How Qualifying For Financial Aid Works

Free Money: Qualifying for Grants

Grants and scholarships are generally considered the most favorable type of student financial aid, because they don't have to be repaid. In this section, we'll focus on the different types of grants and how to qualify for them.

Eligibility requirements for state, institutional and other grants vary, so check with your financial aid administrator to see which non-federal grants are available to you.

In order to qualify for a federal grant, you must meet the eligibility requirements outlined in the previous section. (If you don't meet the requirements, talk to your FAA about any special circumstances you might have.) You'll also need to submit the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). Grants are generally need-based and are available to students with lower expected family contribution (EFC) scores. Types of federal grants include:

  • Pell Grants: Pell grants, generally available to undergraduates, form the foundation of all federal student aid. The award amount varies from year to year.
  • Federal Supplemental Opportunity Grants (FSOGs): FSOGs are awarded to students with the very lowest EFC scores. The award amount is $100 - $4,000 per year; however, the grant amount may be reduced if you're awarded other financial aid. Also, because funds are limited, not all students who qualify for an FSOG will be awarded one.
  • Academic Competitiveness Grants (ACGs): First or second year undergrads who complete a "rigorous program of study," are Pell Grant eligible and enrolled at least half-time may be eligible for an ACG. Each state defines rigorous programs of study differently, so check with your FAA.
  • National SMART Grants: SMART grants are similar to ACGs, but they're for undergraduates in their third or fourth year. You need at least a 3.0 grade point average to qualify.
  • Teacher Education for Assistance in College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants: $4,000 per year TEACH grants are available to students who agree to teach high-need subjects in low-income schools after they graduate. This grant requires you to be in the 75th percentile or higher on admissions tests and to maintain at least a 3.25 grade point average [Source: Department of Education].

If you're unsure whether you'll be able to demonstrate enough financial need, if you hope to supplement a grant with additional aid, or if you have special skills and talents, you'll want to look into another type of free money -- scholarships. We'll explore scholarships the next section.