There has been an increase in career-specific grants in recent years as the need for new hires in certain professions has increased. Nurses and teachers are a great example of this, but you can also find art, cosmetology, and engineering grants, as well. Wherever there is a need, a foundation or organization is likely to create a grant for that need. The government is a big provider of grants, but there are also private opportunities, which increases the options available to students going into specific careers.
Deciding on a Career
For those who want to be fully prepared before college, it's best to decide what career path you want to follow before you leave high school. Your school's guidance counselor can help with this, and they can also provide you a wealth of information about available grants and scholarships to help pay for school. Creating a strategy to pay for college using grants and scholarships is the best way to leave college without debt and on track for early retirement.
However, that doesn't mean you have to know what you want before you head to college. A lot of students use that time to really discover what interests them, and what they might enjoy doing with their careers. In that case, it's wise to look into which fields have a constant need for new hires. This will give you plenty of options to choose from, but it will also open you to several new experiences before you have to decide which one works best for you. Once you do decide on a career, you should visit your financial aid office and determine which grants or scholarships you would qualify for, and how to go about applying.
Who Qualifies for Grants
Grants, which are specific sums of money awarded to individuals, are need-based, and they do not have to be repaid. Everyone with a financial need can find a grant that suits their needs, although not everyone will qualify for every grant. There are grants specific to minorities, women, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) studies, and so on. If you do not meet those basic qualifications, then you would not be eligible for the grant. Federal, state, and local governments offer grants that are open to everyone, but they also offer grants that are specific and specialized. It's important to read the qualifications carefully before applying for a grant so that you are not turned down or disqualified.
Grants from the Government
Almost all grants that come from the government, be it federal, state, or local, start with your Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). These are need-based awards, but there may be other requirements such as a minimum GPA. Another factor to keep in mind when applying and accepting grants from the government is that some may require you to work within a specific department for a certain number of years post-graduation. If that's not something you can or want to commit to, then you shouldn't apply.
For example, the federally-funded Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grant provides up to $4,000 for teachers who intend to teach in low-income, high-need school districts. The grant considers high-need subjects to be foreign languages, special education, and math and science, among a few others. If students who accept this grant choose not to pursue these conditions, then the TEACH grant is converted to a Federal Unsubsidized Loan, which means it must be paid back, with interest.
The National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) grant provides $4,000 for each of your third and fourth years if you major in a qualified STEM subject. In addition, recipients must have a Pell grant and maintain a 3.0 or better GPA.
Federal, state, and local grants typically have strings attached, so you should be sure of your path before applying. Pell grants are open ended with their requirements, meaning the only requirement they have is that the applicant has a financial need, but other grants – such as the ones listed above – have specific requirements. And, as you saw with the TEACH grant, failing to meet those requirements could result in the grant being converted to a loan.
Grants from Universities
In addition to government grants, there are career-specific grants available directly from your school. These are easier to navigate if you know exactly what you want to do after you graduate because you can choose a school that offers a grant for what you want to do. Many colleges have funds established for specific departments, or set up by alumni, to help further the opportunities of its students. For example, the University of Minnesota offers grants to students and faculty who are in women's studies, and interested in enhancing the campus experience for women through special projects.
If you plan to pursue an advanced degree, you can also apply for a research grant or fellowship in your field. These are typically offered more for art or engineering degrees, but there are several other opportunities available, as well. These types of grants not only fund your education, but they also cover expenses while you pursue internships or research positions that may not pay much, if anything, but offer valuable experience that will boost your resume later on.
Most university grants only require that you maintain a minimum GPA, and any research or work you do applies to the field of study for which you applied. It's generally frowned upon to apply for STEM grants and then pursue courses in Arts and Humanities. There may be consequences for using the grant money in that manner, and like government grants, one consequence could be that you will be required to repay the money. Remember, grants are not loans and they are not required to be paid back. However, to ensure that students use grants appropriately, some programs have decided to convert grants into loans when misused. Read the fine print, and make sure you understand what accepting the grant means.
Grants from Outside Organizations
Another option for career grants is outside organizations, especially those in the field you wish to pursue. You can use resources such as Fastweb.com to find companies offering grants and scholarships for specific careers, and you can contact local companies directly to find out if they offer grants. Be sure to look into the requirements, just as you would with government and university grants. Some outside organizations may require you to work for them for a number of years after you graduate, and if it's not a company you want to work for, you may not want to take the money.
If you're already working, check with your employer to see if they offer grants and scholarship programs to continue your education. Most employers will require you to stay with them for a number of years to repay that investment, but it can be an inexpensive way to get your degree. There may be other requirements, as well, so read the fine print. For instance, some employers will not offer grants or scholarships to part-time employees, or those not meeting their performance goals.
How Career Grants Work
The process for career-specific grants is much the same as most other grants. First, you find the grants. There are many ways you can do this. If you're still in high school and already know what you want to do, you can start with a visit to your guidance counselor. They have a wealth of information to help you with your college career planning, and they can provide you with additional resources to help you explore your options. If you're already in college, and you've just recently figured out what you want to do, then you can visit your financial aid office. They have the same resources available as high school guidance counselors, and they can also provide you with information specific to that university's grants.
Once you find out which grants you qualify for, send in your application and resources required by the grant foundation. There is usually a committee involved to review the application. They look at several different criteria, but the most important is the level of financial need an applicant has. This is where grants and scholarships differ. An applicant with an impressive academic record and extracurricular activity calendar will lose out to an applicant with a mediocre academic record who has a greater financial need. Once the committee makes the decision, the applicants will be notified of the decision, and then they can go from there.
Most grant foundations send the money directly to the university rather than the applicant. This prevents the applicant from using the money in a manner it was not intended. This is where grants differ from loans. Many loan companies send checks to the applicant, and the check is made payable to the student. This gives them an opportunity to take more than they need, use the money inappropriately, and put themselves in a poor financial position post-graduation.
Types of Career Grants Available
If you plan to search for career-specific grants, you will find that there are plenty of options for everyone. If you're not sure what you want to do, look through industries that are constantly hiring to see if anything sparks your interest. For now, here's a list of common career grants you can find.
Obviously, this list does not cover every possible option, but it gives you a broad starting point. These industries are always looking for good people to work in the field, and there are plenty of grants available, especially for minorities and women, who are often under-represented in these fields.
Mid-Career Grant Programs
Now that you know about how to get started with career grants, let's look at mid-career grant programs. Career grants aren't just for those in school who want to start a new career. There are many people working in high-need fields post-doctorate who need research funding to expand on their knowledge of their field. This is why mid-career grants are useful.
Mid-career grants are designed to enrich the work of academic scholars, researchers, and scientists who are seven to twenty years post-doctorate. It is not intended to encourage researchers to abandon their work and start anew, but rather, it should help them build on existing knowledge by expanding their tools and perspectives. The applicants for these grants are typically required to focus their request on a problem, or set of problems, that they've run across in their field, and how the acquisition of new tools would help their understanding of the problem.
This type of grant is in its nascent stages, so there aren't many foundations currently offering it. That means the competition is fierce, and the applications need to be well-written and specifically focused. However, if the applicant receives the grant, they have a bit more freedom in how they use the funds. For example, a post-doctorate university teacher working on teaching techniques for college writing might wish to acquire a deeper understanding of early literacy and development studies. Or, a psychologist who is interested in developing a better understanding of positive character development in children may wish to study philosophical works of character development and how that relates to family roles or how school systems can add to that development process. The work is related to the original problem, but it doesn't necessarily have to be a direct or obvious link.
The bottom line is that you can find career grants for just about any career that interests you, and has a high need for new hires. There are plenty of resources to help you locate these grants, no matter what stage you're in. Guidance counselors, financial aid offices, the FAFSA application, and websites like Fastweb.com are great places to start your search. Once you find grants that fit your needs, apply to as many as possible so that you can cover as much of your educational career with free money as you can.