The best grants for students

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Grants are awards of free money to use 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.

What is a college grant?

Grants, like scholarships, are a type of financial aid that doesn’t have to be repaid. Grants are usually awarded based on need, while scholarships are given out based on merit — though this isn’t always the case. Many times, grants and scholarships are used interchangeably, since they both award free money. However, grants are more likely to require you to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or otherwise demonstrate financial need.

Types of college grants

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

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 $6,495 for the 2021–22 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 the school you attend, since schools receive a limited amount of 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 at that 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 2021-22 award year, you may receive up to $6,124.79.
  • 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 2021-22 school year is $3,772. 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

There are some state-specific government grants available that 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 different government-run grant programs, so take your time to explore each one to see if any of them fit your needs.

College-based grants

Most schools offer institutional grants that are available either 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 vary as well.

Next steps

The more money 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 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 over year to keep getting funding. For federal and state grants (and some institutional aid), this means renewing your FAFSA every year when it opens on Oct. 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.

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Written by
Dori Zinn
Contributing writer
Dori Zinn has been a personal finance journalist for more than a decade. Aside from her work for Bankrate, her bylines have appeared on CNET, Yahoo Finance, MSN Money, Wirecutter, Quartz, Inc. and more. She loves helping people learn about money, specializing in topics like investing, real estate, borrowing money and financial literacy.
Edited by
Student loans editor