Aid Awarded By Your College

    Are you aware of how much money colleges and universities give away with grants and scholarships? A lot more than you think!

    The College Board Trends in Financial Aid says schools handed out $47.9 billion in grants for the 2013-2014 school year. That is only slightly less than the $49 billion in grants the federal government doled out the same year.

    The College Board started keeping track of money distributed via grants in 1993. Since then, colleges and universities awarded more in grant aid than any other benefactor – far more in most years – until 2009 when the Great Recession cut into schools’ endowment funds.

    The federal government stepped in to close the gap the last five years, but their total grant awards for 2013-2014 are only one percent more than what the schools gave students.

    In short, colleges – public and private – are willing and able to award grants and scholarship money to students looking for help.

    Grant Awards Soaring

    Institutional aid has risen steadily over the last five years, mainly as a response to the rising cost of tuition and fees. The tuition and fees at public universities are up 24 percent since 2009 ($15,235 to $18,943), and up 20 percent ($35,470 to $42,419) at private colleges.

    Not surprisingly, college freshmen listed cost and financial aid as two of the top four factors in choosing a school behind only academic reputation and graduates getting a good job.

    Most colleges responded by increasing the amount of institutional grants they hand out in an effort to recruit new students. The average grant for students at public colleges and universities in 2013-2014 was $2,030, a 46 percent jump since 2008. Private college grants soared from $8,970 to $12,380, a 38 percent jump in the same period.

    How To Get Grant Money

    The first step toward cashing in on the billions of dollars in grant money available from colleges and universities is to get accepted by the school. Next, you will have to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to determine exactly how much your family can contribute to your college education.

    Most often, the decision about how much grant money a student receives is based on some combination of need-based and merit-based consideration.

    Public universities handed out an average of $2,030 in grant awards to students in 2013-2014, significantly less than the $12,380 average for students at private colleges. However, that is a reflection of the considerable differences in cost between public and private higher education.

    Tuition, fees, room and board at state schools averaged just $18,383 while at private schools the average cost was $40,955.

    Combination Of Merit And Need

    The motivations for schools offering grant money varies from school to school, depending on the needs it is trying to fill. Merit, for example, is not a consideration for Ivy League schools, which award all their scholarships based on need alone.

    The cost to attend Harvard University in 2014-2015 was estimated at $68,000. If your family’s expected contribution is $10,000, Harvard would supply grant money for the other $58,000, if you are accepted.

    And that, really, should be the starting point for looking into grant money for college. Mail in your applications and when you receive a letter of acceptance, contact the school’s financial aid office for information about grant opportunities.

    If you aren’t satisfied with the amount of grant money awarded, don’t be afraid to appeal for another consideration. The success rate for appeals can be around 50 percent or higher, depending on the circumstances and school. If you’re financial situation has changed considerably, especially through loss of a job, your grant award could change, too.

    Whether it’s a state school or private college, you might be surprised at what they can offer.

    Are you aware of how much money colleges and universities give away with grants and scholarships? A lot more than you think!

    Bill Fay

    Bill Fay is a journalism veteran with a nearly four-decade career in reporting and writing for daily newspapers, magazines and public officials. His focus at Debt.org is on frugal living, veterans' finances, retirement and tax advice. Bill can be reached at bfay@debt.org.

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