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    Guide to Securing Grants for College

    By Will Geiger

    Will Geiger is the co-founder of Scholarships360 and has a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. He is a former Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at Kenyon College where he personally reviewed 10,000 admissions applications and essays. Will also managed the Kenyon College merit scholarship program and served on the financial aid appeals committee. He has also worked as an Associate Director of College Counseling at a high school in New Haven, Connecticut. Will earned his master’s in education from the University of Pennsylvania and received his undergraduate degree in history from Wake Forest University.

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    Reviewed by Annie Trout

    Annie has spent the past 18+ years educating students about college admissions opportunities and coaching them through building a financial aid package. She has worked in college access and college admissions for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission/Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation, Middle Tennessee State University, and Austin Peay State University.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: April 18th, 2024
    Guide to Securing Grants for College

    It’s not always easy to go to college as it can be a big expense, but fortunately, there are plenty of options to afford your education! For example, students can receive grants for college to lower the price tag and the stress of continuing school. It’s important to take applying to grants seriously since most are need-based aid for those who qualify. Keep reading below to find out more about securing grants. 

    Grants are one of the best ways that students pay for college

    If you are like most students, you won’t be able to pay for college without financial aid. The major types of financial aid that students will use to pay for college are scholarships, student loans, and grants.

    As you are a savvy student who is using Scholarships360, we know that you don’t want to graduate with a ton of student loan debt. Certainly, small amounts of student loan debt can be fine, but you will want to focus your efforts on getting as much money in scholarships and grants as possible.

    People often misunderstand grants and mistakenly lump them together with scholarships. However, they are a very different type of financial aid. Let’s talk about some of the differences between grants and scholarships.

    Grants vs. scholarships

    Grants and scholarships are similar in that you won’t need to repay them. You can think of these opportunities as “free money” or “gift aid.” However, there are some key differences when thinking about scholarship and grants for college:


    • Primarily based on financial need.
    • Awarded by the federal government, state governments, colleges, and outsider organizations.


    • Awarded based on merit (ranging from academic achievement to talent in music, sports, or the arts).
    • Some scholarships may also be awarded to students from particular backgrounds, locations, etc.
    • Students can find a number of scholarships in our Scholarship Directory.

    Applying for grants

    The first step to applying for grants is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. The FAFSA will allow students to unlock a variety of financial aid options including college grants, federal grants, federal student loans, state financial aid, and even work-study.

    The FAFSA will calculate the amount of money that your family can afford to pay for college, which is also known as the Student Aid Index,  or SAI. A lower SAI means that you will qualify for more financial aid, including grants.

    Pell Grants

    Pell Grants are one of the most common types of federal grant that undergraduate students may receive. They aim to support low-income students who have demonstrated financial need.

    For the upcoming 2023-2024 academic year, the maximum Pell Grant award is $7,395. Note that the maximum Pell Grant award will range from year to year.

    State grants

    Your home state may also offer grants for college. The U.S. Department of Education has a handy tool to help you connect to your state’s department of education. This is a great first step for finding grant opportunities in your state.

    Private grants

    The line between scholarships and private grants is murky. As a result, some private grants may be categorized as scholarships. In these cases, the application process will be similar to that of scholarships.

    You can expect to complete an application, essays, and sometimes provide academic information. Many of the private need-based grant applications may also ask for some sort of proof of demonstrated financial need.

    Next Steps

    Next Steps

    Next Steps

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • Grants are competitive, but often need-based aid
    • While scholarships can be need-based, they are different from grants because they can also be merit-based or awarded based on a certain skill you have 
    • Be sure to fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible to get started on applying for financial aid
    • The Pell Grant is a common federal grant awarded to undergraduate students
    • There are also state and private grants that students can apply for, so be sure to check out local grants
    • While grant funding might help, it’s also a good idea to explore other avenues of financial aid like scholarships
    Key Takeaways

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    Frequently asked questions about grants for college

    Is applying to FAFSA difficult?

    Not necessarily. The most difficult part of filling out the FAFSA will likely be putting together all the required documentation to accurately report your financial situation. It might seem daunting, but all you have to do is get started. You got this!

    Is completing the FAFSA worth it?

    Yes! Completing the FAFSA is one of the only ways to qualify for need-based aid and allows for colleges to give you the best financial aid package possible. You should fill it out each year to make sure you remain eligible for your aid package.

    What if I don’t use all my grant money?

     are funding that is sent directly to your school. Any remaining funds will likely be given back to you as a refund. You can then use those funds for any other expenses you might have. Learn more about how you get a Pell Grant refund and what you can spend it on.

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