a government building with a dollar background. This represents how to get a grant

College Success

A Complete Guide On How to Get Grants For College

02.10.2022 • 10 min read

Nick Griffin

Subject Matter Expert

An overview of grants for college, what they are, types of grants, differences between grants and scholarships, and how to find and apply for them.


In This Article

  1. What Are College Grants?

  2. Types of Grants for Students

  3. Differences Between Grants for College and Scholarships

  4. How to Apply for a College Grant

  5. How to Find State and Federal Grants

  6. When Will You Have to Repay Your Grant?

  7. Will Grants Be Enough to Pay for College?

You’ve decided to go back to school.

You could be right out of high school and moving towards a four-year degree or a graduate student looking to change careers. Deciding to put college first is a big choice. It feels like you’ve taken your life into your own hands to do what you really want.

Next is thinking through how to pay for it.

Figuring out how to get a job while in college may be one solution. On the other hand, you may need to contemplate juggling how to work full-time and go to school full-time. Possibly it seems like a far-off dream to have your college education paid off in the near future.

But it’s more in reach than you think.

Often prospective students wonder, are there any grants for college students?

There are a large number of college grants and scholarships available to students. With these, anyone can find alternative ways to fund their education without piling on massive debt.

What Are College Grants?

To be clear, a grant is gift aid – meaning you do not have to pay it back – that a student receives for meeting set criteria.

Eligibility for grant money depends on the institution that is awarding the grant. Most commonly grants are needs-based.

Need-based money is awarded to students by looking at their expected family contribution (EFC). You report your EFC on the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

Filling out the FAFSA is an easy application process for earning thousands of dollars in grant money. By applying, both your state government and the federal government will know which grant programs you qualify for.

Additionally, they will let you know how much money in student loans you are eligible to receive.

Even though a student is eligible to take government student loans from their FAFSA results, they do not need to accept them. Filling out the FAFSA is the best path toward being awarded considerable grant money to help pay for school.

Students often wonder how they can get grants to pay for college.

The simple act of filling out the FAFSA creates a streamlined process with your school’s financial aid office after a grant is gifted.

Awarded grants are put toward your college costs first – tuition, fees, campus housing, and meal plan.

After all, costs are covered for school expenses, the rest of the grant money is paid out to the student. This money can be used to cover extra expenses such as books, transportation, and school supplies.

By applying for grants, you may learn how to save money in college and not take on a mountain of debt to head down your chosen path.

Types of Grants for Students

It is very important to be familiar with the types of grants you are being awarded. Some grants may have certain criteria built into them, such as maintaining a specific GPA or enrollment status.

Most of the time, grants are not guaranteed for more than one year. A student will need to fill out a FAFSA for each year they are in school to continue receiving grants. Again, this depends on the types of grants you are awarded.

Here is a general list of the most common student grants:

Federal Pell Grants

The federal government awards grants based on financial need and the cost of attendance reported on the FAFSA. Pell Grants are awarded to full-time undergraduate students and can be as high as $6,495 per year for up to 12 semesters.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG)

Many participating schools offer these grants for low-income students who have exceptional financial needs. If your school participates and you qualify (based on your FAFSA), you can receive as much as $4,000 per academic year.

Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants

These federal grants pay up to $6,495 per year for a student’s education who had a parent killed as a result of military service in Afghanistan or Iraq since 9/11/2001.

Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants

Undergraduate and graduate students who are intending to become elementary or secondary teachers can receive grants through the U.S. Department of Education. These grants currently pay $4,000 per year for students, but you must become a teacher after graduation or all the gift money is converted to a federal loan, meaning it needs to be paid back.

State Grants

Many states offer grants to students based on several criteria such as financial need, intended major, or career path. Filling out a FAFSA and talking to your school’s financial aid office can open up a plethora of grant opportunities.

Private Grants

Several corporations and nonprofits offer grants and scholarships to students based on their chosen career path. Eligible students can be awarded these funds to help move them into a specific industry or profession.

Differences Between Grants for College and Scholarships

Students often discuss grants and scholarships similarly since they are both gift money, but the two have some big differences.

College scholarships are often based on some qualities the recipient possesses or talent in a certain field. Think of athletic scholarships or academic scholarships in this realm.

These merit-based funds are awarded to students who meet certain criteria that do not take economic needs into account. Many colleges, non-profit organizations, and local businesses offer scholarships to a large variety of students.

Grants are primarily focused on a student’s economic situation and must meet very strict criteria to qualify. This needs-based money serves the purpose of bringing equity into a wide range of disciplines.

Grants and scholarships are similar in that they must be applied for each year and both require certain criteria to be met. A savvy student will seek out and apply for both grants and scholarships to help fund their education.

Our chart helps to break down the similarities and differences between grants and scholarships:

Free money that is awarded to you and does not need to be paid back.Free money that is awarded to you usually does not need to be paid back.
Thousands of companies and organizations offer scholarships that vary in amounts.Easily apply by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid FAFSA.
Awarded for things you have already done such as having certain grades or talent in a particular area.Grant money can be substantial due to the financial need of the student or the career path they are taking.
Anyone can apply for a large number of scholarships using free scholarship tools available on their school website.Students can receive multiple grants and scholarships combined to possibly cover all college expenses.

How to Apply for a College Grant

Since you know by this point that you want to go back to school, applying for grants is a straightforward process. Because most grants are government, need-based grants, you can apply for thousands of dollars in grant money through the FAFSA.

You may wonder if you can get more than one grant for college.

You absolutely can and should apply to a variety of grants outside of those connected to the FAFSA.

There are other grant opportunities that you could be eligible for, so make sure to follow these steps to apply for a college grant:

1. Apply using FAFSA

Fill out a FAFSA as soon as you can. This application will tell both federal and state governments your financial need and automatically see what grants you qualify for.

2. Visit your school's financial aid office

Make an appointment with your financial aid office at school. They will tell you about other grant and scholarship opportunities available and show you how to apply. This is a great resource that is often underutilized.

3. Create a CSS profile

Fill out a CSS profile through CollegeBoard. This free application asks several additional questions to the FAFSA, and hundreds of schools use the results to see if students qualify for additional grants that are outside of the federal government.

4. Look into scholarship opportunities

Investigate using your financial aid office and online platforms. There are millions of dollars available to students each year who fill out college scholarship applications. Your school probably has a database they subscribe to that makes searching and applying for scholarships you qualify for an easy process.

5. Calculate student loan amount

Decide how much in student loans you need to take out. After you receive all financial aid information – scholarships, grants, and loans – make the best decision for your personal situation.

6. Continue to apply each year

Since financial information changes based on your lifestyle, you may qualify for grants that you did not receive the year before. Continue to reapply and check for any money available to you.

How to Find State and Federal Grants

Looking for both state and federal grants is easier than most students think. There are many resources available to find the funds you need to go to college.

Each college (even community college) has a financial aid office, usually part of business services. This office helps students find the money they need to stay enrolled. They will look at the information on your FAFSA to determine if you qualify for any known grant opportunities.

Some grant opportunities to explore include:

Armed Services Grants

These are available to veterans of all branches of the armed services and current active duty and reserve members. These funds, such as the GI Bill could pay for tuition, fees, room, board, and additional college-related expenses.

Degree-Related College Grants

Depending on the program that you are enrolling in, there may be grants available to you that are merit-based or contingent upon work in a certain location post-graduation. There are also several private and non-profit grants in this category.

College Grants for Minority Students

To eliminate minority gaps in certain industries, several states have increased college grant funding for minority students. Based on your ethnicity and program of study, there may be money available to help pay for college expenses.

Fulbright Scholarships

Funded by the US Department of State, Fulbright Scholars receive federal funding to come to school in the US as well as for US students to study in other countries. Thousands of students in several disciplines earn Fulbright Awards each year.

Professional Associations

Depending on where you are going to school and what field you are interested in studying, there may be several grants available to you. For students interested in going into a health field, you may qualify for the National Health Service Corps Grants or the American Nurse Practitioner Foundation Grants. There are also a number of loan forgiveness programs out there for after you graduate.

When Will You Have to Repay Your Grant?

The nice part about grant money is that most of it is gift money without strings attached. Meaning you can spend your time focusing on your studies and not worry about paying back these funds.

There are a few exceptions to this with certain grants:

  • If your enrollment status changes, such as moving from full time to part time or withdrawing from college altogether.

  • Changing majors and your degree path was tied to the funding you received. An example would be getting a grant for nursing then switching your major to education.

  • Have your GPA drop below the required minimum to receive the grant.

  • Not fulfilling your obligation post-graduation. For instance, you received a TEACH Grant but did not get a job in education after graduating.

Most of the time, if you are expected to pay off the grant you are no longer eligible for, it will roll into a low-interest federal loan. A student in this situation may also be able to create a repayment plan with the grant issuer, should it be a private entity.

Will Grants Be Enough to Pay for College?

Grants are a wonderful option to pursue to help pay for college, but they are often not enough. You should apply for both grants and scholarships to reduce the amount of borrowed money you will need to pay for school.

Making sure you have adequate time to apply for and hear back from many financial assistance opportunities is very important. Start early, fill out your FAFSA, and find a good budget for college students by talking to others about how they managed to pay for their education.

Even if you have to take out federal student loans to pay for college, remember that going to school is an investment in you. By graduating, you will be more marketable in your chosen field and will make connections that will propel you forward to live the life you want.

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