Grants are monetary awards for college-related costs, like tuition, room and board, books, fees and other related expenses. Unlike loans, grants don’t have to be paid back, and there’s no limit to how many you can get.

Often, grants and scholarships are terms used interchangeably, since they both award free money. However, grants are more likely to be awarded based on financial need, and many require you to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or otherwise demonstrate financial need. Scholarships, comparatively, are often distributed based on merit.

Types of college grants

Grants are given out at the federal, state and college levels. There’s no limit to how many grants you can apply for as long as you can keep track of them.

While there are several kinds of grants, no one type is better than any other; simply put, any grant you can qualify for is free money for your education.

Federal grants

There are four major federal grants. For these, you’ll need to complete the FAFSA.

  • Federal Pell Grant. Pell Grants are usually awarded to undergraduate students and are based on need. The amount you get is determined by your expected family contribution, the cost of attendance and your enrollment status, but the maximum award is $6,895 for the 2022–23 award year.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG). You might be eligible to receive up to $4,000 from the FSEOG, depending on your level of financial need. The amount available also depends on your school since schools receive limited funding from the U.S. Department of Education each year. Each school sets its own deadline for this award.
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant. If a parent or guardian has died from serving in Afghanistan or Iraq after 9/11 and you were under 24 years old or enrolled in college at least part-time, you might be eligible for the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant. This award is available to students who meet all requirements for the Pell Grant except for the expected family contribution. For the 2022-23 award year, you may receive up to $6,895.
  • Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant. Borrowers who commit to teaching for four years in a high-need field and with low-income students may be eligible for the TEACH Grant. The maximum amount you can receive if your first disbursement is for the 2022-23 school year is $4,000. If you don’t meet the requirements after you graduate, your grant will turn into a Direct Unsubsidized Loan.

These federal grants require you to renew your FAFSA every year you’re enrolled in school.

State grants

Some state-specific government grants available require you to complete the FAFSA. To maintain eligibility, you’ll need to renew your FAFSA every year you’re enrolled in school.

You can use the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators’ search tool to find state grants where you live. There might be many government-run grant programs, so take your time to explore each one to see if they fit your needs.

College-based grants

Most schools offer institutional grants when you apply or through a separate grant application.

While exploring colleges based on their educational offerings, it’s a good idea to see what they offer students through financial aid packages. Since the cost of attendance varies by school, grant amounts will also vary.

Private grants

Organizations, businesses, and private individuals award private grants. These awards can cover everything from vocational training and continuing education to graduate degrees and above. Students can search for private grants through the Department of Labor’s free scholarship finder.

Many larger private grants focus on medical research or civic service and are awarded by research foundations or membership-based civic engagement organizations.

How to get a student grant

The more you get in grants, the less you’ll need to borrow in student loans. If you want to look into getting grants, here’s how to get started.

  1. Explore at each level. Look at every type of grant available based on your needs and eligibility. It’s a good idea to read the descriptions to make sure you meet the requirements. For instance, some grants are not only based on financial need but also on where you live or how much your family earns.
  2. Keep track of all your grants. In a notebook or spreadsheet, organize potential funding by the name of the grant, the award amount, the due date for the application and whether you have the option to renew each year. It might help to include a link for application information.
  3. Renew your FAFSA as needed. With many grants, you’ll need to maintain your eligibility year after year to keep getting funding. For federal and state grants (and some institutional aid), renewing your FAFSA every year when it opens on October 1.
  4. Fill in funding gaps. If you’re coming up short on getting enough free money to cover all your educational needs, you might need to look elsewhere for some extra cash. Consider reaching out to your school for emergency loans or apply for private student loans to cover the remaining cost of attendance.

Bottom Line

Grants are an excellent resource for funding your education at any level. Students who demonstrate financial need may qualify for significant funding, and like scholarships, grant money does not need to be repaid.

It is a good idea to check your eligibility for various grants on an annual basis. Your school’s financial aid office may be able to provide you with a list of available grants and their unique requirements and application details.