Finding the Best Grants for College

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If you're struggling with how to pay for college, you should take the time to explore your grant options. College grants are need-based aid awarded to help students with university expenses. Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, grants are not the same as scholarships, which tend to be merit-based. However, both provide college funding that won't have to be repaid in the future. Here are the best grants to look for when you are applying for student aid.

Federal Grants for College

When you apply for student aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year, you are eligible for four types of federal grants, depending on your need. Through filling out the application, the Department of Education is able to determine your college expenses and your ability to meet those costs, also known as your expected family contribution (EFC). For each school you apply to, you will be given a financial aid package that lists loans, scholarships, grants and Federal Work-Study options for which you qualify. Below, we have listed the grants available through federal aid.

Pell Grants

Federal Pell Grants are usually only awarded to undergraduate students with exceptional financial need. The maximum award is $6,095 for the 2018–2019 student aid year. But the amount you actually receive is based on your EFC, your school's cost of attendance, whether you are a full-time or part-time student, and whether you plan to attend school for a full academic year.

Your school can apply the funds directly to your education costs and/or pay you directly. Generally, you must maintain your enrollment to keep the grant, and you will have to fill out the FAFSA every year to remain eligible. In some cases, students enrolled in postbaccalaureate teacher certification programs can qualify for a Federal Pell Grant. Once you have earned a baccalaureate or your first professional degree, or you've used up all 12 semesters of your eligibility, you are no longer able to receive a Pell Grant.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG)

The FSEOG program was created for undergraduates with exceptional financial aid. The program is administered by the financial aid office at participating schools. Unfortunately, not all schools offer this program, so you will have to check with your college financial aid office. Through this program, you can receive a university grant between $100 and $4,000 per year, depending on your need, the other aid you receive and the availability of funds at your school. This grant is awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis as each participating school only receives a certain amount of FSEOG funds each year.

Similar to Federal Pell Grants, your school will either credit your student account with the funds, pay you directly or combine both methods. To maintain this grant, you must be enrolled as an undergraduate student and complete the FAFSA form each year. The amount awarded to you may change each year, depending on your situation and the availability of funds.

Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants

TEACH Grants are different from other federal grants for college students, as they require you to take certain types of classes and, ultimately, get a teaching job as a highly qualified teacher in a high-need field at a low-income school or educational service agency for at least four complete academic years. The program offers up to $4,000 a year. To qualify, you must be enrolled in a TEACH-Grant-eligible program as an undergraduate, postbaccalaureate or graduate student at a school that participates in the program, receive TEACH Grant counseling and sign a TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve.

If you fail to meet the requirements of your service obligation, all the TEACH Grant funds you received will be converted to a Direct Unsubsidized Loan. You will have to repay the loan in full, which will include interest charged from the date of each grant disbursement. However, you may be able to temporarily suspend your obligation if you enroll in a graduate program, have a condition that qualifies for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, or have a call or order to active military duty status for more than 30 days.

The Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants

Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants provide up to $6,095 for the 2018–2019 award year for college students who had a parent or guardian serve as a member of the U.S. armed forces and die as a result of their service performed in Iraq or Afghanistan after the events of 9/11. To qualify, you must have been under 24 years old or enrolled in college at least part-time at the time of your parent's or guardian's death. Also, you must not be eligible for Federal Pell Grants based on your expected family contribution (EFC) but meet the other Pell Grant requirements.

Your loan will either be given directly to you, applied to education costs by your school or a combination of the two. To maintain your grant for school, you must fill out the FAFSA form for each year that you're in school. After you have earned a baccalaureate or your first professional degree, or you have used these grants for 12 semesters of school, you will no longer be eligible to receive the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant.

State Grants for College

If you have explored and used up all your federal grant options and still need student aid for college, you should look at state grants as well. Most states offer grants that are typically need-based and determined by your FAFSA. However, in some cases, you may be required to apply to the state's education department or apply directly with your school. To find out what your state offers, you should contact your state grant agency.

Keep in mind that some states will impose requirements on state residency, certain majors, your GPA and other factors. Still, you should contact your state agency and school to see if you can qualify for any of those grants. Also, it's important to note that many states don't award grants to applicants who have previously defaulted on a student loan.

Grants From Your School

On top of looking for state grants, you should also look into the grants that your school offers. You can do this by filling out The College Board's CSS Profile, which is an online application that allows qualifying students to be awarded financial aid from sources other than the federal government. After you complete the application, the form is sent to the colleges and scholarship programs you chose. Not all schools participate.

Unlike the FAFSA, this application is not free. To complete the CSS Profile form, it will cost $25 for your first application and $16 for each additional school. Fee waivers are available for low-income students. To apply, you'll need to provide information from your tax records, W-2 forms and current bank statements. You will later receive the aid that you qualify for from each college outside of federal student aid.

Other Grant Options

There are many nonfederal grants to check out after you've exhausted your federal options. Multiple organizations and schools offer grants specifically for certain types of students to help them afford college. You can also explore fellowships, like the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, and grants for graduate students as well as international students.

College Grants for Women

Many organizations have created grants to help women get a college education, since, in the past, women did not have the same education opportunities as men. Many women were also restricted by financial issues and/or having a family. Below, we listed a few of the grants created to help women.

  • American Association of University Women (AAUW) Career Development Grants: Provides funding to women who have a bachelor's degree and want to take classes to advance their career or re-enter the workforce.
  • Soroptimist Live Your Dream Awards: Offered to women who have financial need and require funds to afford a vocational/skill training program or an undergraduate degree.
  • The P.E.O. Program for Continuing Education (PCE): For women who had their education interrupted and want to return to school to complete a degree or certification to help find or improve employment opportunities.
  • The Education Support Award from the Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Foundation: For low-income mothers pursuing a certificate or degree at a not-for-profit accredited institution.

College Grants for Minorities

Multiple organizations and states formed grants to help support the educational advancement of minorities. These grants were created to address underrepresented populations within education. If you think your situation qualifies you for a grant, you should check out different organizations for ethnic minorities. Below, we've listed some of the grants created to help minorities.

  • Indian Student Assistance Grants: These grants are offered by the state of Wisconsin for residents who are at least 25% Native American with a high school diploma enrolled in an undergraduate degree or certificate program in the University of Wisconsin system.
  • The Minority Teacher Incentive Grant Program: The state of Connecticut offers these grants for minority juniors and seniors pursuing teaching degrees.
  • The CIRI Foundation (TCF): Offers grants to Alaska Native beneficiaries of Cook Inlet Region, Inc. to further TCF's education and heritage goals.

Alternative Options to Consider

If you've searched through many grant opportunities and you didn't find a good fit, there are still other options for you to explore. Some alternatives provide free money, while others may require you to pay back the aid you receive.


If you don't qualify for any of these grant options, there are still ways for you to get free money for college. Scholarships offer college funding that ranges from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Various organizations and companies provide scholarships, and because most of them are merit-based, you may have to submit an essay or maintain certain grades to qualify. You can check out some scholarship options from the Open Education Database and, which give recommendations based on your major, state and GPA.

Federal Student Loans

Taking out a federal student loan is another common way to pay for college. When you apply through FAFSA, your package will contain the different federal grants, scholarships and loans for which you qualify. Unlike grants and scholarships, you will be obligated to pay back these loans with interest. But if you have substantial financial need, you may be eligible for subsidized student loans, which don't accrue interest while you're in school.

Private Student Loans

If you still need money to afford college after exhausting all federal loans, grants and scholarships, you should look into private student lenders. Similar to federal student loans, you will have to pay back this money after graduating or leaving school. However, if you or your co-signer have excellent credit, the private loan may offer a lower interest rate than a federal student loan would. Try to get the lowest interest rate possible, as you will have to pay off the loan later on top of your other expenses.

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