Now is the time to tick the grant box
More than 40pc of students have the benefit of a State grant to support them in their studies, so it is well worth checking out the application process and the criteria for eligibility.
Grants are means-tested payments and are awarded by the centralised agency, SUSI, which funds students both in higher education and on post-Leaving Cert (PLC) courses.
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If eligible, an undergraduate student in publicly funded colleges may have some or all of their fees paid, and/or receive a maintenance grant to help with living costs. At PLC level, eligible students receive a maintenance grant only. Also, a student who is eligible for a grant, may bring it with them if they choose to study abroad.
It is not too early for CAO applicants, who are also thinking about applying for a grant, to start laying the groundwork.
When completing the CAO form, all applicants are asked if they intend to apply for a SUSI grant. Anyone considering applying for a grant can indicate this on the form. While the application process itself does not open until the spring - probably April - ticking this section allows for information sharing between the CAO and SUSI, which, in turn, helps to streamline the processing and payment of any grant that may be awarded.
Even if an applicant later decides not to apply for a grant, it is a good idea to complete this section.
There are two classes of applicant - 'Dependent' and 'Independent'.
For a full list of 2019 CAO courses, click here
Anyone aged under 23 on January 1, 2019 is classed as Dependent. There is also a 'Mature Dependent Student' category for students aged 23 and over.
To be classed as Independent, a student must be 23 since January 1 and living independently from parents/legal guardians from the October in the year prior to their first point of entry/re-entry into further or higher education. Such applicants will have to provide evidence of independent living.
Income is key to deciding on grant eligibility and the number of children in a family is also taken into account.
A Dependent student will be assessed on their own income (if applicable) and that of their parents/legal guardian(s).
Distance between home and college is also a determinant when it comes to what rate is paid. Eligible students who live 45km or less from college receive what is known as an 'adjacent' rate grant, with a higher 'non adjacent' rate for those living further away.
The most common maintenance grants are the standard, €3,025 ('non-adjacent') and €1,215 ('adjacent'). Grants may also be paid at 25pc, 50pc or 75pc of these rates. There is a 'special rate' for the least well off, paid to applicants where a specified social welfare payment is part of the household income.
A family would have to have a reckonable income of under €23,500 (this may increase in line with social welfare increases) to qualify for a 'special rate' grant.
Depending on the number of children, a family's reckonable income would have to be between €39,875 and €47,575, to qualify for the maximum maintenance grant, although the income threshold is higher if there is another person in college.
Once SUSI opens for applications, students are advised to engage with the process as early as possible. This paves the way for an early decision about eligibility, which helps in financial planning for the autumn. Last year, more than 25,000 Leaving Cert students knew their grant status by August 10.
There is a useful 'Eligibility Reckoner' on the susi.ie website, where potential applicants can get an idea about whether they would meet the criteria for a grant.
As a guide, the top four grants awarded in the 2018/19 year, were:
- 17,893 students received the 100pc Student Contribution & €3,025 in maintenance grant (non-adjacent);
- 15,642 students received the 100pc Student Contribution & €1,215 in maintenance grant (adjacent);
- 12,036 students received the 100pc Student Contribution & €2,375 in maintenance grant (special rate* adjacent);
- 11,457 students received the 100pc Student Contribution & €5,915 in maintenance grant (special rate* non-adjacent).