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If you can’t afford all of your education expenses, you’re not alone. But before taking out student loans, it’s a good idea to use gift aid — like scholarships and grants for college. These are the best kind of financial aid, providing funding for school that you don’t have to pay back.
Unlike merit-based scholarships, grants are typically provided to students based on their financial need. That means you don’t have to be a perfect student or write a long essay to apply for a need-based grant.
Here’s everything you should know about using grants for college:
- How to find state and federal grants
- Other college grant opportunities
- How to apply for grants
- When grants and scholarships aren’t enough
How to find state and federal grants
You can apply for grants from the federal government, state governments, colleges and career schools, and private or nonprofit organizations. Most grant aid is provided on a first-come, first-served basis.
The U.S. Department of Education offers many federal grants for students, including:
- Pell Grant: Up to $6,195 for the 2019–20 academic year, depending on your financial need and your school’s cost of attendance
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG): $100 to $4,000 a year, depending on your family’s finances and the availability of funds at your school
- Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants: Up to $6,195 for the 2019-20 academic year, if your parent or guardian died as a result of military service in Iraq or Afghanistan
- Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants: Up to $4,000 a year to students who plan a career in teaching
Learn More: 5 Steps to Take if You Can’t Afford College
You can also search for state grants and scholarships by visiting the website of the higher education agency that distributes them in your state.
Click on the interactive map below to be directed to the agency in your state.
Other college grant opportunities
Armed services grants
Veterans of all branches of the armed services are often eligible for GI Bill funding that covers much of their college tuition and living expenses.
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers opportunities for students to study, teach, or conduct research abroad. The program operates in more than 140 countries, awarding 2,000 grants annually in fields of study including arts, business, journalism and communications, and sciences and public health. Competition for the 2021-2022 round of merit-based awards opens on March 31, 2020.
Degree-specific college grants
But you might have to apply directly for some grants and merit-based scholarships offered by private and nonprofit organizations that are specially designed to help students pursuing degrees in a specific career field, such as agriculture, archaeology, geology, and journalism.
College grants for minority students
Other grants are aimed at closing funding gaps for African Americans, Hispanic and Latino Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and other minority groups.
The state of Wisconsin, for example, offers a Minority Undergraduate Retention Grant that provides up to $2,500 a year to African American, American Indian, Hispanic, or Southeast Asian students.
College grants for visually impaired or deaf students
There are also grants aimed at helping students with visual or hearing impairments. Wisconsin provides up to $1,800 a year in grant assistance to eligible students.
Check with your school’s financial aid office, your department chair, and your state’s higher education agency for special grant programs that could help you.
How to apply for grants
- Fill out the FAFSA: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step to qualifying for most need-based grant aid. Be sure to fill it out as soon as possible when the window opens on Oct. 1 during your senior year of high school.
- Look for grants on your own: To find more federal grants, you can check out this list of federal student grant programs. You can also search online at sites like Scholarships.com to find scholarships and grants for college.
- Review your financial aid letter: Schools that you apply to will determine whether you qualify for federal, state, or school-based grants.
- Accept any grants you’re offered: Each school that accepts you will list the grant aid you’re being offered in your financial aid award letter.
When grants and scholarships aren’t enough
The gift aid offered by colleges you apply to might not cover all of your costs. In these situations, your financial aid award letter will also provide options for taking out student loans to pay for college.
Before taking on too much debt:
- Make sure you understand your federal loan options and the different types of loans that you might be offered.
- Think about how much you’re likely to earn after graduation and how much you can borrow without stretching your finances.
- Consider attending a public school in your own state or a community college with a lower average cost of college.