Your Guide to College Grants and Scholarships


  • Free money for college exists, and students should consider both grants and scholarships.
  • Students can take advantage of websites and apps that help applicants find scholarships they qualify for.
  • Creating an action plan ahead of scholarship deadlines can help students increase their chances of receiving awards.
  • Scholarships awarded outside a student's schools may reduce in-house awards, but there is no limit on how many scholarships students can acquire.

A Note from BestColleges on Coronavirus and Financial Planning in College

The COVID-19 outbreak has caused rapid and significant changes in students' lives. Campus closures have pushed students to online learning, and life after graduation is uncertain for many.

Saving money and budgeting in college is top of mind for many students, even in the best of times. Our Financial Aid Guide can help you understand and plan your finances in college.

We are also working to provide information and resources to students about the impact of coronavirus on college life. Read our latest Coronavirus Resources for Students.

We encourage students to contact their college's financial aid office for any financial questions related to coronavirus. Many services have moved online as schools work to support students through this challenging time.

College scholarships and grants allow students to pay for their degree while helping to avoid out-of-pocket costs. In fact, in 2019, grants and scholarships paid for 31% of students' tuition on average.

This page provides an overview of grants and scholarships, including qualification requirements, application strategies, and compliance options (e.g., keeping schools informed about outside awards).

Grants vs. Scholarships

When comparing grants and scholarships, students should note that both award types provide students with free money for college.

State and federal governments, as well as some private institutions, provide grants based on a student's need or field of study. Private organizations and higher education institutions typically provide scholarships.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you find grants and scholarships?

Students often receive grants from the federal government. They can find scholarships in multiple places, including private organizations and through their college or university. To find potential awards, students can conduct a simple web search or use apps such as Scholly.

Do I qualify for a grant for college?

Grants do not all use the same qualification requirements. Therefore, students must treat each grant on an individual basis. For instance, the Pell Grant targets students who can prove financial need, while military grants apply to service members.

What are the four types of grants?

The Department of Education offers Pell Grants, Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants, Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants, and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants. Students can also find grants from other sources, although many of these support individuals earning advanced degrees related to topics like research, law, and medicine.

Do scholarships affect financial aid?

Colleges and universities provide free money for college, and these scholarships often consider need and/or merit. Outside scholarships can affect need-based school scholarships. However, federal aid may not follow the same stipulations. In some cases, students can retain all of their federal aid, despite the amount of scholarship dollars they acquire.

How many grants and scholarships can I get for college?

Students can generally access more funding opportunities through scholarships than grants. Additionally, many scholarships consider target populations or merit and may not stipulate how much funding students can acquire elsewhere.

Types of Grants

Federal Grants

The Department of Education offers grants to specific target populations. Qualifications include an individual's socioeconomic status and field of study. The list below includes available grants issued by the federal government:

  • Federal Pell Grant

    Undergraduate students who display financial need and do not already hold a bachelor's, graduate, or professional degree may qualify to receive the Pell Grant. Students enrolling in some postbaccalaureate education programs may also qualify.

  • Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants

    FSEOG funding offers $100-$4,000 annually to students who can show financial need. Students should note that not all schools participate in the FSEOG program.

  • TEACH Grant

    Unlike other grants, the TEACH Grant requires students to take specific classes, and students must commit to teaching for a set amount of time after graduation.

  • National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grant

    Students in the latter half of their undergraduate program may qualify for a SMART Grant. This grant requires students to major in a pertinent foreign language or technical field.

  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant

    Students who served in Iraq or Afghanistan qualify for federal grant dollars. Children under the age of 24 who lost a parent or guardian in Iraq or Afghanistan may also qualify.

State Grants

States often set aside grant dollars for residents who wish to earn a college degree. Students should note that states create their own stipulations. Therefore, eligibility and awards may vary. Students should contact their state's department of education to learn specific details.

Special Grants

Students may want to consider specialized grants outside those offered by federal and state governments. Learners may qualify for fellowship grants depending on their field of study or ethnicity. For instance, the American Anthropological Association offers a Minority Dissertation Fellowship Program to increase diversity across the discipline.

What Grants Do I Qualify For?

Federal and state grants typically offer need-based aid. Therefore, students may only receive limited funds. Other grants may not include the same stipulations, so students can acquire more funding from multiple sources. Grants are available for students at varying levels of study, and online learners typically qualify for the same funds as traditional learners.

Types of Scholarships

Scholarship providers vary widely, and students can contact their school's financial aid department to learn about available options. Postsecondary institutions typically offer:

Academic Scholarships

Students who maintain a certain minimum GPA may qualify for merit-based scholarships.

Demographic Scholarships

Demographic-related scholarships may target minorities or women. These scholarships strive to promote diversity on college campuses and elevate education levels in specific communities.

Athletic Scholarships

Students with strong physical skills and abilities can pursue athletic scholarships.

Creative Scholarships

Aspiring artists can apply for creative scholarships, which often require a portfolio or a performance.

While awards vary, academic and athletic scholarships often provide the highest payouts. However, students with exceptional creative abilities may qualify for full tuition coverage at some institutions.

Students may also receive sizable scholarships from their community. Local businesses invest in college-bound students, and these scholarships may offer/require internships during the summer. Similarly, community organizations like foundations and civic groups often set aside funds to help college students. They may look for candidates studying fields related to their specific cause.

Students can also consider religious institutions, although these scholarships may require applicants to hold membership with the organization to qualify. Finally, employed students should ask their employer about financial support for school.

What Scholarships Do I Qualify For?

Scholarships for college do not follow the same qualifications across the board. Students should determine if a scholarship focuses on merit, need, academic achievement, or some other determining factor.

Scholarship awards also vary. Students may apply for multiple scholarships to cover tuition costs. Online students typically qualify for the same funds as traditional students.

Where Do I Find Grants and Scholarships?

Both high school and college counselors offer valuable advice on how to find scholarships and grants. College counselors can obtain a list of scholarships directly provided by the school.

Students should also consider federal aid by filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Community organizations like religious institutions and recreation centers may also offer free money for college.

Grant Resources

To apply for federal grants, students need to complete the FAFSA, which they can do by visiting the Federal Student Aid website. Students should also consider community organizations and local foundations. These organizations typically provide guidelines and links for available grants on their websites. Other sites compile lists of free money for college, including FastWeb.

Scholarship Resources

Students looking for college scholarships should reach out to their high school or college counselor. Current college students may also want to contact their financial aid department since most universities offer many institutional scholarships.

Filing out the FAFSA can also lead to scholarship opportunities. For instance, CollegeBoard awards hundreds of scholarships to students who file for federal aid and meet certain eligibility requirements.

While federal student aid is a great starting place, finding scholarships for college requires due diligence. Multiple apps and websites compile lists of free money for college. Individual organizations also post scholarship opportunities on their websites.

College Scholarship and Grant Applications

Organizations that provide college grants and scholarships create their own stipulations. Merit-based options typically require a minimum GPA, while need-based funding requires information related to a student's finances. Applications may also request a copy of a student's transcripts and SAT/ACT scores. Unlike grants, scholarships often require students to complete an essay.

When Should I Apply for Grants and Scholarships?

Students can access college grants and scholarships from multiple sources. Therefore, they should anticipate multiple deadlines. For instance, individuals can file their FAFSA as early as October. Additionally, some organizations offer scholarships throughout the year. Students may qualify to apply for scholarships as early as their junior year in high school and may continue to apply while in college.

How Do I Increase My Chances of Getting a Scholarship?

The application for a college scholarship describes the preferred type of candidate. Students should focus on opportunities that match their background to increase their chances of receiving an award. Scholarship applications may list optional questions that students should answer. Also, creating a list of potential scholarships and organizing them by their deadlines can help with time management.

Which Scholarships Are the Best to Apply To?

Students need to consider their academic background, strengths, and weaknesses to identify the best scholarship opportunities. For example, students with a low GPA may want to look at opportunities that do not emphasize merit. Focusing on local opportunities can also increase students' chances of receiving an award — especially if they hold a membership or actively engage with the organization.

Tips for Writing a Scholarship Essay

Acquiring free money for college requires preparation and strategy. The following tips can help students increase their chances of receiving a scholarship:

  • Plan in advance
  • Select topics you enjoy
  • Conduct research
  • Know your audience
  • Stick to the word limit
  • Brainstorm
  • Develop a strong introduction
  • Maintain a good structure
  • Use scenarios from your own life
  • Think about what sets you apart from other applicants
  • Avoid drawn-out conclusions
  • Ask a teacher or counselor to review your essays

What Do I Do After I Am Awarded a Scholarship?

Students who receive scholarships outside of their college or university must report awards to their school if their financial aid package contains need-based awards. Postsecondary schools create their own policies for reporting outside scholarships. Students should contact their financial aid department to identify specific steps.

Standard federal rules require schools to avoid over-rewarding students. Therefore, schools reduce in-house scholarships when a students' total awards exceed tuition by more than $300.

While school awards can vary, certain grants do not get reduced. Students should also note they can exceed tuition costs in scholarship awards without losing any funds if the awards come from sources outside of their school.

What Can I Use My Grants and Scholarships For?

College grants and scholarships typically specify how students can use their awards. For instance, providers may allow students to use funds for living expenses, while others only apply funds toward tuition.

Find The Best Scholarship For You