The U.S. Government offers several grants, student loans and work-study programs under the U.S. Department of Education to help students with financial need to attend colleges and universities. These federal education grants are available to students seeking degrees at accredited institutions inside the United States. To be considered for all of the following types of financial aid, you must first fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid form or FAFSA. This can be accomplished online at FAFSA.gov and takes most students around 15-20 minutes to complete. You will automatically be notified if you are eligible for the following programs as part of this FAFSA process. You should contact the school financial aid office where you plan to enroll to make sure that your institution offers each of the following types of federal assistance to students and to inquire about school-specific deadlines.
Federal Pell Grants
Federal Pell Grants are need-based grants and are the most common form of free federal assistance available to students pursuing higher education. They are mainly available to students seeking their first undergraduate degree. In some rare cases students seeking a post-baccalaureate degree such as a teacher certification program can also receive this type of grant. Funds offered under a Pell Grant can be used to pay for tuition, fees, housing and meal plan costs and can be applied to pay for any type of education through an accredited degree track program. The maximum amount offered under the Federal Pell Grant Program is currently $5,645 per year. Students traditionally receive the grant monies in two yearly payments called disbursements. These disbursements can be paid directly to the institution to cover college costs or to the student themselves.
Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants
FSEOG funding is available to students that already qualify for a Pell Grant but are determined to have extreme financial need. Students that qualify for a FSEOG can receive an additional $100 to $4,000 per year. FSEOG applications are handled on a first come, first serve basis and are only available to students already eligible for Pell Grants that demonstrate the lowest expected family contributions at each campus. FSEOG funds are administered by each participating school’s financial aid office and are referred to as campus-based aid. Each school sets its own deadline for campus-based programs and not all schools offer the FSEOG. It is important that you check with your school’s financial aid office as early as possible if you feel you qualify for the FSEOG. Once your school’s funding is allocated, it will be not possible to receive the FSEOG even if you qualify.
Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants
Students who have formerly been turned down for a Pell Grant but who lost a parent or guardian in the U.S. Armed Forces service in Iraq and Afghanistan can apply to receive an Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant. If eligible for this grant, a student can have their expected family contribution lowered to zero and receive the same amount available through the Federal Pell Grant Program, currently $5,645 per year, but not to exceed the total cost to attend your college or university. To be eligible for the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant, you must have been enrolled in college at least part-time and under 24 years of age at the time of your parent’s death. Having your expected family contribution amended under this exception can also increase your eligibility for all other federal student aid programs, as well.
Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants
TEACH Grants are are offered by the U.S. Department of Education to students who are pursuing a career in teaching and who are willing to work in a high-need field at a school that serves low-income families for four of the eight years following graduation. Some examples of a high-need field are bilingual education, foreign language, mathematics, science and special education. Students can receive up to $4,000 per year under the TEACH Grant Program. Availability of TEACH Grants does vary from school to school, however, so you should check with your school’s financial aid office to see if the program is offered in your area. To receive a TEACH Grant, you must sign an Agreement to Serve each year that you receive funding. If you fail to fulfill your service obligation following graduation, the grant itself will be converted into a student loan that you must repay and interest will be retroactively added from the date of your TEACH Grant disbursement. It is highly advised that you do not apply for a TEACH Grant if you do not intend to fulfill your service obligation.
Federal Student Loans
The U.S. Department of Education offers several major student loan programs that assist students and their parents with financing a college education. These programs offers both school-based Perkins Loans and federal-issued Direct Loans to undergraduate, graduate and professional degree students. Student loans are not grants and must be repaid, although they are traditionally offered at lower interest rates than most privately available loans and credit cards. At this time, student loans are offering fixed rates between 5% and 7.9%. Undergraduates can currently receive up to $5,500 per year in Perkins Loans and $5,500 to $12,500 per year in Direct Loans. Graduate students can receive up to $8,000 per year in Perkins Loans and $20,500 per year in Direct Loans. Graduate students and parents of undergraduate students can also apply for a PLUS Loan, designed to cover the entire remainder of college expenses not covered by other financial aid, however, a credit check is required to receive a PLUS Loan. To receive any student loan, you must complete entrance counseling that covers your obligation to repay student loans and you must sign a Master Promissory Note or MPN agreeing to your student loan’s terms. When considering all loans offered, it is important to remember that you can borrow less than you are offered and should only borrow what you realistically need to attend college.
Federal Work-Study Program
Another type of financial aid offered to students is the Federal Work-Study Program. This program provides part-time work to undergraduate, graduate and professional students, allowing them to earn money to pay for educational expenses while garnering valuable work experience. 3,400 post-secondary institutions currently offer work-study positions. These positions are often related to student’s particular field of study and are available to both full-time and part-time students. Availability of work-study positions is based on financial need. Students selected for a work-study job will receive at least the current federal minimum wage but in some cases can earn more depending on the type of work and skills required for the job. Work-study jobs are usually available both on and off campus. If selected for a work-study position, you can expect to work for your school or institution, at a federal, state or local government agency, or for a non-profit or for-profit organization in your school’s area.