There is a lot to unpack when you think of the state of Illinois. The state does have an ugly, national reputation when it comes political corruption and taxes. Crime rates are brutal in the city of Chicago, which is the state’s largest city.

All that being said, there is also a lot to like about Illinois. In Chicagoland, there are so many unique activities to do indoors and outdoors. There are so many fun festivals across the state in the summer. Going to games at the major league Chicago sports teams of the Blackhawks, Cubs, Bears, Bulls, White Sox and Fire is always a good time. There are numerous minor league sports teams to support, too.

One of the underrated, least appreciated things about the state of Illinois is its education. Illinois has some of the greatest K-12 schools in the country and has even higher-quality colleges and universities.

Despite the financial reputation the state has overall, the Prairie State also has some high-quality college grants, scholarships and other financial aid programs including the Monetary Award Program, the AIM HIGH Grant Program and the Golden Apple Scholars Program.

Monetary Award Program

The Monetary Award Program (MAP Grant) is a need-based grant Illinois college students can receive by simply completing and filing their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The MAP Grant does not need to be repaid and students do not have to submit any high school grades or test scores to become eligible.

To be eligible for the MAP Grant, a student must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen,
  • Be an Illinois resident and have Illinois-resident parents if they are a dependent,
  • Be enrolled in between a minimum of three hours per semester or a maximum of 15 credit hours per semester at an approved Illinois postsecondary institution in a degree or certificate program,
  • Demonstrate a financial need for funding,
  • Maintain satisfactory academic progress as determined by the student’s school,
  • Not be in default on any student loan nor owe a refund on any state or federal grant,
  • Not have received a bachelor’s degree yet,
  • Not have completed the equivalent of 135 MAP paid credit hours yet (AKA credit hours that MAP Grant funding pays for), and
  • Complete and submit FAFSA for every academic year.

To apply for the MAP Grant, a student just needs to submit their FAFSA and the data from FAFSA will help the state and the student’s college determine if the student is eligible to receive funds.

135 credit hours is the maximum amount of credit hours a student can receive MAP Grant funding for throughout their college career. A student can only use MAP Grant funding for fall and spring terms; the funding is not available for summer terms.

MAP Grant funding can be used to pay for college tuition and mandatory fees, though the student will never physically hold the money. MAP Grant funding gets paid directly to your college and is credited to your account.

The actual amount of funding a student receives from the MAP Grant each academic year is based on a student’s financial need, cost of attendance at the student’s school and the amount of funds allocated by the Illinois General Assembly and the Illinois governor.

That being said, the maximum award a student can receive each academic year will be the LEAST of the following options:

  • The eligible amount determined by an analysis of the student’s financial circumstances,
  • The maximum amount the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) allows for tuition and fees at the student’s college, or
  • $5,496 (though his cannot exceed the cost of attendance at the student’s college).

AIM HIGH Grant Pilot Program

The Aspirational Institutional Match Helping Illinois Grow Higher Education (AIM HIGH) Grant Pilot Program is a brand-new financial aid program for full-time undergraduate students attending one of Illinois’ 12 public four-year postsecondary institutions.

The AIM HIGH program regulations can vary at each of the 12 institutions, but there are some standard eligibility criteria they all abide by. It is best to check the student’s school’s website while applying to make sure the student meets all the necessary criteria requirements to be eligible.

Generally though, to be eligible for the AIM HIGH Grant Program, a student must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen,
  • Be an Illinois resident,
  • Have attended an Illinois high school,
  • Apply to or be enrolled full-time as an undergraduate student for the first time at a participating public university campus where the award will be used and/or be engaged in a program of study that will be completed by the end of the school year,
  • Complete and file FAFSA annually,
  • Demonstrate a financial need for funding with a household income no greater than six times the federal poverty guidelines,
  • Meet the minimum cumulative GPA or ACT or SAT scores as determined by the student’s college,
  • Not have earned a bachelor’s degree yet or accumulated 135 credit hours in college,
  • Not be in jail,
  • Not be in default on any student loans nor owe a refund on any state or federal grants, and
  • Meet any other criteria established by the student’s college.

To apply for AIM HIGH, a student typically just needs to submit their FAFSA, but some schools may have additional applications to complete as well.

The AIM HIGH Grant is a renewable award. A renewed award will be no less than the amount of the student’s award from their first year of attending an eligible school, unless the cost of attendance is reduced across the board. There is no set award amount for the program as funds vary annually based on available funding from the Illinois General Assembly and the state’s governor.

Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois

The Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois program is a teacher preparation and tuition assistance program to encourage students to pursue careers in teaching. It is geared towards high school seniors as well as college freshmen and sophomores who are determined and driven to be highly effective future teachers in the state at schools-of-need.

To be eligible for the Golden Apple Scholars program, a student must first be named as a Golden Apple Scholar. To be named a Golden Apple Scholar, a student must:

  • Complete the online application and include references and personal statements,
  • Upload unofficial school transcripts,
  • Send in standardized test scores (such as ACT scores or SAT scores), and
  • Participate in prospective scholar interviews.

One thing to note is the standardized test scores are optional for applying. If a student does not submit them, the Golden Apple Scholars committee will closely review all the other aspects of a student’s application and make a decision based on those aspects. It is required to turn in the test scores after a student has been accepted as a Golden Apple Scholar for research purposes.

To be eligible for the Golden Apple Scholars scholarship, a student must:

  • Be named as a Golden Apple Scholar by the Golden Apple Foundation;
  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen;
  • Be an Illinois resident and have parents who are Illinois residents if the student is a dependent;
  • Be a high school graduate or have a GED;
  • Be enrolled at a four-year postsecondary institution designated as a participating college by the Golden Apple Foundation;
  • Be enrolled in a postsecondary course of study leading to initial teacher licensure or be taking additional courses needed to gain Illinois State Board of Education approval to teach, including alternative teacher licensure;
  • Enter into a program agreement and promissory note with the Golden Apple Foundation and the ISAC;
  • Participate in all required programs and adhere to residential guidelines and standards of conduct as a designated Golden Apple Scholar;
  • Not receive funds from the Illinois Special Education Teacher Tuition Waiver (SETTW) Program or the Minority Teachers of Illinois (MTI) Scholarship Program during the same term(s) for which the student receives Golden Apple funds; and
  • Earn a cumulative 2.50 GPA on a 4.00 scale (for sophomores, juniors and seniors in college).

The program agreement and promissory note referenced above is that a student agrees to teach full-time for at least five years at a nonprofit Illinois public, private or parochial preschool, or an Illinois public elementary or secondary school considered a School-of-Need. A student must begin teaching within two years of completing their degree or program.

If the student fails to complete the program agreement terms of teaching five years at a designated Illinois school, the scholarship will turn into a loan that MUST be repaid with interest.

A student can receive funds for four full academic years (eight semesters) from the program. As a college freshman or sophomore, a student can receive up to $2,500 per academic year. As a college junior or senior, a student can receive up to $5,000 per academic year.

In addition to the funding, a student can receive extensive classroom teaching experience, academic and social-emotional support, job placement assistance and mentoring from award-winning teachers and faculty.

Major Illinois Colleges and Universities

Illinois quite literally has a plethora of high-quality, major public and private colleges and universities its resident students can choose to attend within its nearly 58,000 sq. miles of borders. Some of those schools include:

  • Augustana College in Rock Island (private),
  • Bradley University in Peoria (private),
  • Chicago State University on Chicago’s South Side (public),
  • DePaul University in the Chicago Loop or Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood (private),
  • Eastern Illinois University in Charleston (public),
  • Governors State University in University Park (public),
  • Illinois State University in Normal (public),
  • Knox College in Galesburg (private),
  • Lewis University in Romeoville (private),
  • Loyola University – Chicago in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood (private),
  • McKendree University in Lebanon (private),
  • North Central College in Naperville (private),
  • Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago’s North Park community (public),
  • Northern Illinois University in DeKalb (public),
  • Northwestern University in Evanston (private),
  • Southern Illinois University in Carbondale (main campus) (public),
  • Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in Edwardsville (public),
  • University of Chicago in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood (private),
  • University of Illinois Chicago in the Chicago Loop and Near West Side (public),
  • University of Illinois in Champaign (main campus) (public),
  • Western Illinois University in Macomb (public), and
  • Wheaton College in Wheaton (private).

Not only is Illinois a great place to live to receive a college education, it is also a great place to find a job after graduation due to the many, many job opportunities in the state. If you are an Illinois resident or graduating high school senior, it would be wise to take advantage of all the great college financial aid programs in the state to jump start your educational career and your professional career.