The U.S. Government has long recognized that helping students get an education is an investment in the future, and subsequently, a variety of scholarships and grants are available through all levels of government. However as policies regarding education change, it is private companies and organizations who are becoming the new champions in contributing to student support.
Regardless of where the money comes from, the reality is that student grants will only cover a portion of your education. You're going to need all the help you can get to keep your debt to a minimum, and that could mean a number of different scholarships and awards.
The Federal Pell Grant
You're automatically considered for a federal Pell grant when you fill out your FAFSA. Generally, these awards are available to undergraduates who haven't completed a degree and who meet several other requirements. The funds given with this grant doesn't have to be repaid, as it comes from a combination of federal and foundational funds.
Pell Grant Requirements
The eligibility standards for the Federal Pell Grant are translated into a formula. This formula takes into account the amount of money you have available from personal finances, the cost of tuition and any other factors relevant to your financial situation. The final calculation derived from the formula will be available on the SAR (Student Aid Report) you receive after applying.
A further requirement for the full grant funding is that you have to be enrolled in at least three credit hours per semester. If you're registered less than half time, you'll still be eligible for the Pell grant, but the amounts will be smaller.
Pell Grant Disbursement
The money from your Pell grant goes to the school, and they will handle disbursements on an individual basis. These disbursements are handed out by semester or trimester depending on the school's policy, but payments must be received at least once per term. The school must inform you in writing regarding how and when you will be paid.
Pell grant disbursements will most likely be applied directly to your tuition account.
The Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant
The Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant is offered in addition to the Federal Pell grant, and is available to students who demonstrate exceptional financial need. Your need is almost entirely determined based on your EFC (Expected Family Contributions) as indicated by personal and parental information provided on your FAFSA. To qualify for this grant, you must be attending school at least half time.
The SEOG provides up to $4000 per year, and if you receive a grant you don't have to repay it. How much you actually qualify for will depend on:
- The amount of demonstrated need (including how much you have already received and how much your school costs are)
- When you apply
- What level of school you're are applying for
- Who else is applying from the school you are attending, as available SEOG funds can differ in amount from one school to the next
You may receive the money for your grant in a number of different ways:
- It may go directly toward your tuition, and you will receive only paperwork
- It may be paid out to you in the form of a check
- It may be paid out in some combination of these two methods
Generally, schools must pay you federal financial aid disbursements at least twice during the academic year.
By definition, grants differ from scholarships because they are given out on merit of study or can be based on personal situation. If you have a specific research topic that you want to explore, and there's a body that supports this research, you'd be well advised to look into their policy on providing grants.
There are several good directories listing grants and scholarships for minorities. One example is The Hispanic Scholarship Directory: Over 1,000 Ways to Finance Your Education, by Andres Tobar. When searching through a directory such as this, make sure you have a recent edition. In an older edition, while most of the material may still be relevant, there's no way of telling which citations are still pertinent and which aren't - you might end up wasting a lot of time and effort.