Grant is kind of a strange word, one we use all the time. We take things for granted. We "grant you that." But what exactly is a grant, in the world of college financial aid?
Quite simply, a grant is a sum of money that doesn't have to be paid back. Grants usually have a stipulation that they must be used for a specific purpose. For instance, college grants must be used for the expenses related to attending college. If you don't attend college, you'll have to pay the grant back.
As you can see, grants are very preferable to loans, which not only have to be paid back but have to be paid back with interest. And as you can imagine, grants are much in demand by college students, so finding the right grant and getting approved can be a little more challenging than with loans. Many grants, like scholarships, are merit-based, and there is tough competition. However, some grants go to applicants based on need.
So what kinds of grants are out there?
The first thing you probably think of is government grants, and these come in two varieties; federal grants and state grants. In the category of federal grants, the best-known is the need-based Pell Grant, which was originally created to help lower-income families send their children to college. Because it is need-based, the Pell Grant does not depend on grades or performance on standardized tests.
Other federal and state grants are awarded based on a variety of qualifying factors, including need, race or gender, and situation; such as adults returning to school.
Private grants usually come from foundations, but may come from individuals. Some private grants are needs-based, and some are merit-based. But private grants almost always have very strict qualifying guidelines as to who can apply. You may have to be from a certain area, or be of a certain race. You may have to be studying in a certain field, or be a certain age. Finding grants can be the hardest part of applying. There are many good directories of grants, and even more bad ones. The most important thing you should know is that you shouldn't pay someone to "find" you grants. You have the same access to directories, paid and free, as anyone else, and these "grant finding services" are generally not worth the money.
Once you've found grants and are ready to apply, it's crucial that you follow the application instructions to the letter. It's not so much that grant committees are looking for an opportunity to turn you down, as that they get so many applications, they just can't take the time for those who don't apply correctly. So make sure you understand what is required and do it.
Grants are absolutely the best way to pay for college, and the more you can rely on grants and the less on loans, the better your situation will be when you finish college. It's definitely worth taking the time to find and apply for grants you might qualify for.