Most students cannot afford to pay for college tuition without some form of financial assistance. Student loans certainly are useful, but by the time you're done paying both the principal balance and interest, you could be upwards of $100,000 in debt after graduation. Grants, on the other hand, are essentially free money. They fall under a category separate from scholarships and loans, and they are typically awarded to financially needy students. Most importantly, grants do not need to be repaid. Determining your eligibility for grants is a relatively simple, albeit somewhat lengthy, process.
Complete a FAFSA. The first step in securing financial aid of any kind is to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as a FASFA. You will not be able to receive any type of federal aid — including federal grants — until you complete this application. You can complete a FAFSA online by visiting the U.S. Department of Education’s website at www.studentaid.ed.gov/types/grants-scholarships. Once you've applied, your selected college or career school will work with you to determine your eligibility for grants and other financial aid.
Contact your state’s grant agency. Once you have completed your FASFA, you can also check with your state’s grant-awarding agency. A comprehensive list is available as a link from the studentaid.ed.gov website (click on the link for state grants). For example, Pennsylvania residents will be connected to the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA). From there, they can click on the link for “funding opportunities.” This process is the same for every state.
Contact the financial aid office at your chosen post-secondary school. Different colleges and trade schools sometimes provide their own student grants as well. Be sure to ask your school’s financial aid office if they offer any grants and whether you would qualify.
Whether you are applying for a federal, state or college-issued grant, it is critical that you submit all of the necessary paperwork on time. You don't want to miss out on free money simply because you missed a deadline.