State grants and scholarships can be some of your best sources to pay for college. Why? Some are merit-based. Need-based grants can have much higher limits than federal grants.
So, where to begin?
1. Fill out the FAFSA early.
As soon as possible, complete your FAFSA application. Some states have grants issued on a first-come, first-serve basis. Once that state grant money runs out, no more is awarded. That's a key difference from federal grants. Those are awarded based on income, regardless of the amount of money already awarded. You can qualify for both state and federal grants in the same year.
2. Read the rules of each grant or scholarship.
Why is this important? Some monies are automatically awarded based on financial need, but others are just labeled as grants when they’re really scholarships. For instance: is an essay required? An additional application beyond the FAFSA? A recommendation letter? Any missing piece can result in missing out on funds, so read the rules!
Important note: Don’t wait to fill out your FAFSA just because you’re still gathering state scholarship or grant information. The FAFSA notifies states, schools, and the federal government that you’re interested in financial aid. Grants and scholarships that don’t require additional forms will have this information. You'll just need to submit additional scholarship and grant information as noted in their individual requirements.
3. Deadlines can vary.
There may be one deadline for the FAFSA and several different ones for state grants and scholarships. Submit forms and supporting documents, when required, on time. Always read deadline information on the state website and observe it.
4. Each state’s financial aid awards differ on a variety of levels.
Generally, for most students, their state of residency is where their parents live. So parents, if you move to a new state, it could affect your children’s financial aid. Don't fill out forms based on deadlines from your prior state. The good news? Looking over your new state's website might give you info on scholarships and grants your student wouldn’t have known about. Yay for more free money opportunities!