The Quick Report

Everything You Should Know About College Grants

Unlike student loans, college grants are free money. A specified sum is granted to you to help pay for your education. The money does not have to be paid back.

In this article…

• The two most common sources of free financial aid for college that you don’t have to pay back are grants and scholarships.
• Scholarships are often merit-based while grants are typically given to students who have a strong financial need.
• Grants come from various sources including governments, colleges, and private organizations. Here’s what you need to know about college grants.

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Grants vs. Scholarships

Scholarships are also free money that does not have to be repaid. The main difference between college grants and scholarships is in how they are determined and awarded.

Scholarships are typically merit-based. For example, they may be given as a result of some kind of hobby, ability, ethnicity, religion, etc. Some scholarships may be need-based as well.

Many college grants are need-based. They are awarded based on your family’s economic situation.

Applying for Student Aid

One of the most common ways of assessing student’s financial needs is by having them complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and Student Aid Index (SAI).

How to Get a College Grant

The following steps will guide you through the process of finding out if you qualify for a college grant. Both state and federal governments give out college grants.


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1. Fill Out the FAFSA Application

This is the first step in determining your eligibility and qualification. Completion of this application helps colleges determine how much financial aid a student qualifies for. Apply here: Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

2. Submit the FAFSA Before the Deadline

It’s important to be aware that grants are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Applying for FAFSA begins in December. Complete your FAFSA as soon as possible.

3. Read Your Financial Aid Offer From the Colleges That Accept You

After you have completed and filed your FAFSA application, you’ll begin to receive financial aid offers. These will come from the colleges that accept you. The offers will let you know if you are eligible for any college grants. They will also inform you of other types of financial aid available to you. These will include scholarships, work-study, and federal student loans. You don’t have to accept every type of financial aid available to you.

Do You Need Additional Money Besides a College Grant?

A college grant alone may not be enough to cover your educational costs. There are other avenues you can pursue. This includes scholarships, work-study, and federal loans. Combined, all of these can be part of your financial aid package from a school.

How Is Grant Money Paid?

Generally speaking, most schools pay out grant money in at least two payments. These payments are referred to as disbursements. The college will apply your grant money toward your tuition and fees. If you live on campus, your money may also be applied toward your room and board. Any money that is left over from your disbursement is paid to you to cover other expenses.

Grant Money Is not Guaranteed for Every Year of College

Students are required to fill out a FAFSA every year to be eligible, qualify, and receive financial aid.

It is important to understand that most college grants are not guaranteed to cover all years of college attendance. Grants that are needs- and merit-based may be reassessed annually.

For example, if your family’s financial situation were to change dramatically from one year to the next, you may become ineligible. If you received a merit-based grant, there could be certain GPA or other criteria that must be met annually.

The 4 Most Common College Grants

Here are four of the most common grants for students in the United States from the federal government. You can learn more about these grants and how to apply at

1. Federal Pell Grant

These are typically awarded to undergraduate students. This is a financial needs-based grant. The amount of the grant will be based on financial needs, college attendance costs, and more. You first must complete the FAFSA to be eligible for a Federal Pell Grant. Students can receive a Pell Grant for the equivalent of 12 semesters of full-time schooling, or approximately six years.

The Pell Grant is the Department of Education’s largest federal grant program. For the 2023-2024 school year, the maximum amount a student can receive from a Pell grant is $7,395. However, the actual amount a student receives is dependent on financial need and the school’s cost of attendance.

2. TEACH Grant

This grant is aimed at future teachers. It provides aid to students who agree to teach in a high-need field for four years. Specifically, an elementary school, secondary school, or educational service agency serving students from low-income families. Every year of college, you’ll need to reapply for a TEACH Grant by submitting the FAFSA. You must complete TEACH Grant counseling and sign a new Agreement to Serve every year. You’ll also need to meet other requirements.

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3. Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)

This grant is targeted at assisting low-income undergraduate students who require significant financial aid to help pay for college. Each year, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid distributes a certain amount of FSEOG funds to participating schools. Once a school’s FSEOG funds have been awarded to students and depleted, no more FSEOG awards can be made for that year.

The FSEOG is a campus-based aid program. Not all schools participate in this program. For schools that do, it offers students between $100 and $4000 per school year. However, the exact amount a student receives is dependent on the school, financial need, and other types of financial aid received.

4. Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant

This grant is available to students who meet the following criteria: 

  • Had a parent or guardian die as a result of military service after September 11, 2001, in Iraq or Afghanistan.
  • Were younger than age 24 when their parent or guardian died.
  • Demonstrate financial need.
  • Students may need to meet other eligibility requirements.

For the 2023-2024 school year, students who qualify may receive up to $7395. However, the total amount a student receives will depend on financial need and the total cost of attendance at their college.