can’t help but wonder: “Could I ever have to repay a grant?”

The short answer is that while it is possible, it is also rare. This is because you would have to stop meeting one of the qualifying conditions.

In some cases, this means dropping some credit hours until you are under a grant threshold, or withdrawing from a particular program the grant is intended for. And for TEACH grant recipients, failing to meet your service obligation may require you to repay your grant money.

Generally speaking, you will be fine as long as you continue to follow the rules stipulated by the government. As always, we recommend reaching out to your school’s financial aid counselor if you have any questions or concerns.

Your Next Move

Now you know more about government educational grants, including how to apply. But do you know how else to save money as a student?

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