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Grants vs. Scholarships: Everything You Need to Know

By Varonika Ware

Varonika Ware is a content writer at Scholarships360. Varonika earned her undergraduate degree in Mass Communications at Louisiana State University. During her time at LSU, she worked with the Center of Academic Success to create the weekly Success Sunday newsletter. Varonika also interned at the Louisiana Department of Insurance in the Public Affairs office with some of her graphics appearing in local news articles.

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Reviewed by Caitlyn Cole

Caitlyn Cole is a college access professional with a decade of experience in non-profit program and project management for college readiness and access organizations.

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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: November 30th, 2023
Grants vs. Scholarships: Everything You Need to Know

College is a new and exciting adventure for students to explore, but sometimes, finances can get in the way. Fortunately, there are plenty of financial aid options and resources available that can help you pursue your academic goals. Perhaps you are wondering what the differences are between grants vs. scholarships. Luckily, you can keep reading below to find out the ins and outs of grants and scholarships!

Financial aid options for college

Fortunately for college students and applicants, there are millions of dollars in funding that can ensure you get through school. However, some options have to be repaid while others do not. Financial aid options include:

Each option has their own pros and cons, but all of them can be put towards paying for your education. This guide will specifically focus on grants and scholarships, but be sure to research each alternative to make the best decision for your financial status.

A scholarship is… 

Scholarships are financial aid that you can either apply for or automatically qualify for. These are funds that do not have to be paid back even if your academic situation changes. Oftentimes, schools that you apply to will offer scholarships that you are eligible for when they send your admission decision. 

However, you can still apply for outside scholarships before and after you receive your financial aid letter. Our website even features a scholarship directory and scholarship search to help you find the best ones for you. Be sure to notify your school about any outside funding because it can change your financial aid offering. 

Why should I apply for scholarships?

Scholarships are a good form of gift aid that make education affordable and attainable. They can range from covering the full cost of attendance to only covering a portion, but even then, multiple awards start to add up!

What types of scholarships can I win?

You can win athletic, merit, and academic scholarships, but you can also receive gift aid for niche skills or characteristics. For example, students of color and women can apply for scholarships specifically tailored for them. The same can apply for your favorite hobbies or your desired major. Your school district or local community may also have a variety of scholarships you can apply for, so check with your school counselor to get connected with these opportunities. 

The possibilities are endless, and all it takes is some of your time to apply and hear back about your application status. Some winners may not be announced until a few months after you apply, but it varies depending on the scholarship. 

Related: How to win local scholarships

A grant is… 

Grants are funding that is completely dependent on your demonstrated financial need. As a result, it’s imperative that you fill out your FAFSA and/or CSS Profile as soon as possible in your application process.

One grant that you’ll often hear about during your undergraduate career is the Pell Grant. It’s a grant provided by the federal government, and it will be automatically offered if you’re eligible. Of course, you can still apply to other grants to see if you qualify even if you receive the Pell Grant. 

It’s also important to note that there are some conditions that require grant money to be repaid. For instance, if you drop out of school in the middle of your semester or lighten your load from full-time to part-time student, you might be asked to repay those funds.

Why should I apply for a grant?

Grants are instrumental in helping families send their children to school, especially since the major factor is financial need. Applying is relatively straightforward once all your financial documents are completed, and they can be used in tangent with other aid you might have.

The application pool will be slightly different and possibly smaller than a traditional scholarship application, and you might be asked to write an essay before you can submit. 

Related: What are the differences between scholarships and student loans?

Can I use grants and scholarships at the same time?

Yes, any student can use multiple forms of financial aid at once. Oftentimes, students need a combination of grants and scholarships to cover part or all  of their college expenses. However, the more outside funding you get might affect the amount of financial aid that your desired school provides, so do your homework and ask your college’s financial aid office if you have any questions.

You also have to consider that you’ll have to remain eligible for all the scholarships and grants you receive. Some of the requirements might overlap, but you’ll likely have to reapply or find new grants and scholarships each year.

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • There are multiple forms of financial aid that can allow you to go to college such as scholarships, grants, loans, and tuition assistance
  • During your applications, colleges can automatically offer scholarships that you qualify for and include them in your official offer letter
  • Scholarships and grants are typically gift aid, which means they do not have to be paid back
  • There are many types of scholarships that can partly or fully cover your tuition, so be sure to research ones that fit your skills and interests 
  • Grants are usually offered to those that demonstrate financial need
  • Fill out the FAFSA each year to continue to qualify for aid!
  • You can use grants, scholarships, and other forms of financial aid all at the same time! 
  • Some grants or scholarships might require you to reapply each year to remain eligible. Key Takeaways

Frequently asked questions about grants vs. scholarships

What is the difference between a grant and a scholarship?

While these two forms of financial assistance are both considered gift aid, there is a clear difference between the two. Grants are completely based on demonstrated financial need while scholarships depend on a variety of different factors such as merit, financial status, major, etc.

Do I have to fill out FAFSA to get a grant or a scholarship?

Yes and no. Scholarships are not always dependent on your financial status, and eligibility varies with different scholarships. However, grants are dependent on financial need, so completing FAFSA is a way to give a clear picture of what your finances look like.

What happens with leftover grant or scholarship money?

After paying your balance with scholarship or grant money, there may be some leftover funds. Usually, those funds will be given back to you in a refund check that you can put toward books, everyday expenses, or loan balances.

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