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Federal Student Aid: Academic Competitiveness and SMART Grants

By Peterson's Staff updated on Monday, October 14, 2013

If you qualified for a federal Pell Grant in your financial aid package, there are other financial aid opportunities that you should know about. Pell Grant recipients may also qualify for one of two new federal grants: the Academic Competitiveness Grant or the National SMART Grant.

The Academic Competitiveness Grant
The Academic Competitiveness Grant is designated for first- and second-year college students. The goal of the federal student aid program is to assist students who have demonstrated academic ability and require financial aid to help pay for college.

To be eligible as a first-year student, you must be a U.S. citizen, qualify for a Pell Grant, be registered to attend school full-time in a degree-granting program, and have completed a "rigorous secondary-school program," as defined by the Secretary of Education. You must not have previously been enrolled in college. The award for first-year students is $750.

To be eligible as a sophomore for this federal financial aid, you must qualify for a Pell Grant, have received at least a 3.0 GPA your freshman year, and have completed a rigorous high-school curriculum. The award for second-year students is $1,300.

All told, it is estimated by the Department of Education that 60 to 70 percent of first- and second-year federal Pell Grant recipients will qualify for additional funds.

The National Science and Mathematics to Retain Talent (SMART) Grant
In a recent speech before the Senate Health, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings summarized the intent of the new SMART Grants as follows: "…they will encourage students to take more challenging courses and pursue subjects that are critical in the new global economy-science, technology, engineering, and math."

Available for third- and fourth-year college students, SMART Grants will assist Pell-eligible students who choose to study physical, life, or computer sciences; math; technology; engineering; or a foreign language that is considered critical to national security. See a PDF list of eligible majors here.

To qualify for this federal financial aid, you must be a full-time student majoring in one of these areas, have at least a 3.0 GPA in classes for that major, and be a U.S. citizen. The total award amount is $4,000.

Qualifying for this federal student aid

Generally, you will be notified by the Department of Education if it appears that you qualify. You will then need to complete an addendum to the FAFSA. (Financial aid administrators may assist with this.) If you are declared eligible, your grant money will be allocated to the school and included in your financial aid package.

For more information about the Academic Competitiveness and SMART grants, click here.

Other forms of federal aid
In addition to the Academic Competitiveness and SMART grants, you may be eligible for other forms of federal aid, such as federal work-study or the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG).

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