Unlike loans, grants don’t have to be paid back. Free money for college? Who wouldn’t want that? Although a single grant won’t pay the entire cost of a year of college, it is possible to combine grants and reduce your expenses substantially.

Kinds of Grants

  1. Federal Pell Grant. These grants are given yearly to students with the greatest need. The maximum award is $5,550 for one year. Any other financial aid you qualify for does not affect the amount of your Pell Grant. Financial need is the most important basis for grant calculation, but also taken into consideration are your costs to attend school, your status as a full-time or part-time student, and your plans to attend school for a full academic year or less. Your school can apply Pell Grant funds to your school costs, pay you directly (usually by check), or combine these methods. The school must tell you in writing how much your award will be and how and when you’ll be paid.
  2. Campus-based aid. The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) and Federal Work-Study (FWS) programs are called “campus-based” programs. They're administered directly by the financial aid office at each participating college. Not all schools participate in both programs. Check with your school's financial aid office for more information.
    1. The FSEOG grant is given to students with exceptional financial need, as based off of your FAFSA application. FSEOG awards range from $100 to $4,000 a year depending on when you apply, your financial need, the funding at the school you’re attending, and the policies of the financial aid office at your school.
    2. The FWS program allows you to work part-time to earn money for your education. You willl earn at least the current federal minimum wage, but you may earn more depending on the type of work you do and the skills required for the position. Undergraduate students are paid by the hour. You might work on or off campus, depending where you are assigned. Campus jobs are generally support staff for the school. Off-campus jobs will usually be for a non-profit or public agency, and the work performed must be in the public interest. Some schools have agreements with private for-profit employers off campus; these jobs must be relevant to your course of study as much as possible.
  3. Teacher Education Assistance For College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant. This grant is for undergraduates who will be taking the coursework necessary to become elementary or secondary school teachers. However, it has these conditions:
    1. You must agree to serve as a full-time teacher in a high-end field in a school or educational service agency that serves low-income students or 4 complete academic years within 8 years after completing the course of study for which you received the grant.
    2. Your school must be a participant in the TEACH Grant Program.
    3. You must meet certain academic requirements as defined by the school (generally maintaining a cumulative GPA of at least 3.25 or scoring above the 75th percentile on one or more portions of a college admissions test).
  4. Iraq and Afghanistan grants. These special grants are provided to students who lost their parent or guardian serving in the US Armed Forces in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11. A student would also have to qualify for the Pell Grant in every way except EFC amount (Expected Family Contribution) and be under age 24 or a part-time college student at the time of their parent’s death. The grant award is equal to the Pell Grant ($5,550/year maximum).
  5. Institutional grants. Colleges provide institutional grants to help make up the difference between college costs and what a family can be expected to contribute through income, savings, loans, and student earnings. Talk to the financial aid administrator at your college for more information.

Applying for Grants

To apply for grants, the way to begin is by filling out the FAFSA as described above. The SAR report you’ll receive after submitting the FAFSA will tell you which grants you have been awarded. If you haven’t been awarded any grants, the next step would be to discuss what specific grants your college offers and determine if you meet any of the qualifications.