Grants & Scholarships
Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to be a star athlete or a super-brain to earn money for college.
In fact, regardless of your employment status or your income level, a variety of government programs exist to help you cover the cost of your college education. Government agencies in the United States and Canada understand the impact that an educated work force can have on the overall economy. Therefore, they offer a variety of grants and scholarships to students who meet a variety of qualifying criteria.
Thousands of private foundations and endowments also supply students with critical funding for college tuition and expenses. Some of these organizations are public charities that help advance a specific cause by bolstering education in an underserved region or an underrepresented field of study. Other private organizations commemorate the work of a donor or a patron with smaller gifts that help students pay for books or activity fees.
Federal Grants for United States Students
Most American undergraduate students qualify for the Federal Pell Grant. The United States Congress established these Basic Educational Opportunity Grants in the early 1970s to help high achieving students attend expensive colleges and universities. Later renamed for Senator Claiborne Pell, who championed access to higher learning, the grants help bridge the gap between a student's savings and their overall educational costs.
Pell Grants of up to $4,050 are administered directly by colleges and universities through their centralized financial aid offices. When extending offers of student aid to incoming undergraduates, a financial aid officer can take a student's savings and other financial resources into consideration. Though all students may not get the maximum amount allowed by Congress, many students can reduce the amount of their student loans by accepting Pell Grants that do not have to be paid back.
Students facing significant financial hardship may also qualify for the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant. Financial aid officers receive a pool of emergency funds each year that Congress has earmarked for use in extreme circumstances. To earn additional grants of up to $4,000, a prospective student must show that even the maximum combination of loans, Pell Grants, and workstudy placements still leaves a shortfall for college expenses.
Federal Grants for Canadian Students
Unlike the United States, Canada does not maintain a centralized, federal financial aid program for its citizens and permanent residents. Instead, students apply for grants and scholarships from government organizations in their home provinces. Because Canadian taxpayers subsidize colleges and universities at a higher rate than most American taxpayers, a smaller percentage of Canadian students actually require government grants. Most Canadians bridge their tuition gaps with subsidized student loans.
Despite the fact that foreign students may have to pay more in tuition than their Canadian counterparts, a favorable exchange rate attracts many non-Canadian students every year. In fact, with Canadian universities offering fully accredited degree programs online, many American students that might have difficulty paying tuition in their home country are saving money by participating in distance learning programs.
Most colleges and universities maintain their own financial resources for student financial aid. Admissions directors and financial aid counselors work together through the admission season to determine how to use this money to attract the best students to their campuses. Many schools use their financial aid programs to balance enrollments along gender, racial, age, or economic lines.
A number of public charities and private foundations operate their own need-based scholarships, especially for students that meet specific requirements. Some foundations award scholarships and grants to working parents who want to return to school and finish their original degree programs. Other organizations reward students that intend to pursue a specific profession, such as teaching or science.
In all of these cases, students must demonstrate their need to bridge the gap between other sources of financial aid and the total cost of attending their chosen institutions. In addition, students must commit to completing their degree programs on time and achieving specific academic goals.
Some students may not necessarily need financial assistance to attend the college of their choice, but can still benefit from a variety of merit-based scholarships. Most merit-based scholarships are administered by college financial aid departments based on criteria established by wealthy donors or other funding sources.
In some cases, family and friends of a deceased alumnus establish a scholarship to reward a student that reflects the ideals of their loved one. Financial aid officers and faculty members may nominate returning students for these awards, or admissions counselors may recommend that money go to a prospective first year student that shows promise.
At other times, colleges and universities can use their financial aid resources to woo potential students away from higher profile institutions. State universities and smaller private colleges often recruit academic achievers away from Ivy League institutions using merit-based scholarships. Students receive the same caliber of learning that they would have enjoyed at the better-known schools, and the schools enjoy the benefit of cultivating future influential alumni.
Throughout the United States and Canada, many businesses, charities, and community organizations host scholarship competitions. Many of these competitions allow students to write essays or submit other qualifying material to earn additional money for college. Frequently, local groups that want to use their financial resources to assist students from their region sponsor these competitions.
Legitimate scholarship competitions require a small entry fee, or no entry fee at all. Beware of competitions that promise big awards but do not have a track record of awarding scholarships. They could be operated by scam artists who pocket the entry fees without ever doling out a dime to winners.
Most scholarships competitions offer sponsor organizations the opportunity to earn some positive public relations. If you win a private scholarship competition, expect to spend an afternoon or an evening posing for photographs with your sponsors and their oversized check. Remember that it's the easiest tuition money you'll earn all year.
Applying for Grants and Scholarships
In the United States, all federal grant programs and most private scholarship programs require students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
The FAFSA, available in web-based or paper form, simplifies the financial aid process for students and for financial aid counselors. Colleges and universities use the form to fairly and evenly evaluate student need.
Smaller community grants and scholarship competitions may require applicants to complete additional forms or submit essays. Prospective college students should request application forms as far in advance as possible.
Complete all forms and follow all instructions carefully. Be sure to return all paperwork as early as possible. Since many grant programs disburse money on a rolling basis, you might disqualify yourself by waiting until the posted deadline to submit your material.
How Will I Know What I'm Eligible For?
A surprising number of college grants and scholarships fly "under the radar" of most students and parents, especially grants from foundations and scholarship competitions from local community organizations. Fortunately, you do not need to hire a high priced consultant or pay for any overpriced catalogs to uncover extra money for college. With just a little detective work in their own backyard, many students have successfully pieced together entire tuition bills from small grants and scholarships.
- TALK to your bank manager. Believe it or not, the manager at your local bank usually knows more about your community's scholarship programs than anyone else. That's because the bank manager often personally oversees the trustee accounts that administer the awards. Schedule brief appointments with the branch managers at a few local banks and credit unions. Ask them about any local or regional scholarship opportunities. Sometimes, they may even alert you to grants offered by their own companies. While you are there, they can also answer your questions about supplemental loans, in case you can't earn your entire tuition through grants and scholarships.
- SCAN the community newspaper. Scope out copies of your community shopper's guide. It's usually called something like the Penny Saver or the Free Ads, and you can often find free copies at local grocery stores. Local fraternal organizations, churches, and civic groups frequently announce grant opportunities and scholarship competitions. Because so few prospective college students read their local papers, many of these college funding opportunities receive few applications. Therefore, you have a strong chance of earning some extra college money by keeping an eye on your neighborhood press.
- TELL everyone you know about your college plans. Ask your family members, your co-workers, and even loose acquaintances to keep their eyes peeled for grant or scholarship announcements. You'll often be surprised and delighted at the connections just one or two people can produce. Aunt Sally's floral society might want to send a local student to agriculture school for free, but you'll never know if you don't ask.
Finding College Grants and Scholarships Online
Because so many scam artists and fly-by-night information peddlers have tapped into the huge demand to learn more about government grants and scholarships, it can be difficult to find reliable information about student aid using traditional search engines. With that in mind, check out these quality web sites that dispense free, accurate information about finding money for college tuition.
- The Student Guide to Federal Student Aid - the official United States Government resource for prospective students offers a free, downloadable handbook to every federal student aid program.
- The Scholarship Coach - Scholarship expert Ben Kaplan offers a wealth of resources on his free website, including strategies to win scholarship competition and methods to uncover obscure sources of college funding.
- Directory of Canadian Government Aid Websites - McGill University offers a comprehensive guide to need-based grant programs administered by Canadian provinces for their citizens.