Want To Earn $4,000 Per Year?
In 2016, one of the best ways to raise money to pay for college is by taking part in the Federal TEACH Grant Program.
TEACH Grants provide college money to students who agree to become teachers in high-need fields serving in low-income areas.
Federal TEACH Grants are one of the most reliable ways to reduce your student loan debt, but like all the other Federal Loan Forgiveness Programs for Teachers, this one requires a pretty committed effort in order to realize its benefits.
Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants
TEACH Grants are unlike other forms of federal student loan forgiveness in that they are provided in the form of a grant, rather than in the form of loan forgiveness or cancellation.
TEACH Grants require that you take certain classes to prepare yourself for teaching low-income students in high-need fields, and they also require that you satisfy their contract to prevent the grant from turning into a loan.
What is a TEACH Grant?
Federal TEACH Grants offer up to $4,000 a year to students who who have enrolled in the program and appear to be on the way to completing all of the required coursework needed to begin their career as a teacher.
To qualify for eligibility to participate in the program, you must first sign a TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve, in which you’ll have to agree to:
- Teach in a “high-need” field
- Teach at an elementary school, secondary school, or educational service agency who serves students from low-income families
- Teach for at least four complete academic years within eight years of having completed (or dropping out of) the program you used your TEACH Grant to pay for
Keep in mind that if you do not complete each of the steps outlined in the TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve then your TEACH Grant will be automatically converted into a Direct Unsubsidized Loan which you will be responsible for paying back in its entirety.
If this should happen to you, not only will you be responsible for paying back the amount of money that you were granted, but you’ll also be charged interest on the loan starting from the date that your TEACH Grant was initially disbursed.
This means that you could end up owing tens of thousands of dollars if you do not satisfy all of the conditions of the TEACH Grant requirements.
Who is Eligible to Receive TEACH Grants?
Not everyone is eligible for participation in the TEACH Grant program, but compared to other grant programs, this one is not all that hard to qualify for.
Here are the eligibility requirements:
- You must meet the basic eligibility criteria for Federal student aid programs
- You must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
- You must be enrolled in an undergraduate, postbaccalaureate or graduate student program at a school who participates in the TEACH Grant Program (not all of them do!)
- You must be enrolled in a TEACH Grant eligible program (not all of them are!)
- You must meet certain academic achievement requirements, which include scoring about the 75th percentile on one or more portions of a college admissions test, maintaining a cumulative GPA of at least 3.25, and other requirements as outlined by your school’s financial aid office
- You must receive TEACH Grant counseling which explains the terms of your TEACH Grant service agreement and your contractual obligations as related to participating in the program. You must complete this counseling each and every year that you receive a TEACH Grant
- You must sign the TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve
What Programs are Eligible for TEACH Grants?
Not all college degree or certificate programs (even accredited and respected ones) are eligible for participation in TEACH Grant program.
Only those programs that are designed to prepare you to teach as a “highly qualified” teacher in a high-need field and that will lead to a bachelor’s or master’s degree, or that are qualified as postbaccalaureate programs will qualify for TEACH Grant assistance.
Two year programs (Associate’s Degree programs) that are acceptable to be applied for full credit toward a bachelor’s degree are eligible for participation in the TEACH Grant program, but a postbaccalaureate program is NOT eligible for receiving TEACH Grant money if your school also offers a bachelor’s degree in education.
Keep in mind that the same program at two different schools may not always be eligible for the TEACH Grant program, since the schools themselves are allowed to determine which of their programs will be supported by TEACH Grants.
To make sure that your program is TEACH Grant eligible, you’ll have to contact the financial aid officers at your school and ask them.
What is the Teach Grant Agreement to Serve?
The TEACH Grant Agreement to serve is like a contract that you must sign and complete for each year that you receive money from the TEACH Grant program.
You can find the Teach Grant Agreement to serve, along with the required TEACH Grant counseling courses at the official TEACH Grant website, here.
Once you’ve signed the TEACH Grant Agreement to serve, you better live up to the conditions of that agreement because failing to do so will cause your grant to be converted into a loan (as we mentioned above), and leading you to pay out of pocket for all of the money you were provided, along with interest.
Do not let this happen to you!
How do I qualify for a TEACH Grant?
To satisfy the terms and conditions of the TEACH Grant service obligation, you will need to:
- Teach full-time for at least four academic years within eight years of graduating from, or dropping out of the program that you used TEACH Grant funds to pay for
- Perform your teaching service as a “highly qualified teacher” at a low-income school, or for an educational service agency that primarily caters to low-income students
- Teach in a “high-need” field
- Provide the Department of Education with documentation proving your progress toward completing the TEACH Grant service obligation
Can I Receive Multiple TEACH Grants?
Yes, you can receive TEACH Grants each year that you’re studying, but you can also open up what would be considered two separate TEACH Grant service obligations by receiving one or more TEACH Grants for your undergraduate education, and one or more TEACH Grants for your graduate education.
One major benefit to pursuing this strategy is that even though you’ve opened two service obligations, you’ll be able to double-count your teaching and will only have to teach for four years to satisfy the requirements of both TEACH Grant service obligations.
Did you read that? You can get TWICE as much benefit for the SAME amount of work if you plan things out properly.
Don’t forget about this, because it could stand to save you thousands of dollars, or multiple years of teaching at an assignment you wouldn’t otherwise have kept.
What Counts as a “High-Need” Field?
The Federal Government has established the following fields as “high-need”, based on the number of students who require services in these areas, and the number of teachers currently providing those services:
- Foreign Language
- Reading Specialists
- Special Education
- Bilingual Education & English Language Acquisition (ESL Type Classes)
Other fields may have been added to the ‘high-need’ list since this article was published, so to check if they’re included in the annual Teacher Shortage Area Nationwide Listing, click here.
If you’d like to count your service in one of the fields identified in the Teacher Shortage Area Nationwide Listing document, make sure that the field is listed for the state where you are teaching at the time you begin your qualifying TEACH Grant service, or at the time that you receive your TEACH Grant.
If that field is NOT listed for the state at either of those two times, then you will be found to be in breach of contract and your TEACH Grant will be automatically converted into an unsubsidized loan that you’ll be forced to pay off (with interest!).
If you aren’t sure that you satisfy this requirement, then please contact your school’s financial aid adviser for clarification.
Can TEACH Grant Service Obligations be Cancelled?
Fortunately, if something goes terribly wrong during the process of completing your service obligation, there is a way for you to request a temporary suspension of the eight-year period allotted for you complete your required four years of eligible teaching.
If you face one of the following situations, you should be able to temporarily suspend your service obligation:
- If you enroll in another program that is TEACH Grant eligible after you’ve already begun your service obligation period, you can request a delay in your eligibility deadline
- If you have a condition that is a qualifying reason for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (find it here), then you can request a temporary halt in your eight-year eligibility deadline
- If you receive a call tor order to active duty status in the Armed Forces for more than 30 days, or if you receive a call to active service in connection with a war, military operation or national emergency in the National Guard on full-time National Guard duty, then you can request a delay in your eligibility deadline
Please note that suspensions don’t last as long as your new degree program, your medical condition, or your call to duty does, but that, in fact, they are only granted in one year increments.
You may not receive more than three years of combined deferments in your eligibility period for enrolling in a new educational program or taking medical leave, and you can not receive more than three years of deferments for military service either.
If you do receive a suspension in your TEACH Grant service obligation, the eight year period that you have to complete your end of the contract is simply put “on hold” during that suspension period, but the clock begins ticking again as soon as that suspension runs out.
As an example, if you receive a two year suspension for your service obligation after one year of the eight-year period has already passed, you will have six years to complete your obligation after the suspension ends.
The important thing to remember is that a suspension of your service obligation doesn’t cancel it, it just delays your deadline.
The only reasonable way to receive a complete discharge of your service obligation is to be called or ordered to qualifying military active duty for a period that exceeds three years.
During the previous decade, this might have been a possibility, but with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, and no major threat on the horizon, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to fulfill this condition of the obligation in the near future.
Other than that, there are only a couple ways to completely discharge a TEACH Grant service obligation, and frankly, none of them are worth it.
Only if you die or become totally and permanently disabled (read about that here) will you be able to get out from under the contract of your service obligation, so do not go into this program with any expectation (or hope) that you will be able to avoid paying back your grant with time spent served as a high-need teacher in a low-income area.
That’s how it works, and the Federal Government is unlikely to be moved by any amount of complaining or excuse making that you might be able to offer.
Teach Grant Fact Sheet
How do I officially sign up for the TEACH Grant program?
The first step in the process is to visit your school’s financial aid office to make sure that they are a participant in the TEACH Grant program. Remember, not all schools offer this service, and if your school doesn’t participate in the program, then you will not be able to take advantage of these benefits.
Once you’ve confirmed that your school does, in fact, participate in the TEACH Grant program, you will need to apply for a TEACH Grant by filling out a FAFSA, which you can do here. To fill out your FAFSA, you will need access to a Federal Student Aid PIN, which you’ll have to create by visiting the official Federal Student Aid PIN website here.
As part of the applications process for receiving a Federal TEACH Grant, you will need to complete TEACH Grant Initial and Subsequent Counseling and fill out an Agreement to Serve (ATS). The TEACH Grant Initial and Subsequent Counseling process introduces you to the TEACH Grant program and the TEACH Grant service obligation.
It’s basically a briefing process to make sure that you know what you’re getting into. You will need to complete the counseling process each year that you receive a Federal TEACH Grant. This counseling will cover general information (similar to what we’ve presented on this page) along with detailed information regarding:
- The TEACH Grant ATS
- The TEACH Grant Service Obligation
- The TEACH Grant process of converting a Grant to a Loan (for failing to complete a service obligation)
Each section of TEACH Grant counseling is followed by a quiz to make sure that you completely understand each of the requirements of the process, and so that you can’t later on say “I didn’t realize that I had to do all this” if you decide that the program isn’t right for you.
Completing the entire counseling process should only take 45 minutes, and you can save your process as you work through the session, but if you click the LOGOUT button before completing all of the required steps then you will have to start over. To start your TEACH Grant counseling, visit the official website here.
Once you’ve completed the TEACH Grant Initial Counseling course, you’ll need complete your TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve (ATS) paperwork.
This is a simple document that you’ll need to fill out to officially request a TEACH Grant, and legally enroll in the program.
Once you’ve signed this document, you will be obligated to complete the service obligation or your TEACH Grant will be converted into a loan.
The TEACH Grant ATS is legally binding and includes the following information:
- It explains the TEACH Grant service obligation in detail
- It explains the reasons why your TEACH Grant would be converted to a Direct Unsubsidized Loan
- It explains the repayment terms and conditions that would apply to your Direct Unsubsidized Loan, if your TEACH Grant is converted
Do NOT sign this document if you are not serious about completing the required service obligation, because you will seriously regret it down the line.
Remember that you need to sign a new ATS each and every year that you require TEACH Grant funds, and that you must complete either the Initial or Subsequent Counseling program each year before you’re able to fill out the ATS.
You can find and complete the TEACH Grant ATS paperwork by logging into the official website here.
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