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How To Apply For Student Grants: A Step-By-Step Guide

Written by: Jody Adams
Last updated: January 31, 2024

The application process and stringent requirements are what aspiring college students complain about most regarding grants and scholarships. You can expect a lot of confusion and time spent applying for financial aid to fund college. Rising college costs require successful navigation to save as much money as possible to finish school.

Undergraduate and graduate institutional grants have grown in popularity over the last decade. A total of $234.6 billion in grants, federal loans, tax credits, and federal work-study aid was distributed to undergraduates and graduates in 2021-22. A typical freshman at a 4-year college receiving government grants and scholarships receives $13,690 a year.

For smart and efficient financial aid applications, consult experts, apply for both federal and state aid, and search for private scholarships. Several strategies on how to apply for student grants are stated below.

Difference Between Grants And Scholarships

The money you receive from grants and scholarships is equivalent to the money you use to pay for your education. Take note that there is no charge for grants and scholarships, unlike student loans. The funding agency does not require you to repay them, and you will have to settle all or part of your expenses if you withdraw or change your enrollment status early.

Scholarships are often awarded based on merit, needs, or the skills of the applicants. A college grant, on the other hand, is based on needs. You can apply for student grants for college if you qualify for financial aid, and you must prove that you need it to pay for your education.

In order to determine which type of grant is best suited for your needs, you need to know which type it is. Nevertheless, finding the right organization or program can be challenging without proper research. Some educational grants come with the added bonus of providing students with a free laptop, enabling them to thrive in their studies without technological barriers.

General Requirements 

Students must meet the requirements specified by the institution awarding the grant to be eligible. It is also important to remember that granting agencies have their own criteria, but these general requirements are shared by most:

  • A student should complete the FAFSA form. With this, students and parents can choose financial aid programs based on their capacity to pay for their education.
  • Expected family contributions (EFCs) should also be calculated. A student's EFC is the amount they must pay. A comparison is made between the estimated and actual costs of education. Need-based financial aid is available to students whose costs exceed their EFC.
  • Need-based programs must be applied for every year students are enrolled in their schools. They must submit their student grant applications by the deadline.

Steps On How To Apply For Student Grants 

Planning for college costs should begin years in advance. Parents and students can become familiar with the process before getting involved. It may take a student weeks, even months, to go through the college admissions process — and financial aid is no different.

An early start could help you avoid costly mistakes by giving you time to plan. After you have identified different options, you need to determine the type of financial aid package that will suit you best.

1. Check Your Eligibility For Grants

The amount of financial aid is determined by both the student's and the parent's income. The federal government provides the most funding to students who have the greatest financial need. As an example, Pell Grants are typically awarded to students from families with incomes below $20,000. Additionally, those who qualify for Pell Grants can apply for student grants, such as the FSEOG and the Academic Competitiveness Grant. 

A lot of grant awards are need-based, but some of them are tailored to meet the needs of a particular student. Three major categories of grants exist: federal, state, and collegiate. Funds for higher education are also available from private organizations and local groups. It's easy to find funding for graduate students who are going to school for their jobs. Depending on the state, students usually receive grants according to their race/ethnicity, the field of study, or career goals. It is important to focus on the grants that you are most qualified for because they are very specific. If you want to maximize your chances of getting grants, you should research every opportunity you can find.

2. Consult Experts

It is a good idea to start by consulting experts. Students can find financial aid and planning assistance from high school guidance counselors and college financial aid officers. In addition to providing academic and financial advice, they provide individualized guidance to students. Depending on a student's school, community, or state, counselors also know about scholarships, financial aid, or tuition assistance programs.

For students and parents applying for financial aid, there is a lot of online information available. Consider the following as a starting point:

  • Students and parents can find the answer to many tricky questions in the help section of the FAFSA website
  • Students can compare and understand financial aid offers from different colleges by using the College Financing Plan from the U.S. Department of Education

3. Estimate The Potential Grant Amount

Financial aid and assistance can be estimated before your FAFSA has been submitted and processed. To find out how much financial aid you might qualify for, use the FAFSA4caster tool.

Your EFC is calculated using the financial details you provide. These factors influence the estimate of your family's capacity to pay for college costs from the Federal Student Aid office. Your EFC can be estimated using free online tools such as those offered by the College Board.

By comparing your EFC with your college costs, the FAFSA helps you bridge the gap between them. The formula is as follows:

Financial Need = Cost Of Attendance – EFC

A high EFC makes it less likely that you will receive financial aid. Changing a student's financial situation isn't easy. In advance planning, you can reduce your EFC and maximize aid eligibility.

4. File Your FAFSA Correctly

You can receive financial aid based on the information you provide on your FAFSA, so your best option is to provide the most complete, accurate picture of your finances.

Making sure you file a FAFSA correctly will not only expedite the process but could even contribute to more aid eligibility. It can take a long time to make corrections to a FAFSA.

In the event that you are filing a FAFSA for the first time as a student or parent, there might be some extra help available. Professionals will help you complete the application at many free workshops held by communities.

The FAFSA should never be filled out with lies or deliberately misrepresented information. As well as jeopardizing your chances of getting financial aid, this is also illegal.

5. Apply For Aid Programs 

The FAFSA is also important because many state and school-level assistance programs use it to assess needs and provide grants. Individual states have their own deadlines for submitting FAFSAs for consideration for state aid, which is often earlier than the FAFSA deadline.

It is also important to do your own research to identify state-sponsored grants and scholarships. NASFAA's State Financial Aid Program Locator tool is a great place to start looking for financial aid programs in your state.

6. Appeal For Additional Financial Aid

Despite receiving your award letter, you may still qualify for additional financial aid. There is a possibility that your financial aid may not be adequate or may be less than you expected. It may be worthwhile to appeal for more funding if that is the case. Appeals are generally available at most schools.

Contact the financial aid office to see if the school can offer you more financial aid based on your circumstances. Most schools require a formal written or email appeal.

If your circumstances change between the time you receive your financial aid package and when school begins, you may need a good reason to appeal your financial aid. A family financial emergency may have occurred, or your sibling enrolled in college last minute. 

If you can't afford a dorm while going to college, visit our article about housing grants for college students to learn more.

If one or both of your parents are disabled and you’re still in school, check out Gov Relations’ article covering scholarships for students with disabled parents

Jody Adams
Jody Adams is an accomplished editor-in-chief with a deep understanding of social care and government benefits issues. With a background in journalism and a master's degree in Public Policy, Jody has spent her career shaping the narrative around social policies and their impact on society. She has worked with renowned publications, effectively bridging the gap between complex policy analysis and public understanding. Jody's editorial expertise ensures that vital information on social care and government benefits reaches a broad audience, empowering individuals to make informed decisions.
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