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Differences between grants for college and scholarships

Both scholarships and grants for college are free money options to help you pay for higher education. Unlike student loans, you don’t have to pay back grants or scholarships.

The biggest difference between college grants and scholarships is that grants for college are typically need-based, while scholarships may be need-based or merit-based, which means they’re given out based on some kind of ability, hobby, ethnicity, religion, etc.

How to apply for grants for college

Both federal and state governments give out college grants. To be eligible, you’ll first have to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This allows colleges to determine how much financial aid you qualify for. Financial aid helps students and their families pay for college by covering educational expenses. Grants, work-study, and federal student loans can all be part of your financial aid package from a school.

After you fill out your FAFSA, you’ll receive financial aid award letters from the colleges that accepted you. Your award letters will tell you if you’re eligible for any college grants. Many grants are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so complete your FAFSA early—as soon as you can after the starting date of October 1.

Covering college education costs with grants

The money from a college grant can be used for your tuition, books, housing, and other school expenses.

Colleges can choose to disburse funds for grants in a single lump sum or in multiple payouts (called “disbursements”). Colleges send out federal financial aid funds, including grants, by crediting them to your student account.

Learn about specific college grants for students

  • Federal Pell Grants are the largest source of federally funded grants. They’re awarded solely based on your financial need (academic grades and extra-curricular activities aren’t a factor).
  • TEACH Grants provide grants to students who agree to teach for four years at an elementary school, secondary school, or educational service agency that serves students from low-income families.
  • Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) assist low-income undergraduate students who need a lot of financial aid to help pay for college.
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants are available to students whose parent or guardian died as a result of military service after September 11, 2001, in Iraq or Afghanistan.

College grants for international students

There are student grants available to international students. Grant programs for international students are not as abundant as those for domestic students. However, there are still a variety of grants dedicated specifically to supporting international students.

Find free money for college with scholarships

Scholarships are another great source of free money for college, especially when combined with grants and other financial aid. Our Scholarship Search tool allows you to search 5 million scholarships worth up to $24 billion. You can customize your search depending on your interests, age, grade level, etc. and you can set up account alerts to notify you when a new scholarship opportunity that matches your profile becomes available.

Search for scholarships

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Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey, financial, tax, or legal advice. Consult your own attorney or tax advisor about your specific circumstances.

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