What Are the Most Common Kinds of Need-Based Grants?

All you need to know about Pell grants, Academic Competitiveness grants, and SMART grants.

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The federal government hands out more free money for college than anyone else. Here are the three main grants you might receive:

Pell grant

What is a Pell grant? A Pell grant is a federal grant awarded to all needy college students.

How big of a Pell grant can I receive? In the fall of 2008, the maximum Pell grant will be $4,731.

How can I get a Pell grant? Students and parents must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students with an expected family contribution (EFC) of $0 can receive the maximum Pell grant. Those with higher EFCs get smaller grants. Those with EFCs above $4,041 will be disqualified for Pell grants. Almost all Pell grants go to students whose families have incomes of less than $50,000 a year.

How do I collect my Pell grant? Pell grants are usually paid directly to your college, which uses the money to pay off any tuition, fees, room, board, or other bills you may owe the school. If there is any money left over, the school will forward it to you.

Academic Competitiveness grants

What is an ACG? A federal scholarship of up to $1,300 for very needy first- and second-year college students who have taken tough courses while in high school or achieved a B grade-point average during the first year of college.

How much can I get from the ACG program? Freshmen can get up to $750. Sophomores can collect up to $1,300.

How can I get an ACG? Students must first fill out a FAFSA. If their school determines that they are so needy that they are eligible for a Pell grant (typically, that means having a family income of less than $50,000), they will automatically be considered for the ACG.

How will my ACG be paid? Awards are generally sent directly to your school, which deducts any money you owe and sends you a check for anything that's left.

SMART grants

What is a SMART grant? The National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent grant (National SMART grant) is a federal scholarship awarded to high-achieving, low-income students.

How big are SMART grants? Upperclassmen can receive up to $4,000.

How can I get a SMART grant? You must be in your third or fourth academic year, eligible for a Pell grant, enrolled full time, majoring in mathematics, science, technology, engineering, or a critical foreign language and maintaining at least a 3.0 grade-point average.

How do I collect my SMART grant? SMART grants are usually paid directly to your college, which uses the money to pay off any tuition, fees, room, board, or other bills you may owe the school. If there is any money left over, the school will forward it to you.