A lot of kids today are giving up on the idea of going to the college or university of their dreams (or any college or university at all) because the cost of education is astronomically high. They don’t want to graduate with a mountain of debts on their shoulders, and they’re not even sure that they could qualify for loans.

Thanks to government and private grants, there are other ways for lower income students to pay for college without incurring massive debts. If you don’t think that you’ll able to afford to go to college, think again. As an independent student and/or a member of a lower-income household, you may be eligible for a number of grants to help you pay for your college education. The only way to find out if you are eligible is to apply for those grants.

Fill Out Your FAFSA

To get the ball rolling and to be considered for grants like the Pell grant or FSEOG (Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant), you’ll need to fill out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This form will include your income and tax information (as well as that of your parents’ if you are a dependent student) and will be sent to both the federal government and the school(s) you’re applying to for admission.

When you go to the FAFSA website, you’ll be prompted to “Start a New FAFSA” or “Login”. If you’ve never filled out a FAFSA before, you’ll select the option to start a new one. You’ll then be prompted to enter your name, social security number, and date of birth. After that, you’ll just follow the simple instructions provided for each question, and you’ll be asked to create a login and password so that you can save your form and come back to it later.

This is especially handy, as you may need to go track down and gather some tax or income information that you don’t have right on hand when you start the form. It will also allow you to easily renew your FAFSA each year without entering all of your information over and over again.

Government Grants Through FAFSA

A portion of the federal government’s grant money is disbursed each year based on a mathematical formula to determine financial need. This formula will be applied to your FAFSA, and if it dictates that you are eligible, you will automatically be enrolled in a formula grant program. No other application is necessary to receive this grant money.

Pell grants are included with formula grants and don’t require any additional documentation or applications. However, there are also discretionary grants available on a competitive basis that could help you fund your college education. These do require you to do a little bit more legwork to apply, but they’re definitely worth it when you think about the value you’ll get from funding your college education without student loans.

Find and Apply for Grants for College Through Grants.gov

Grants.gov has a searchable database of discretionary government grants to help you find the one that’s right for you. Now, remember that this database holds all discretionary grants that the government gives, so not all of them are for education. However, you can narrow your search easily by doing a keyword search and selecting the appropriate categories on the left-hand side of the page.

Each grant is given a funding opportunity number, so if you find it with a keyword search, you can make a note of its funding opportunity number to use later when you want to apply for grants or if you need to find it again for more information.

Once you’ve found a grant that you want to apply for, you can download its application package. You’ll need the funding opportunity number to do this, so be sure to save it when you’re searching.

Once you’ve downloaded the application package, you can fill it out on your computer (using Adobe Reader) and then submit it online. After that you can track your application to see where it is in the process. It’s that easy!

Applying for Private Grants for College

Now, in general, most grants are government funded and partially or entirely need based. Most scholarships, on the other hand, are private and based on merit and achievements over financial need. That said, there are private grants out there, and you can find them if you know where to look.

You can search for these online by going to sites like ScholarshipChart.com and CareerInfonet.org, the latter of which is actually the Department of Labor’s scholarship search site.

When you find a grant that you want to apply for, you should first make sure of two things: the deadline hasn’t already passed, and you’re eligible for the grant. Once you’ve determined these two factors by reading the application information carefully, you can move on with the application process.

Some grants are solely based on financial need and won’t require an essay or personal statement. That said, grant money is limited, and they are very rarely decided purely on a first-come-first-served basis. If they were, you would see a lot more of a market for people selling software that “bids” on grant applications as soon as they become available.

Grants aren’t like eBay, though. They aren’t something that you can just bid on and hope to get because your application was processed first. Rather, the people who make the decisions about awarding funding usually do so based on a number of factors. While financial need is a big factor, they want to know that they’re awarding their grants to people who will use them wisely and will be good representatives for their foundations, corporations, or other organizations.

Your essay or personal statement is your opportunity to tell your story and to show how you will be a great choice to represent this grant. So take your time when you write it. Make sure that it’s polished and clean and that you have all of the correct information included. Then you’ll be ready to submit your grant application and get funding for your college career!

Search and Apply for Scholarships on ScholarshipChart.com

ScholarshipChart.com helps students and parents search and apply for scholarships, grants, awards and other financial aid options to help pay for college. Whether you are a high school senior starting college or a single mom going back to school, you can find money for college through ScholarshipChart.com.