For some Virginia students, the idea of any kind of education or training after high school is a dream. They might live with financial challenges, might not have had the best grades or might be the first in their family to consider going to college.

Other students might know the path they plan to take after high school graduation but need someone to guide them through the often-confusing financial aid process. Fortunately, for students in the greater Richmond area and in close to 90 high schools overall in Virginia, GRASP brings them hope for making those dreams reality.

For more than 35 years, Virginia’s GRASP (Great Aspirations Scholarship Program) has realized that students’ abilities are unlimited, dreams matter and caring mentors can make a difference in students’ lives. GRASP’s goal has always been to help students and their families reach their educational goals, regardless of their financial circumstances.

GRASP provides this help through its caring and enthusiastic advisers who are able to assist students and families with completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is the basis most schools use for determining a student’s financial aid.

FAFSA completion is the first step in the financial aid process and determines what (i.e., grants, scholarships, work-study and loans) a student can receive. The FAFSA is often daunting for folks who have never had to deal with the financial aid process. According to the National College Access Network, “Millions of students who are eligible for aid fail to file the FAFSA each year, leaving ‘money on the table’ that could be supporting their postsecondary education.”

The U.S. Department of Education’s Stats in Brief of December 2018 titled, “Why Didn’t Students Complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)? A Detailed Look” highlights some of the reasons why the assistance of GRASP advisers is so valuable.

“Among fall 2009 ninth-graders who graduated from high school and reported not completing a FAFSA,

  • 33% thought they or their family could afford school or college without financial aid;
  • 32% thought they or their family may be ineligible or may not qualify for financial aid;
  • 28% did not want to take on debt;
  • 23% did not have enough information about how to complete a FAFSA;
  • 22% did not plan to continue education after high school;
  • 15% did not know they could complete a FAFSA; and
  • 9% thought the FAFSA forms were too much work or too time-consuming.”

GRASP advisers are also resources for students and families. They guide students in the pursuit of searching for scholarships and other options for decreasing college costs. For instance, they are able to talk about options like Virginia’s Community College Transfer Program wherein students can earn their associate degree at a community college and then transfer to a four-year institution for an overall lower cost and potentially less debt.

Likewise, GRASP advisers can show students opportunities for merit aid and scholarships at four-year institutions. They can even talk to students about where to find workforce options and the corresponding training/funding.

Once students graduate from high school, GRASP also has programs that allow the students to stay connected to the GRASP “family” during their follow-on education. A summer texting program provides text “nudges” throughout the summer to ensure students complete required tasks for successful matriculation at school in the fall.

The GRASP College Success program reaches students through monthly emails with opportunities to apply for scholarships during the college years. And students who complete their education/training can stay connected to GRASP as alumni with opportunities to be mentors and volunteer in other ways with GRASP.

Students will continue to need the assistance GRASP provides for the next 35 years and beyond. GRASP is lighting the way for students to reach their educational goals and achieve a better future by ensuring career and college access for all, which in turn builds a better Virginia. We will continue to bring hope for the future.

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Ken Barker is the president and chief executive officer of GRASP. Contact him at or through the GRASP website,

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