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If you’re considering becoming a teacher, the TEACH Grant could help you pay for college. We’ll review the program, its pros and cons, and help you determine if it’s right for your career goals.
For people headed to college to become teachers, student loan debt is a reality. If you’re looking for extra funds to pay your college bills, one potential option is a TEACH Grant. This federally-funded grant helps provide money to college students willing to make commitments to teach in an underserved area of the country in specific fields of study.
Let’s take a closer look at TEACH Grants to learn more about what they are, how they work, and what potential issues you may face down the road.
What Is a TEACH Grant?
The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant Program provides federal grants to students who want to become certified teachers. Students approved for the TEACH Grant can receive up to $4,000 a year in grant money towards the cost of their required coursework. More recently, grant funds have been reduced slightly.
The federal government created the TEACH Grant in 2007 to draw highly qualified teachers toward hard-to-fill jobs in low-income school districts.
Unlike most other federal grants, there are more requirements than just taking and passing certain classes. The grant program requires a total of four years of service in low-income areas teaching high-need subjects during the eight-year period immediately following graduation or leaving school. Not all colleges are part of the TEACH Grant Program. Even at schools that do participate, not all education programs are eligible, either.
Students who don’t meet these requirements by the end of the eight-year period will have their TEACH Grants turned into unsubsidized student loans, with interest charged from the date that the grant money was received.
Who Is Eligible?
There are several criteria that applicants need to meet to be eligible for a TEACH Grant. First, students must meet basic eligibility requirements for all federal student aid programs. Other requirements to qualify for a TEACH Grant include:
- Completing a FAFSA form
- Being enrolled in a school that participates in the TEACH Grant Program
- Being enrolled in a TEACH Grant-eligible program at your school
- Meeting academic requirements
- Participating in counseling every year you receive a TEACH Grant
- Sign a TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve
Students should contact their school’s financial aid office to see if it participates in the TEACH Grant Program and learn what programs are eligible for the program.
TEACH Grant-eligible programs are ones designed to prepare students to become highly qualified teachers in high-need fields. Eligible programs must lead to one of the following:
- A bachelor’s degree
- A master’s degree
- A post-baccalaureate degree (if a bachelor’s degree isn’t offered at your school)
- Two-year programs that receive full credit toward a bachelor’s degree
For academic requirements, contact the financial aid office at your college or at colleges of interest if you aren’t a student yet. Academic requirements typically involve scoring high on all or a portion of a college admissions test. A cumulative GPA of 3.25 or higher might be an alternative criteria used by some schools.
The TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve states that you agree to all of the stipulations set forth as conditions for receiving a TEACH Grant. Failing to meet these requirements will result in costly student loan debt.
Applying for a TEACH Grant
Follow these steps to apply for a TEACH Grant:
1. Complete a FAFSA Form
Individuals can apply for a TEACH Grant the same way they would for any federal student aid: by submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Be careful to note deadlines for applying for the school year. FAFSA forms are usually due by June 30 of each year.
States and colleges have their own deadlines for the FAFSA, as well. You’ll need to check with your college to find out its deadline. State FAFSA deadlines can be viewed on the federal student aid website.
After submitting your FAFSA, you’ll find out if you’ve been given a TEACH Grant in your financial award letter. You’ll also see any other available federal student aid to pay for your education. Because TEACH Grants are awarded annually, you’ll need to submit a FAFSA every year you want to apply for the grant
2. Complete TEACH Grant Counseling
Counseling is required every year you apply for a TEACH Grant. Counseling walks students through all of the details and requirements associated with TEACH Grants. The process takes place online through the Federal Student Aid website and must be completed in one session, which typically lasts 20 to 30 minutes.
3. Sign an Agreement to Serve
Students must sign an Agreement to Serve (ATS) before receiving any TEACH Grant funds. The ATS is a legally binding document and serves as your agreement that you’ll meet all of the requirements associated with your TEACH Grants. You’ll need to sign an ATS for every year you apply for a TEACH Grant.
TEACH Grant Requirements
TEACH Grants come with many stipulations. One condition of TEACH Grants is that you must work at a school or organization that serves low-income families. Elementary schools, secondary schools, and educational service agencies count as eligible employers for TEACH Grants.
Not only is the type of school important, but so is the area of study you pursue. TEACH Grants are only available for programs focusing on areas that are considered high-need. What programs does this include?
- Bilingual education
- English language acquisition
- Foreign language
- Reading specialist
- Special education
Other fields of study can be considered high-need if they are identified as such by a government or education agency. The Teacher Shortage Area Nationwide Listing contains programs that would qualify for a TEACH Grant. You can also check with your school’s financial aid office for information on which available programs would qualify.
There is also a time commitment aspect with TEACH Grants. To fulfill requirements, grant recipients must work for at least four academic years after graduating (or leaving) their course of study. The four-year commitment must occur within the eight years following graduating from or leaving the program for which you received the grant.
There are also two certification requirements associated with TEACH Grants. Detailed information on certifications can be found within the Agreement to Serve.
First, grant recipients are expected to contact FedLoan Servicing, the TEACH Grant loan servicer, in writing within 120 days of enrollment ending (either through graduation or withdrawal). The letter should explain whether you are:
- Employed as a full-time teacher meeting grant requirements, or
- Not yet employed, but with intentions to meet grant obligations
Grant recipients are also required to submit documentation after a certain amount of time to state that they’ve either completed a qualifying year of service or that they still intend to satisfy all requirements of the grant. Documentation would also be sent to FedLoan.
Who Might Benefit From a TEACH Grant?
TEACH Grants can be a valuable resource to those going into the teaching profession after college. Any teacher pursuing a degree in a TEACH Grant-eligible program should look into whether it makes sense to apply for the grant.
If you plan on teaching at a school or organization that meets the requirements, you should apply for a TEACH Grant. If you have a desire to serve families that don’t typically receive much educational support, the TEACH Grant is a great way to pay for part of your education.
Who Should Avoid a TEACH Grant?
While TEACH Grants provide funds for many future teachers, not all of them will benefit from this assistance. If your desired program within the education field isn’t considered a high-need area, it doesn’t make sense to switch just to get some extra money for college.
Some teachers might want to work in schools serving low-income families, but if that’s not your goal, you will want to find financial assistance elsewhere. The four-year commitment to work in this type of school could delay career goals and even become a burden.
If you don’t plan on meeting all of the requirements of a TEACH Grant, you shouldn’t apply for it. If you don’t meet all of the requirements by the end of the eight-year period, grant funds will turn into student loan debt, and you’ll be on the hook for interest from the time loan funds were disbursed.
What Happens If I Don’t Meet TEACH Grant Requirements?
One of the drawbacks of TEACH Grants is what happens if you fail to meet all of the requirements. Doing so will turn your funds into unsubsidized student loans. On top of that, you will be charged interest from the time the loans were disbursed.
For example, if you applied for and received TEACH Grant funds of $4,000 each year while pursuing your bachelor’s degree, that comes out to $16,000 in grant money. Let’s say at the end of the eight-year period following school you haven’t met the requirements. You would end up paying between 9 and 12 years’ worth of interest for the grant funds you received. That could be a considerable amount of money, depending on how much grant money you received.
Problems With TEACH Grants
The Department of Education has come under fire for reports that TEACH Grants were being converted to loans without just cause. Claims first surfaced in a 2015 report from the Government Accountability Office. Thousands of teachers had grants mistakenly converted to loans in 2013 and 2014.
A 2018 study by the Department of Education found that 63% of recipients who began service before 2014 had their grants converted to loans. Remarkably, 32% of those people were on track or had completed requirements.
Many issues stem from improper handling of certification paperwork, as well as a lack of communication on certification deadlines from the loan servicer.
Because of the issues related to certification form deadlines, the Department of Education has created a standardized TEACH Grant annual certification deadline of Oct. 31. FedLoan Servicing will notify all grant recipients with information on submitting documentation of service or intent of fulfilling service obligations.
What to Do If Your TEACH Grant Converts to a Loan
If your TEACH Grant was converted to a student loan, you have two options to consider:
Request a TEACH Grant Reconsideration
The Department of Education has created a reconsideration process for recipients who had their TEACH Grants converted to student loans. You can request reconsideration by contacting FedLoan Servicing either by phone – (855) 499-9543 – or by email. If you reach out by email, make sure to include your request for reconsideration and your phone number.
For reconsideration, you’ll need to provide information and answer questions as necessary to determine if you qualify to have loans reconverted to TEACH Grant funds.
FedLoan Servicing will contact you with a decision once it’s been reached.
Repay Your Student Loans
Recipients who fail to meet TEACH Grant requirements and aren’t eligible for reconsideration will need to repay their loans. You will be given an opportunity to pay the added interest before it capitalizes.
A six-month grace period will go into effect starting the day after your grant is converted to a loan. During this time, you aren’t required to make payments on your loan, but interest will accrue.
When the grace period ends, your loan servicer will contact you with information regarding your first payment and your repayment plan for your new loans. You can also choose to move your converted loans to other federal repayment plans, such as any of the four Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plans, Graduated Repayment, or Extended Repayment.
The Bottom Line
Grants are a way to receive free money for your college education. Typically, it’s smart practice to start with federal student aid before looking elsewhere to obtain money for college.
The TEACH Grant, however, comes with conditions that make it essential for you to know whether or not you’ll be able to meet program requirements after graduation. If you have any doubts or aren’t sure if teaching is the right career path, it’s a good idea to find alternative sources of aid. If you know teaching is what you want to do and can make the commitment to relocate to an area in need for an extended period of time, the TEACH Grant will knock a large portion off of your potential student loan debt.