There is dual purpose in the awarding of college scholarships and grants. The first objective is that anyone with the ambition and capability should be able to study in their chosen field and obtain a degree, thereby placing themselves in the respective professional field and benefiting themselves, their families, their communities and their country. The second is that students who show such promise not be restricted by financial constraints due to either individual poverty or long-term debt load, as would be the case with student loans (for which underprivileged students would not likely qualify). In general, college scholarships and grants are meant to be the great equalizer for students with a dream and the determination to make it come true.
Not all career choices are accompanied by the option for all-encompassing college scholarships and grants. By and large, these gifts of funding are restricted to higher education, meaning college- or university-level degree programs, and not vocational programs; there are some grants available for career paths such as hairdressing and carpentry, for example, but the majority of college grants and scholarships that deliver serious monetary support are aimed at higher education, especially in fields that have a paucity of qualified personnel.
College grants and scholarships are directed at post-secondary education, for the most part. Given that virtually all students have access to free public education to the end of high school, there is seldom a need for grants for high school students; the exception, of course, is extreme poverty.
What sets apart grants and scholarships is that they are gifts and are not subject to repayment. This is the key factor that defines them as different from student loans. Obviously, then, it is to the direct benefit of a student to try to obtain college grants and scholarships before resorting to student loan applications. The more granted in the form on a non-repayable gift, the less of a loan might be required. Student loan debt is one of the heaviest burdens on our individual debt responsibilities, and by obtaining grants and scholarships, that weight can be eased or eliminated altogether. Given that debt is epidemic in western civilization, a gift to help the educational portion of a career path makes sense.
Who Gets College Grants and Scholarships?
The awarding of college grants and scholarships varies and depends to some degree on the source of the funding. For example, Pell Grants, commonly awarded and heavily funded in the United States, are targeted at underprivileged individuals who are determined to attend, at the very least, college, and make a better future for themselves. The idea behind this is that if individuals who have not been fortunate enough to be born into a financially stable lifestyle or family can still attain that through education and solid future employment, and set an example to others from similar backgrounds; a beginning of poverty is not necessarily a life sentence, and grants can make the difference.
Other grants are aimed at people who plan to enter fields of study, and future careers, in areas such as technology, medicine and engineering, where there are currently too few students to fill the anticipated need as future employees in these specific areas of endeavor. In some instances, certain areas of business have a lack of qualified personnel due to exponential and unexpected growth in their sectors. Technology is the prime example. Since the advent of computers technology has grown and changed in thousands of ways, and at a rapid pace; there are simply not enough technologically trained people to fill the spaces that this ever-shifting field creates. In the case of medicine, the duration of study (seven years or more) and the difficulty of the courses have resulted in most people being put off that career choice. But the need is great and will become greater as the population continues to age and command more medical intervention in their lives, hence the need for more medical personnel.
Finally, scholarships tend to be created and awarded by foundations that are committed to supporting certain areas of endeavor, sports institutions, or corporations that are actively working to fill gaps in their hierarchical structure. Unlike grants that are designed to fill blanks in the niche-specific industries or businesses that lack skilled staff, scholarships may be awarded in more esoteric areas such as arts and humanities; this is fairly common in the type of scholarships that come from foundations or from the estates of wealthy individuals whose last wish was to give support in a pet area of interest, such as classical music or dance. Sports scholarships may be awarded by teams that spot talent, but need to have the individuals qualify by age or education before they become full-fledged members. Corporations or associations may grant scholarships in the memory of a treasured individual or patron; a classic example is chartered accountancy.
How Much Money is a College Grant or Scholarship?
The amount of money available for college grants and scholarships varies from a stipend that might cover public transit fees to and from the educational institution of choice, to complete coverage of all expenses, including a cost of living allowance for the student and his or her family, for as long as a degree takes to obtain; this can encompass doctorate degrees that span seven years or more.
Generally, publicly funded grants, such as Pell Grants, depend upon the total amount set out in the budget for the specific grant and the maximum number of approved applicants in any given year. Simply, the total pool of funds is divided by the allowable number of approved grants, and that sets a maximum to each grant. Other grant sectors set forth a certain or maximum amount that can be awarded per individual per school year and they do not vary from that. Others still have built-in flexibility, and award grants on an as-needed basis depending upon the individual’s financial status and the cost of the particular degree program he or she intends to pursue.
Eligibility criteria will often separate the smaller grants from the larger ones, and that depends upon individual need and, sometimes, demonstrated ability. Most government-based grants, however, do not limit their awarding of funds on performance in the high school years prior to college; they tend to be based on income status and the inability to otherwise fund higher education. Conversely, many scholarships are entirely based on grades and proven capabilities.
Applying for College Grants and Scholarships
The best time to begin application is during the final year of high school, but some college grants and scholarships are set in place for existing college or university students, especially in the case of post-graduate grants and scholarships. In either case, awareness of application deadlines is a must. Applying after the cut-off date is a guarantee of grant denial.
Virtually all grants provided by the federal government must be applied for through the standard student loan-granting process; there is a special section of the application that indicates it is a grant, and not a loan, application.
Almost without exception, students must submit their grant requests through the Federal Student Financial Aid (FAFSA) form (the same one used to apply for student loans).
When making application for a government education grant, be certain to include all of the required back-up materials. These may include: proof of income (individual or family) and/or proof of financial need; letters of recommendation; the reason for being in need of a grant; the potential for industry-specific employment after a degree is obtained; and the student’s ability to give back to the community as a result of education and employment in the future.
Scholarship applications tend to be a bit different and do not normally involve the completion of the FAFSA form. Because scholarships are mostly sourced from entities like corporations, sports teams, individual educational institutions, endowments, and associations, the applications are generally made directly to the granting body; again, meeting application deadlines is imperative. Most scholarships are awarded only on an annual basis, so research the specific scholarship, ensure you have the requirements, comply with the deadline and eligibility criteria, and provide all back-up materials.
If you fail to receive the grant or scholarship, there is always next year. How can you up your odds of receiving a college grant or scholarship? The answer is simple, but complex: ensure that you qualify. That means that if you are applying for a grant based on financial needs, make certain your documents prove that need; if you are applying for a scholarship, work extra hard to ensure your grades make the grade.
The Evolving State of College Grants and Scholarships
Like most other things in today’s world, the opportunities for college grants and scholarships are changing almost daily. Old grants are canceled and new ones appear. Fortunately access to the World Wide Web helps students stay on top of what is and is not available. Also, the college or university of choice normally has a department dedicated to helping students obtain the requisite funding for their studies, and they often know before anyone else what is happening in the shifting array of college grants and scholarships.
The ability to obtain funding to help make college or university accessible and ensure dreams come true is out there. Yes, there are thousands of applicants, but there are also many criteria and variations of college grants and scholarships that will mean no loan to pay off, no debt on the day that you begin your future.