Grants and scholarships are often called “gift aid” because they are free money—financial aid that doesn’t have to be repaid. Grants are often need-based, while scholarships are usually merit-based.
Grants and scholarships can come from the federal government, your state government, your college or career school, or a private or nonprofit organization. Do your research, apply for any grants or scholarships you might be eligible for, and be sure to meet application deadlines!
The U.S. Department of Education offers a variety of federal grants to students attending four-year colleges or universities, community colleges, and career schools.
- Federal Pell Grants
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG)
- Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education
(TEACH) Grants Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants
A Federal Pell Grant, unlike a loan, does not have to be repaid. Federal Pell Grants usually are awarded only to undergraduate students who have not earned a bachelor’s or a professional degree. (In some cases, however, a student enrolled in a post baccalaureate teacher certification program might receive a Federal Pell Grant.) You are not eligible to receive a Federal Pell Grant if you are incarcerated in a federal or state penal institution or are subject to an involuntary civil commitment upon completion of a period of incarceration for a forcible or non forcible sexual offense.
Effective on July 1, 2012, you can receive the Federal Pell Grant for no more than 12 semesters or the equivalent (roughly six years). You’ll receive a notice if you’re getting close to your limit. If you have any questions, contact your financial aid office.
If you’re eligible for a Federal Pell Grant, you’ll receive the full amount you qualify for—each school participating in the program receives enough funds each year from the U.S. Department of Education to pay the Federal Pell Grant amounts for all its eligible students. The amount of any other student aid for which you might qualify does not affect the amount of your Federal Pell Grant.
A Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) is a grant for undergraduate students with exceptional financial need.
To get an FSEOG, you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) so your college can determine how much financial need you have. Students who will receive Federal Pell Grants and have the most financial need will receive FSEOGs first. The FSEOG does not need to be repaid.
The FSEOG program is administered directly by the financial aid office at each participating school and is therefore called “campus-based” aid. Not all schools participate. Check with your school’s financial aid office to find out if the school offers the FSEOG.
Each participating school receives a certain amount of FSEOG funds each year from the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid. Once the full amount of the school’s FSEOG funds has been awarded to students, no more FSEOG awards can be made for that year. This system works differently from the Federal Pell Grant Program, which provides funds to every eligible student.
So, make sure you apply for federal student aid as early as you can. Each school sets its own deadlines for campus-based funds.
A TEACH Grant can help you pay for college if you plan to become a teacher in a high-need field in a low-income area.
A TEACH-Grant-eligible program is a program of study that is designed to prepare you to teach as a highly qualified teacher in a high-need field and that leads to a bachelor’s or master’s degree, or is a post baccalaureate program. A two-year program that is acceptable for full credit toward a bachelor’s degree is considered a program that leads to a bachelor’s degree. A post baccalaureate program is not TEACH-Grant-eligible if it is offered by a school that also offers a bachelor’s degree in education.
Schools that participate in the TEACH Grant Program determine which of the programs they offer are TEACH-Grant-eligible. A program that is TEACH-Grant-eligible at one school might not be TEACH-Grant-eligible at another school. Contact the financial aid office at the school you are attending (or that you plan to attend) to find out which programs at that school are eligible.
You’ll be required to teach for a certain length of time, so make sure you understand your obligation.
Each year that you receive a TEACH Grant, you must sign an Agreement to Serve on the TEACH Grant website. The agreement explains the terms and conditions for receiving a TEACH Grant. By signing the Agreement to Serve, you agree to these terms and conditions and acknowledge that if you do not fulfill the service obligation described in the agreement, the TEACH Grant funds you received will be converted to a loan that you must repay.
A Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant is different from other federal student grants because it requires you to take certain kinds of classes in order to get the grant, and then do a certain kind of job to keep the grant from turning into a loan.
As a condition for receiving a TEACH Grant, you must sign a TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve in which you agree to (among other requirements) teach
- in a high-need field
- at an elementary school, secondary school, or educational service agency that serves students from low-income families
- for at least four complete academic years within eight years after completing (or ceasing enrollment in) the course of study for which you received the grant.
IMPORTANT: If you do not complete your service obligation, all TEACH Grant funds you received will be converted to a Direct Unsubsidized Loan. You must then repay this loan to the U.S. Department of Education, with interest charged from the date the TEACH Grant was disbursed (paid to you or on your behalf).
To receive a TEACH Grant, you must:
- Meet the basic eligibility criteria for the federal student aid programs.
- Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®).
- Be enrolled as an undergraduate, postbaccalaureate, or graduate student at a school that participates in the TEACH Grant Program.
- Be enrolled in a TEACH-Grant-eligible program.
- Meet certain academic achievement requirements (generally, scoring above the 75th percentile on one or more portions of a college admissions test or maintaining a cumulative GPA of at least 3.25). For specific information about the academic requirements, talk to the financial aid office at your college or career school.
- Receive TEACH Grant counseling that explains the terms and conditions of the TEACH Grant service obligation. You must complete counseling each year that you receive a TEACH Grant.
Sign a TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve.
In exchange for receiving a TEACH Grant, you must agree to the following:
- You must serve as a full-time teacher for a total of at least four academic years within eight years after you complete or otherwise cease to be enrolled in the program(s) for which you received TEACH Grant funds.
- You must perform the teaching service as a highly qualified teacher at a low-income school or educational service agency.
- Your teaching service must be in a high-need field.
- You must provide the U.S. Department of Education with documentation of your progress toward completing your service obligation.
If you do not meet the requirements of your service obligation, all TEACH Grant funds you received will be converted to a Direct Unsubsidized Loan. You must repay this loan in full, with interest charged from the date of each TEACH Grant disbursement.
Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant
Like other federal grants, Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants provide money to college or career school students to help pay their education expenses. However, Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants have special eligibility criteria.
You may be eligible to receive the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant if
- you are not eligible for a Federal Pell Grant on the basis of your Expected Family Contribution but
- meet the remaining Federal Pell Grant eligibility requirements, and
- your parent or guardian was a member of the U.S. armed forces and died as a result of military service performed in Iraq or Afghanistan after the events of 9/11, andyou were under 24 years old or enrolled in college at least part-time at the time of your parent’s or guardian’s death.
There are thousands of scholarships, from all kinds of organizations, and they’re not hard to find. You might be able to get a scholarship for being a good student, a great basketball player, or a member of a certain church, or because your parent works for a particular company, or for some other reason. Find out more about finding and applying for scholarships. You’ll also want to be careful and avoid scholarship scams.
Some scholarships for college are merit-based. You earn them by meeting or exceeding certain standards set by the scholarship-giver. Merit scholarships might be awarded based on academic achievement or on a combination of academics and a special talent, trait, or interest. Other scholarships are based on financial need.
Many scholarships are geared toward particular groups of people; for instance, there are scholarships for women or high school seniors. And some are available because of where you or your parent work, or because you come from a certain background (for instance, there are scholarships for military families).
A scholarship might cover the entire cost of your tuition, or it might be a one-time award of a few hundred dollars. Either way, it’s worth applying for, because it’ll help reduce the cost of your education.
Try these free sources of information about scholarships:
- the financial aid office at a college or career school
- a high school or TRIO counselor
- the U.S. Department of Labor’s FREE scholarship search tool
- federal agencies
- your state grant agency
- your library’s reference section
- foundations, religious or community organizations, local businesses, or civic groups
- organizations (including professional associations) related to your field of interest
- ethnicity-based organizations
- your employer or your parents’ employers
Some deadlines are as early as a year before college starts, so if you’re in high school now, you should be researching and applying for scholarships during the summer between your junior and senior years. But if you’ve missed that window, don’t give up! Look at scholarship information to see which ones you can still apply for now.
Each scholarship has its own requirements. The scholarship’s website should give you an idea of who qualifies for the scholarship and how to apply. Make sure you read the application carefully, fill it out completely, and meet the application deadline.