It’s no secret that attending a public or private college, university or career school can be pretty expensive for most students. In addition to the cost of tuition and fees per year, students also need to take into consideration the personal expenses they will have while attending college, like food, housing, supplies and transportation costs.
The price of tuition and fees varies from college to college, but the vast majority of students pay a lot less than a school’s normal cost thanks to free financial aid. Sometimes, they do not even have to repay the financial aid. If you can’t afford to attend your preferred college or other type of school, you may be able to take advantage of free grants for college and career schools.
Making education financially accessible to students who cannot afford tuition and other expenses is what free grants are for. As an example, the average cost of tuition and fees at a public 4-year college for in-state students is $9,400 per year. However, free aid including federal and state grants and scholarships can make your net price (what you actually pay) nearly three times more affordable (around $3,000 per year).
So you shouldn’t let tuition costs discourage you from attending a career school or college in order to pursue the career path of your choice. It’s in your best interest to apply for any free financial aid that you may qualify for, but make sure to meet the application deadlines..
Below, you will find a list of free aid resources, such as scholarships and grants, that you may be able to get and definitely will not have to repay.
Federal and State Grants
The US Department of Education (ED) makes available several federal grants for students who attend vocational/career schools, universities and colleges. Unlike loans, student grants don’t have to be repaid. They are a source of free money for students. There are four major federal student grant programs that you may be eligible for, as well as state-specific grants such as Cal Grant.
1. Federal Pell Grants
Annual Award: Up to $6,345
Federal Pell Grants are awarded annually and to undergraduate students with exceptional need for free financial aid. Students who have already earned a professional, graduate or bachelor’s degree do not qualify for a Federal Pell Grant. Students who are eligible for this free grant will receive the full amount they are entitled to, regardless of whether they also receive other financial aid, but only from one school at a time.
To apply for a Federal Pell Grant, you first need to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. It’s worth noting that the FAFSA form is an all-in-one application form, allowing students to conveniently apply for financial aid in the form of grants, work-study, as well as federal (Grad Plus loans and Parent Plus loans). Keep in mind that staying eligible for a Federal Pell Grant is absolutely vital to continuing to receive free financial aid, which is why you need to fill out this form on a yearly basis.
The factors that influence the amount of money that you will get include:
- The cost of attendance (this is determined by the college you’re attending).
- Whether you are a full-time or part-time student.
- Whether you plan to attend for the entire academic year or less.
- Your expected family contribution (EFC).
Note that your EFC is a law-based formula used to calculate the amount of financial aid that you are eligible to get. Your family’s size, income (taxed and untaxed), benefits (like Social Security or unemployment) and assets are taken into consideration by your school when calculating your EFC.
Under certain circumstances, you may be required to repay part or all of a FAFSA Pell Grant. These include switching from full-time to part-time enrollment (in which case you have to partly repay), receiving scholarships that reduce your financial aid need and withdrawing early from the specific program that the grant was awarded for (in which case you have to fully repay).
2. Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)
Annual Award: Up to $4,000 a year
FSEOG is also a free grant (no repayment needed) for undergraduate students who have special financial needs. If you’re interested in this grant for students, you first need to contact your school or college’s financial aid office in order to see if FSEOG is offered, because the financial aid office at participating schools directly administers the FSEOG program. To apply for this free grant, you need to accurately fill out the FAFSA form so that your school can determine your exact need for free student aid.
The amount of free aid that you can receive can range anywhere from $100 to $4,000 per year, depending on several factors such as your specific financial need and whether you receive other financial aid when you apply for an FSEOG. Note that your school is required to pay out the funds at least once per term or twice per year.
It’s in your best interest to apply for this free student aid as early as possible. This is because each school that participates in the program receives annually only a certain amount of funds from the US Department of Education.
3. Teacher Education Assistance For College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant
Annual Award: Up to $3,772
A TEACH grant is a FAFSA grant, but it differs from other free grants because it involves a teaching service obligation. More specifically, in order to receive a TEACH grant, you are required to sign annually a “TEACH Grant Agreement To Serve,” which involves agreeing to the following terms for teaching:
- At a school where students come from families with low-income
- In a high need field (mathematics, foreign languages, science, special education, bilingual education, reading specialist, and more)
- For a minimum of four years within eight years of completing the course that you received the TEACH grant for
This agreement essentially represents your service obligation. If you don’t fulfill it, then the TEACH grant funds received will become a loan that you must repay in full, and with interest.
To qualify for a TEACH Grant, you must meet the basic eligibility criteria for federal student aid:
- Demonstrate financial need
- Be enrolled or accepted for enrollment in a certificate/degree program
- Have a valid Social Security number
- Receive TEACH grant counseling explaining your service obligation
- Be enrolled in a TEACH grant-eligible program designed to prepare you to teach in a high need field
- Be enrolled as a post baccalaureate/graduate/undergraduate student at a participating school
- Fill out the FAFSA form, and sign the aforementioned agreement
4. Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant
Annual Award: Up to $6,345
This federal free grant has specific eligibility criteria, including:
- Not being eligible for a FAFSA Pell Grant based on your expected family contribution, but meeting the other Pell Grant eligibility requirements
- Losing a parent/guardian who served in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11, at the age of 24 or younger.
To apply, you need to submit the FAFSA form. Be sure to fill it out every year so as to maintain your grant.
State Grants – Cal Grant and WebGrants For Students
Depending on the university or college you go to, there are also state-specific grants available. For instance, Cal Grant, a California-based financial aid program, awards funds to students attending a California Community College, California State University, University of California as well as a technical college or vocational school in the state.
To qualify for Cal Grant funds, students must meet the eligibility requirements and minimum GPA requirements, as well as submit either the FAFSA form or the California Dream Act Application (CADAA) form by the deadline. This CADAA/FAFSA grant is administered by the California Student Aid Commission. There are 3 types of Cal Grants (Cal Grant A, Cal Grant B and Cal Grant C), but your eligibility for one of them will be determined based on your submitted FAFSA/CADAA forms, your verified GPA and the type of colleges listed in your application.
Scholarships are essentially free funds for college or vocational school. There are thousands of scholarships for college students, offered by various entities, and you can learn about them by getting in touch with the financial aid office at the college you plan on attending or even online.
However, make sure the offers and information you receive are legitimate. Keep in mind that any scholarship you get will impact other student aid, and that’s because the total amount of your student aid cannot exceed the cost of attendance at your school.