At Risk Student Grants

Funding Opportunities for At-Risk College Students

Students from impoverished urban areas, especially students of color or students who are members of other minority groups, are considered “at risk.” These students have higher high school dropout rates and higher incidents of drug and alcohol abuse, criminal activity and depression and suicide.

Students in these groups who graduate high school need to be able to take advantage of a college education to qualify for well-paying jobs and create a better future for themselves and their children. However, it may be difficult for them to pay the ever-rising tuition costs at most colleges and universities. Thus, colleges often offer scholarships and grants to at-risk students.

Since these students don’t usually have the advantages their more wealthy peers have prior to, and during, their school career, many communities also offer grants to elementary and secondary schools as well as to students in these schools.

General College Grants

At-risk students who are interested in going to college may be interested in some of the grants available to all students. Since many of these students are members of minority groups, they may also qualify for grants earmarked specifically for certain minorities.

Pell Grant

The Pell Grant is the most well-known federal grant. This grant is available to any college undergraduate who doesn’t yet have a Bachelors degree and can demonstrate financial need.

As of the time of publication, the Pell Grant program provides up to $5,550 to eligible students. The amount of money this grant provides depends on the student and his family’s Expected Family Contribution. Students under the age of 24 must provide their parents’ financial information as well as their own financial information.

At-risk students will generally qualify for these grants because both they and their parents meet financial requirements. If the family makes less than $20,000 a year, the student will usually qualify for the full amount of the grant. Students can apply for this grant by visiting the website of the U.S. Department of Education.

Students apply for this grant by completing the Free Application for Financial Student Assistance, or FAFSA, so they may be offered loans in addition to the grant. However, loans must be paid back after graduation, while the Pell Grant doesn’t have to be paid back.

National Grants for At-Risk Students

At-risk students who are African-American or Hispanic can apply for national grants as well.

United Negro College Fund

The United Negro College Fund offers scholarships to African-American students. Students may apply for any of over a dozen awards, depending on the college they plan to attend, the major they intend to study and their high school GPA.

Scholarships, like grants, don’t have to be paid back after the student graduates from high school. Scholarship amounts vary based on the program.

Hispanic Scholarship Fund

The Hispanic Scholarship Fund provides a similar service for Hispanic students who are interested in scholarships for college. These scholarships tend to focus on areas that Hispanic students are traditionally underrepresented in, such as math and science, although the Hispanic Scholarship Fund offers scholarships to any student of Hispanic background who has graduated high school with a 3.0 GPA and plans to attend college.

Students can apply for these scholarships at the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s website.

Disabled Students

Disabled students represent a special category of at-risk students. These students may or may not be from poor neighborhoods, but often drop out of school because of learning difficulties and low self-esteem associated with their disabilities.

Disabled students must have equal access to educational opportunities, including the opportunity to attend college. Many disabled students are eligible for special scholarships and grants given to disabled people who are part of a particular minority group. For example, the Jewish Guild for the Blind offers scholarships to blind students of disabled heritage.

If a student is disabled, the best place to begin her search for specialized grant opportunities is at the homepage for the U.S. Office of Disabilities’ website. This website offers information about general college grants as well as information specifically tailored to disabled students.

Foundation for Science and Disability Grant

Students with disabilities who are interested in science may be eligible for a grant from the Foundation for Science and Disability, or FSD. The FSD is a non-profit organization whose goal is to integrate disabled persons into the scientific community.

In addition to helping disabled students afford the cost of college, this foundation helps qualified students find jobs after they graduate. The FSD offers a student grant to fourth-year students who are studying mathematics or science. In addition, the FSD offers grants of $1,000 to any student who can demonstrate a need.

The grants are usually used to purchase assistive technology equipment such as touch screens or to pay for other accommodations the student may need, such as a one-on-one tutor. Interested students can contact the FSD via its website.

LGBT Students

Although the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender community has not historically been supported at colleges and universities, it’s becoming more common for LGBT students to be offered scholarships due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. This community of students is also at-risk because of high suicide rates and perceived and real prejudice against them.

The Point Foundation

The Point Foundation is an example of a foundation that provides scholarships and grants to LGBT students. This foundation offers tuition assistance which does not have to be paid back; the student must maintain a 3.0 GPA and complete a community service project after graduation. Students who are interested in this program can apply online at the Point Foundation’s website.


To be eligible for any type of at-risk grant, students generally have to have a GPA of 3.0 or higher as well as fall into an at-risk category. Thus, students need to begin their high school career with the attitude that they are going to college to maximize their chances of qualifying for these types of grants.

Students also may want to start their search as early as their freshman year of high school. Grants may be difficult to locate, and students may have to meet various criteria during their high school career, such as participating in a certain number of extracurricular activities, to qualify for the grants.

Many grants are given at the university or college level. Instead of applying to a national program, students have to apply to the college of their choice to receive the grant. Usually these types of grants are reserved for students who have already been accepted into the college, so students won’t be able to apply for them until the latter part of their senior year of high school.

For example, the Roy P. Drachman Fund is offered to eligible students at the University of Arizona. This grant offers funds to students who are studying in the College of Public Health. The grant offers students the ability to conduct research into their chosen field of study.

The benefactor of this grant had a particular interest in providing nutrition and health care to at-risk children, so students who take advantage of this opportunity not only have the ability to better their own lives, but begin a career path that will aid other at-risk children in the future.

Students should inquire about grant programs when they are accepted into a college. College advisors, department heads and financial aid officers should all be able to give students information about specific grant programs they may be eligible to apply for through the college.

State Organizations

Idaho Minority and At-Risk Scholarship

Some states offer grants to at-risk students who are residents of that state. For example, the state of Idaho offers the Idaho Minority and At-Risk Scholarship. This scholarship offers $3,000 per year to qualified students, and students may qualify for up to four years.

To be eligible for this award, students must be high school graduates and be residents of Idaho. Students must also meet three of five eligibility criteria:

  • First generation college student
  • Documented disability
  • Migrant farm worker (or the dependent of a migrant farm worker)
  • Substantial financial need
  • Native American, African American or Hispanic

Since students don’t have to meet all five criteria, they may be eligible even if they don’t fall into a minority category or don’t have a documented disability. Thus, any student from an at-risk community in Idaho who can prove financial need and meet at least two of the other criteria may qualify.

Students can contact the Idaho State Board of Education for more information about this program. In addition, at-risk students who have been accepted into a college in Idaho should contact their financial aid advisor to find out whether the college participates in this scholarship program.

Daniels Opportunity Awards

There are also grants and scholarships available to students who are residents of one of several states. The Daniels Opportunity Awards is one such scholarship. This award gives grants to colleges in Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah, which the colleges then pass on to eligible students.

Although the Daniels Opportunity Awards focus mainly on non-traditional students, some at-risk students may be eligible for this award as well. Students who have been in foster care or are exiting the juvenile justice system are eligible, as are students who earned a GED rather than a traditional high school diploma.

Students must be nominated by a referral agency, such as their high school or their case worker, to receive the award. The college must participate in the awards program for the student to get an award. This award is open to high school seniors who are expected to graduate or get their GED during the current academic year.

Students must also take the ACT exam during the fall of their senior year of high school and must achieve a composite score of at least 17. Students who prefer to take the SAT may take this exam instead of the ACT exam and must get a composite score of at least 830 to qualify for the award.

Students must attend high school in one of the four eligible states and be a resident of one of those states; in addition, students must be U.S. citizens or legal immigrants to the United States to qualify for this award. Students must also demonstrate financial need.

Although the Daniels Foundation evaluates all applications individually, as a general guide a family of four must make no more than $50,000 per year to qualify for this scholarship.

The Daniels Scholarship can’t be the student’s primary source of funding; the student’s other financial aid is subtracted from the total cost of attendance before the award is given. For example, if the student receives a Pell Grant, the grant amount is subtracted from the cost of attendance before the Daniels Foundation considers how much of an award to give. This scholarship may be used to pay tuition or to pay incidental costs of education, such as the costs of books and equipment the student needs for his classes.

Local Organizations

Local organizations sometimes offer scholarships or grants to at-risk students in their local communities. If a student is interested in pursuing grants for higher education, contacting local non-profits, especially organizations that work with minority populations or disabled populations, may be a fruitful avenue of exploration. For example, the Winners for Life Foundation offers scholarships to at-risk students as part of its mission to provide teens with the tools to make their dreams come true.

Non-College Grants

There are a select number of non-profit organizations that help students who are not yet at the college level. These organizations may provide grants or scholarships so that middle school or high school students can attend a private high school rather than attending public school.

ABLE Boston

ABLE Boston is an example of one such organization. Students apply directly to ABLE Boston for financial aid with private school. Although this program is geared towards at-risk and other low-income students, students who participate in it don’t get a complete scholarship. Instead, they must pay at least $1,000 towards tuition costs and ABLE Boston will cover the rest.

This program is based on financial need. Students must complete several short essays highlighting their interests and academic needs in addition to submitting their family’s financial information to qualify for the scholarship. Interested students can download an application from ABLE Boston’s website.

What to Do

Students from at-risk communities who are interested in pursuing scholarships and grants must start their search well before their senior year of high school. Ideally, students should work on getting grants and scholarships throughout their high school career.

Freshman Year

Students must focus on keeping their grades up so that they begin their high school career with at least a 3.0 GPA. They should also talk to their guidance counselors about college planning and specifically about grant and scholarship programs. Students should begin to make a list of local organizations that may help them fund their education and add to this list over the next three years.

Sophomore Year

Students should prepare for the PSAT examination in addition to focusing on their grades. High PSAT scores may qualify them for National Merit Scholarships; in addition, they get valuable practice for the SAT. Students should continue searching for grants and scholarships from all sources during this year.

Junior Year

Students should finalize the list of colleges they intend to apply to as well as finish their list of scholarship and grant programs. Students should also take the PSAT examination.

Senior Year

Students must apply to at least five schools. In addition, they take the SAT or ACT examination and contact the organizations on their list to get applications for grants and scholarships. When students get accepted at the school of their choice, they should fill out a FAFSA form to apply for the Pell Grant as well as contact the school about additional grant opportunities.


Since many organizations offer scholarships to students who fit into more than one category, such as disabled minority students or students with a particular GPA who live in a particular area, students should think about the different aspects of their lives that may fit together to create grant or scholarship opportunities.

Students who fit into more than one minority group may find grants and scholarships tailor-made for their intersecting memberships. It’s also easier to search for organizations that serve very specific populations and grant opportunities for those populations.

Students may want to discuss how to approach their grant and scholarship search with their guidance counselor and explore which traits, qualities or identities they possess that may be more likely to lead them towards financial aid for their education.


“At-risk” students may have more difficulty affording college than their more privileged peers. However, financial problems need not be an obstacle to gaining a college education. There are many opportunities available for at-risk students, but they may have to put extra work into finding and applying to funding sources.

These students are eligible for the same financial aid as other students, but their search for scholarships and grants shouldn’t stop there. Instead, students should think creatively to locate scholarships. They may want to make a list of qualities they possess that may qualify them for scholarships and grants, and then look for awards that match those qualities, rather than simply searching for scholarships.

The search for grants can sometimes be discouraging, but at-risk youth must not give up. Students and their parents should remember that most colleges want a diverse student population, including students from minority backgrounds and students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

In addition, many opportunities are need-based, so students with limited financial resources may be at a significant advantage when applying for grants and scholarships.

Finally, students and their parents need to take education seriously not just when the student is almost finished with high school, but throughout the student’s high school career. At-risk students who complete high school are on their way to a better life, as high drop-out rates is one of the factors that puts these students at risk in the first place.

Students who work hard to earn good grades in high school should find plenty of opportunities available to them as they begin the college application process.

One Response to “At Risk Student Grants”

  1. Niesha Stepney says:

    My daughter, Ryan Stepney is a high school teacher. She has decided late in her career that college is the best step for her but the grades are C average (better now than before). I am looking for any program that can assist. We have a medical card but I work 40 hours weekly. She doesn’t play sports. Any assistance or direction is appreciated.

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