A high school girl holds a diploma

Make College Affordable With Scholarships for Low-Income Students

Defray the cost of college with state grants or institutional scholarships aimed at low-income students. 

A high school girl holds a diploma

The QuestBridge National College Match program offers high school seniors a full scholarship to one of 35 participating institutions. 

By + More

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama last month convened a college opportunity summit at the White House, calling on institutions to increase college opportunities for low-income students.

It’s no secret that as tuition has gone up, so have barriers to college access. According to Sallie Mae’s “How America Pays for College 2013,” low-income families continue to be the most concerned about meeting the costs of college.

We’re here to share several scholarship resources for low-income families who want to make college a priority and are searching for ways to make it possible.

[See the colleges with the most success graduating low-income students.]

The first place to start is by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Once you complete the FAFSA, you’ll be considered for federal grants by the schools listed in your application. Grants, like the Pell Grant and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, don’t need to be repaid and are often need-based. Pell Grants are the most common and provide a maximum award of $5,730 for the 2014-2015 academic year. 


Filling out the FAFSA may also enable you to participate in the Federal Work-Study Program. Although it’s not a scholarship, these part-time jobs will help students earn money to defray the cost of tuition and fees. The program is available at about 3,400 participating schools, so ask your college’s financial aid office to see if it's offered. 

[Get expert answers to common FAFSA questions.]

In addition to federal funds, investigate state grant programs, which may award grants to low- and middle-income families to help pay for in-state college costs. Each state has different deadlines.

California's deadline for non-community college students is March 2, and Pennsylvania's deadline is May 1. In each case, check your state’s requirements. Often, your FAFSA will be used in combination with state-specific applications to determine an award amount.

For a prestigious program geared toward low-income students, look into the QuestBridge National College Match. The program offers high school seniors who have “achieved academic excellence in the face of economic challenges” a full scholarship to one of 35 participating institutions.

QuestBridge requires a transcript, test score reports, three letters of recommendation and several essays. The next application cycle opens in August.

If you're a student living in California, Illinois, Texas or New York, consider the TELACU Scholarship Program, which can include leadership and skills development, in addition to financial assistance. The program includes a handful of scholarship types, from a community leadership award for high school seniors to a business and engineering award for current college students.

[Expand your scholarship search through regional providers.]

Low-income, first-generation students from eligible neighborhoods across the four states can apply. Since this year's deadline is Feb. 28, check back for updated program information for next year.

Finally, don’t forget to ask your college’s financial aid office about institution-specific scholarships. On top of federal grants, financial aid offices will know which awards are available at your school – including scholarships based on financial need.

The University of Central Florida, for example, lists a number of scholarships on its website that include financial need as a preference or requirement.

Whether you’re a college-bound student or a current college student from a low-income family, seeking out grants and scholarships can make a huge difference in making college completion a reality and a success.