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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
Amounts: Up to $6,195 for the 2019–2020 academic year
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.
Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)
Amounts: Between $100 and $4,000 per year
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
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
Amounts: Up to $4,000 for your third, fourth or fifth year of study
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
Amounts: Up to $3,752 per year
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.
How to apply for a grant
While every grant has its own unique application process, here’s a general guide of what to expect:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Frequently asked questions
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