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Three places to find grants for college

Want to avoid student loans? Apply for free financial aid instead.

For those with low income or other barriers keeping them from to attending college, grants can be a simple way to cover a portion of your cost of attendance. There are many federal, state and private options available — but you likely need to demonstrate significant financial need or fall into an underrepresented group to qualify.

Federal grants for college

The federal government offers a few grants, many based on your financial need.

Federal Pell Grant

AmountsUp to $6,195 for the 2019–2020 academic year
Eligibility requirements

To qualify for a Federal Pell Grant, you need to meet the following criteria:

  • Demonstrate significant financial need
  • Undergraduate or vocational student enrolled or accepted for enrollment in a participating school
  • No previously earned bachelor’s or professional degree
  • Completed the FAFSA

The Federal Pell Grant is intended for undergraduate students with significant financial need. It’s one of the most common federal grants awarded to students, though it’s only awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis. How much you qualify for depends on your expected family contribution, cost of attendance and whether you’re enrolled as a full- or part-time student.

An in-depth look at the Federal Pell Grant Program


Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)

AmountsBetween $100 and $4,000 per year
Eligibility requirements

To qualify for the FSEOG, you need to meet the following criteria:

  • Demonstrate significant financial need
  • Undergraduate or vocational student enrolled or accepted for enrollment in a participating school
  • No previously earned bachelor’s or professional degree
  • Completed the FAFSA

The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) is also based on financial need. Like the Pell Grant, it’s awarded to undergraduate students on a first-come, first-serve basis. How much you qualify for depends on your financial need, when you apply, the amount of other aid you get and the availability of funds at your school.


Academic Competitiveness Grant

Amounts

Vary based on your year in school

  • First-year students: Up to $750
  • Second-year students: Up to $1,300
Eligibility requirements

To qualify for the Academic Competitiveness Grant as a first-year student, you need to meet the following criteria:

  • Federal Pell Grant recipient
  • Enrolled at least half time in an accredited degree program
  • Completed a rigorous secondary-school program of study, which could include IB or AP courses
  • No previous enrollments in an undergraduate program
  • US citizen or eligible noncitizen

For second-year students, you’ll need to have at least a 3.0 GPA to qualify for renewal.

The Academic Competitiveness Grant is a merit-based and need-based grant intended for first- and second-year students. You must be a Federal Pell Grant recipient to qualify.


National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grant

AmountsUp to $4,000 for your third, fourth or fifth year of study
Eligibility requirements

To qualify for the SMART Grant, you need to meet the following criteria:

  • Federal Pell Grant recipient
  • Undergraduate student enrolled full time in an accredited degree program
  • In your third, fourth or fifth year of study
  • Majoring in physical science, life science, computer science, engineering , mathematics, technology or a critical foreign language
  • Maintain at least a 3.0 GPA in classes for your major
  • Completed the FASFA

Like the Academic Competitiveness Grant, the SMART Grant is awarded based on both need and merit. However, it’s only available to undergraduates in their third, fourth or fifth year of study. And you need to be pursuing a specific degree and have received the Federal Pell Grant in order to qualify.


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

AmountsUp to $3,752 per year
Eligibility requirements

To qualify for the TEACH Grant, you need to meet the following criteria:

  • Undergraduate, postbaccalaureate or graduate student attending a school that participates in the TEACH Grant program
  • Enrolled in an eligible TEACH Grant program
  • Meet certain academic achievements, which vary by program
  • Complete counseling that explains the conditions of the TEACH Grant service
  • Sign a TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve
  • Completed the FAFSA

TEACH Grants are awarded to students pursuing a degree in education who agree to work at a low-income school in a high-needs field for at least four years. You need to complete your teaching service within eight years of graduation.


Need-based vs. merit-based grants

Both need-based and merit-based grants are a type of financial aid you don’t have to pay back. However, each have their own specific eligibility requirements to qualify. Here’s how they break down:

  • Need-based grants. This type of financial aid based on need is designed for students who come from a background of financial hardship. You and your family generally need to meet minimum income and expected family contribution requirements to qualify.
  • Merit-based grants. These grants are geared toward high-achieving students who excelled in high school or were involved in community service projects. These generally require you to have a high GPA or a verified list of service opportunities to qualify.

State grants for college

In addition to federal grants, almost every state has options available for undergraduate students who need help paying for school. The specific amount you qualify for and eligibility requirements vary by state. You can check your state’s higher education department to find more resources on the grants it offers.

University grants for college

Some universities list their scholarship and grant options openly on their financial aid pages. Others may not be as easy to find, so consider filling out a CSS Profile.

The CSS Profile is used by nearly 400 colleges and scholarship programs. It gives you a way to quickly find non-federal aid, but you have to pay to fill it out — $25 for the initial application and $16 for every additional school. There are fee waivers available for students who were impacted by the California wildfires, Hurricane Florence, Hurricane Michael or Typhoon Mangkhut.

Between the CSS Profile and simply checking with your university, you may find grants you didn’t know you qualified for.

Are there grants for specific groups?

Federal, state and independent organizations all offer grants designed for a variety of students. The categories below only provide a guiding list, so be sure to do more research if you’re interested in extra funding.

Grants for women

Women make up 50% of the population, but they’re still underrepresented in many fields. This is especially true for nontraditional students and women of color. While there are several grant opportunities designed specifically for women, many tend to be for graduate research or further education.

  • American Association of University Women (AAUW) Career Development Grants. These grants are geared toward women who want to improve their career prospects by taking classes after receiving a bachelor’s degree. Women of color and those pursuing their first advanced degree or credentials in nontraditional fields get priority.
  • PEO Program for Continuing Education (PCE). This program is designed for women returning to school to complete a degree or certification that improves their career prospects. Award amounts go up to $3,000 and are based on financial need as well as how much PEO funds are available in the current year’s grant budget.
  • Soroptimist Live Your Dream Award. This award is meant to support women living in poverty and victims of domestic violence or sexual assault. It provides between $1,000 and $16,000 to qualifying students enrolled or accepted into a vocational or undergraduate degree program.
  • Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Foundation Education Support Award. This award is geared toward low-income mothers interested in pursuing any type of degree at an accredited school in the US. The foundation offers up to $5,000 for five women based on financial need, personal circumstances, educational goals and other factors.

On top of these grants listed above, there are also a number of field-specific grants for women that you may want to look into.

Grants for minorities

In grant terms, minority generally refers to an ethnic minority — typically those of nonwhite and non-European descent. However, you may find grants for sexual and gender minorities as well if you do some research.

Because of the diversity in background, you should start your search by contacting your university and professional organizations in the field you’re majoring in. For instance, the National Black Nurses Association gives grants and scholarships for undergraduate students pursuing a nursing degree.

You may also consider scholarships as well, since there are quite a few geared toward minority students.

Grants for veterans and relatives

Beyond the GI Bill, there are quite a few scholarships and grants available for US military service members and reservists. What you qualify for depends on the branch you served and other criteria, like if you’re a woman or a minority.

Relatives may also be eligible for some grants. The most well-known is the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant, which was designed for those who lost a parent or guardian during their service in Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11. Be aware that you’re not eligible if you qualify for the Pell Grant.

Grants for grad students

There’s no such thing as too much funding when you’re pursuing a graduate or post-graduate degree. Students in a STEM program might have the easiest time finding grants, as there are a lot of organizations encouraging students to pursue this field. And there are several grant opportunities available for women and minority graduate students, including the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship for Minorities.

No matter your field, we recommend contacting your university and professional organizations related to your area of study to find out what grants are available.

Grants for students with disabilities

There are no federal grants specifically designed for students with disabilities, but there are some that may still apply to you. You may also be able to find grants through local, state and national organizations and institutions.

For example, the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing offers grants ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 to students diagnosed with a hearing condition before the age of seven.

Many other organizations offer grants to students with mental, neurological, physical and sensory disabilities. Plus, you might be eligible for a grant geared toward minorities, since student with disabilities are thought to be underrepresented.

Grants for international students

Unfortunately, most grants are only available to US citizens and permanent residents. While you may be able to find grants from private, corporate or nonprofit organizations, they’re likely competitive.

There are also several scholarship databases available — including the International Education Financial Aid (IEFA) website — to help international students find free financial aid. Otherwise, you may need to borrow a student loan or use your own resources to pay for college in the US.

Other grant opportunities

There are other grant opportunities available for those who don’t fall into one of the above categories. For example, students pursuing a specific career path, who aged out of the foster care system or are coming back to school to finish their degree may be able to find grants to help cover college expenses. Start by researching opportunities available at your specific college or university first, then move on to private organizations related to your area of study or background.

How to apply for a grant

While every grant has its own unique application process, here’s a general guide of what to expect:

  1. Fill out the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is used by the government and multiple universities to gauge your eligibility for different types of federal student aid — including grants, work-study and federal student loans.
  2. Browse grants based on your background. Find one you think is a good fit? Double-check that you qualify first — many have specific income requirements or other factors you need to meet.
  3. Complete the application, if necessary. Many grants have applications that request information about you and your future goals. You may also have to write a personal essay, too. However, some don’t require this step — you’ll be considered for the Pell Grant automatically after filling out the FASFA, for example.
  4. Wait to see if you’re approved. The grant application season usually starts in the fall, and you’ll typically know if you’ve been given a grant by the spring. Keep up with your emails, and don’t forget to check the mail for physical notices, too.

What are my scholarship options?

Many grants only offer up to $10,000 in free financial aid for students — and not everyone qualifies. If you’ve run out of grant opportunities, we recommend looking into scholarships next. Like grants, there are local, state, federal and university options available. But unlike grants, which generally serve students with financial need, scholarships are more geared toward service and merit.— and some programs even cover full tuition.

There are several college scholarship databases available — like College Board’s Scholarship Search — to help you find one you might qualify for. Plus, many colleges and universities offer merit-based scholarships that reward good grades or high test scores in high school. Reach out to local and statewide organizations as well to find even more options.

Private student loan options

If you’ve searched for both grants and scholarships but still come up short, federal student loans may be able to help. And if you’ve reached your borrowing limit with those, private student loans can pick up the slack.

Name Product APR Min. Credit Score Loan amount Loan Term
Stride Funding Income Share Agreement
As low as 2%
None
Up to $25,000
2 to 10 years
A student loan alternative for graduate students based on your future salary.
EDvestinU Private Student Loans
4.092% to 8.609% with autopay
675
$1,000 - $200,000
7 to 20 years
Straightforward student loans for undergraduate and graduate students.
CommonBond Private Student Loans
3.74% to 10.74%
700
$5,000 - $500,000
5 to 15 years
Finance your college education through this lender with a strong social mission and terms that fit your budget.
Edvisors Private Student Loan Marketplace
Varies by lender
Varies by lender
Varies by lender
Varies by lender
Quickly compare private lenders for your school and apply for the right student loan.
Credible Labs Inc. (Student Loan Platform)
Starting at 0.99% with autopay
Good to excellent credit
Starting at $1,000
5 to 20 years
Get prequalified rates from private lenders offering student loans with no origination or prepayment fees.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Bottom line

Grants are one of the top ways to pay for college since you don’t have to pay back any of the money you receive. But they can be difficult to qualify for — especially if you don’t fall into a select group of students.

If you still need help covering college expenses, you may want to consider your federal student loan options first. And if those fall short, private student loans may be able to help.

Frequently asked questions

What’s the difference between a scholarship and grant?

There aren’t many differences, especially considering both are a form of financial aid you don’t have to repay. However, the one factor that sets them apart is who qualifies. Many grants are designed for student with financial need and underrepresented groups, while many scholarships are geared toward high-achieving students.

When should I start applying for grants?

In general, grant applications are usually accepted in the fall and awarded for the next academic year.

Some federal and state grants are based off the FAFSA, so you should fill it out as soon as possible to get a head start on those first-come, first-serve opportunities. Others require you be at a certain level of school — some are only offered to high school seniors while others are only offered to college seniors — so be sure to check that you’re eligible before applying.

Do I have to pay taxes on the grant money I receive?

It depends on how you spend your grant money. If the award is used to cover tuition, fees, books and supplies to attend an educational institution, you likely don’t have to pay taxes on it. But if you use it for room and board, travel, research or equipment that isn’t necessary for a course, then you may have to report it as income.

However, if grants and scholarships are your only source of income, you may not even have to file taxes. Speak with a tax professional to discuss your specific situation.

Picture: Getty Images

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