Experiencing financial hardship doesn't necessarily mean college is out of your reach. The federal government, state governments, private foundations, nonprofits and individual schools all award grants and scholarships for students who have financial need.
The U.S. government provides some educational grants directed at students with financial need. The most well-known is probably the Pell Grant, which awards students up to $5,775 for the 2015/2016 school year. Another option is the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, available for undergraduate students who have exceptional financial need. This grant pays between $100 and $4,000 per school year.
Students can apply for all federal student aid by completing the FAFSA each year. Whether or not you'll qualify for a grant depends on the cost of attending your school and your expected financial contribution. Students can use the FAFSA4caster to estimate their eligibility for specific federal grants ahead of time.
Your state may also provide educational grants for students with financial hardships. For example, Texas awards need-based grants for students who attend a community college or public university in Texas. Minnesota awards a grant that averages $1,800 per year, and more than half of the grants go to students with incomes less than $20,000. Contact your state's department of education for more information on statewide grants.
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Private and Nonprofit Grants
Many private foundations and nonprofit organizations offer scholarships to low-income students who are interested in a certain area of study or who may be underrepresented in a certain field.
Like grants, scholarships don't typically need to be paid back. Unlike grants, however, scholarships are often awarded based on academic merit or accomplishments. Scholarships may require that you hold a minimum GPA and a submit an essay when you apply.
Change a Life Foundation reports that potential scholarships include:
- The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awards scholarships to minority students with financial hardships.
- The Google Scholarship Program gives scholarships to underrepresented, low-income students who are interested in business or technology.
- The Stephen Phillips Memorial Scholarship, provides scholarships to undergraduates with financial need who have strong academics and display strong moral character.
Use the U.S. Department of Labor's free scholarship search tool to find need-based scholarships that you may qualify for.
Watch out for scholarship search scams. You shouldn't need to pay to find a scholarship, and be wary of giving sensitive information, such as your Social Security number, to scholarship search companies.
The school you plan on attending may have grants available for students with financial hardships. For example, Open Educational Database reports that Colorado State University, Indiana State University and University of North Carolina all award grants to low-income students enrolled in a program.
To find out what need-based grants are available at your school, visit your college financial aid website or ask your department head if there are scholarships for need-based students with your major.