Illinois Steps A.H.E.A.D. - DHS 3001

Helping Families. Supporting Communities. Empowering Individuals.

State of Illinois
Department of Human Services

Illinois Steps for Attaining Higher Education through Academic Development (Illinois Steps AHEAD)

"Illinois Steps AHEAD" is a federally funded grant program through the Department of Education that works to increase the number of low-income students who are academically prepared and ready to succeed in postsecondary education.

The Illinois Steps AHEAD program funds services at 21 sites throughout the state of Illinois.

The program provides resources and educational services through community based organizations and several school districts. The services include, but are not limited to: career exploration, college preparation, tutorial services, academic enrichment and support, and parent involvement activities.

Policy for the Administration of Scholarship Funds

Illinois Steps AHEAD (ISA) is the Illinois Department of Human Services' program of academic support and scholarship assistance supported by the U.S. Department of Education's Gaining Early Awareness & Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP).

Eligible Postsecondary Programs

  1. Illinois Steps AHEAD scholarships must be used at accredited postsecondary programs within the state. The Illinois Steps AHEAD Advisory Committee will consider requests from students to use these scholarship funds for accredited postsecondary programs that are not available in Illinois.
  2. Illinois Steps AHEAD participants may use these scholarships to attend degree granting institutions, proprietary institutions of higher education as defined by the Higher Education Act of 1965, and trade or technical schools. Illinois Steps AHEAD scholarship funds may not be used for other types of proprietary schools.*

Student and Family Requirements

  1. Students and their parent(s) must successfully complete the Illinois Steps AHEAD program to qualify for a scholarship. Eligibility for awards will be determined from:
    • Consistent attendance in the program for at least four (4) consecutive years from initial enrollment through high school graduation.
    • Illinois Steps AHEAD Scholarship Eligibility Agreement signed by both student and parent/guardian.
    • Completion of an Individualized Learning Plan.
    • Graduation from high school or receipt of a General Equivalency Diploma.*
    • Acceptance into a degree-granting institution, proprietary institutions of higher education (as described above) or a trade or technical school.*
    • Participation by the student's parent(s) in college visits and other activities for parents.
    • Completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and submission of a copy of the Student Aid Report.*
    • If eligible, acceptance of federal Pell grant and Monetary Award Program grant from the Illinois Student Assistance Commission.
    • Documentation of the cost of attending the institution or program in which the student has been accepted, along with amounts of other financial aid that the student will receive.
    • Students must be citizens or eligible non-citizens of the United States.*
    • A student may not accumulate more than eight (8) unexcused absences or more than one out of school suspension during any school year to be eligible for an Illinois Steps AHEAD scholarship.
    • Local Illinois Steps AHEAD Programs also have the discretion to deny eligibility for lack of participation in provider activities or excessive behavior problems that are detrimental to the program.
    • After entering the program, students must be promoted to the next grade in each year of secondary school (7th through 12th grades) in order to remain eligible to receive an Illinois Steps AHEAD scholarship.
    • In each year of their postsecondary program, students must remain in good standing with their postsecondary institution in order to remain eligible for an Illinois Steps AHEAD scholarship.
    • Students who are expelled from a school may not enroll in another school and remain eligible for an Illinois Steps AHEAD scholarship
    • Students must be less than 22 years of age at the time of their first scholarship award.*
    • Students who are eligible for a Pell grant will be given priority consideration for receipt of an Illinois Steps AHEAD scholarship.*
    • Students who are not eligible for a Pell grant may receive an Illinois Steps AHEAD scholarship.
    • Students who transfer from one Illinois Steps AHEAD site to another are still eligible for scholarships and services

Scholarship Amounts and Use of Scholarship Funds

  1. The amount of scholarship assistance will be determined exclusively on the basis of need.
  2. The amount of the Illinois Steps AHEAD scholarship may not exceed the maximum award available through the Pell grant program.
  3. The total amount of financial aid from all sources (including the Illinois Steps AHEAD scholarship) cannot exceed the student's total cost of attendance.
  4. Illinois Steps AHEAD scholarship funds should be used to meet the remaining need after all other sources of assistance have been taken into consideration.
  5. Scholarships may be used to cover all pertinent postsecondary educational costs. If tuition costs are met, Illinois Steps AHEAD funds can be applied toward other costs of attendance, including room, board, text books, other supplies required by the school, transportation and up to $300 toward the cost of leasing or purchasing a personal computer.
  6. All Illinois Steps AHEAD awards will be paid to the postsecondary educational institution, not to individual students or family members.
  7. Students are expected to carry a full-time course load and to attend consecutive semesters or quarters, completing their post-secondary program in four years. ISA scholarship assistance will be available for a maximum of 135 semester credit hours (or their equivalent). Students may receive scholarship assistance for no more than 75 semester credit hours (or their equivalent) while enrolled at the freshman or sophomore level.
  8. Transferring between institutions is acceptable. Transfer requests will be processed by Illinois Steps AHEAD on an individual basis.

Role of the Local Illinois Steps AHEAD Program

  1. Local Illinois Steps AHEAD programs will assist students in obtaining financial aid from federal, state, foundation and other private sources, in addition to the scholarships available through Illinois Steps AHEAD.
  2. Each local Illinois Steps AHEAD project will be able to award a total of approximately $540,000 in scholarships.
  3. The Department will adjust the amount of scholarship funds among participating sites on the basis of caseload, need, grantee performance and other factors.
  4. Local Illinois Steps AHEAD programs are required to maintain documentation that demonstrates compliance with these policies.
  5. Local Illinois Steps AHEAD programs must avoid conflicts of interest in awarding scholarships. The Department reserves the right to review scholarship awards made by local programs.
  6. Local Illinois Steps AHEAD programs may not make eligibility for a scholarship contingent on a student's selection of any particular type of postsecondary education program or any particular school.
  7. Upon a student's completion of the program and acceptance into an eligible postsecondary program, the local Illinois Steps AHEAD Program will submit documentation that the "Student and Family Requirements" (as specified above) have been met, along with the recommended scholarship amount, to the Department for processing.
  8. Local Illinois Steps AHEAD programs must update and submit this information each year that a student seeks financial assistance from the program.

* = Requirement of the U.S. Department of Education

If you have questions, please contact Illinois Steps AHEAD at 217-557-2109 or email DHS Customer Assistance If you have questions about any Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) program, call or visit your FCRC. We will answer your questions. If you do not know where your FCRC is or if you are unable to go there, you may call the automated helpline 24 hours a day at:

1-800-447-6404 (TTY)

You may speak to a representative between: 8:00 a.m. - 5:30 p.m., Monday - Friday (except state holidays).

For answers to your questions, you may also write:

Illinois Department of Human Services
Bureau of Customer and Provider Assistance
100 South Grand Avenue East
Springfield, Illinois 62762

Visit our web site

Programs, activities and employment opportunities in the Illinois Department of Human Services are open and accessible to any individual or group without regard to age, sex, race, sexual orientation, disability, ethnic origin or religion. The department is an equal opportunity employer and practices affirmative action and reasonable accommodation programs.

DHS 3001 (N-02-08) Illinois Steps AHEAD Scholarship
Printed by the Authority of the State of Illinois.
1,700 copies P.O.# 0018