Free Money for College: Grants and How to Get Them

Every year, governments, universities, and private foundations give out billions of dollars in thousands of grants. Unlike loans, students don’t have to pay them back. Yet each year, billions of dollars go unclaimed. Here’s what you need to know to get your share.

Kinds of Grants

  1. Federal Pell Grant. These grants are given yearly to students with the greatest need. The maximum award for 2022 -2023 is $6895 for one year. Any other financial aid you qualify for does not affect the amount of your Pell Grant. Financial need is the primary basis for grant calculation, but your costs to attend, your status as a full-time or part-time student, and your plans to attend school for a full academic year or less are also considered. Your school can apply Pell Grant funds to your 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 your school’s financial aid office for information.
    • The FSEOG grant is given to students with exceptional financial needs based on FAFSA applications. 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.
    • The FWS program allows you to work part-time to earn money for your education. You will 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. Depending on where you are assigned, you might work on or off campus. Campus jobs generally support staff for the school. Off-campus jobs will usually be for a non-profit or public agency, and the work must be in the public interest. Some schools have agreements with private for-profit employers off campus; these jobs must be as relevant to your course of study as possible.
  3. Teacher Education Assistance For College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant. This grant is for undergraduates taking the coursework necessary to become elementary or secondary school teachers. However, it has these conditions:
    • 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 four full academic years within eight years after completing the course of study for which you received the grant.
    • Your school must be a participant in the TEACH Grant Program.
    • You must meet specific academic requirements 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 the 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 equals the Pell Grant ($6,895/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 are awarded. If you aren’t awarded any grants, the next step would be to look into any grants your college offers and see if you qualify.

While you’re at it, be sure to check out the Alliance Scholarship Program. Thousands of students have received millions of dollars in scholarships through this program since 1996. Learn more here.

It’s worth the effort to apply for grants. Every dollar you receive is free money—one less dollar you’ll need to dig into saving for. Or borrow and pay back.

Don’t let the cost of a college education deprive you of its benefits. Check out these Alliance articles about college costs and finances, student loans, and scholarships. Also, look at The Alliance College Guide. It explains what you need to know about choosing, preparing for, applying to, and paying for college. All in clear, no-nonsense language.

More Reading

US Dept of Education – info on Federal Student Aid

College Board – info on grants and scholarships – an extensive database of all sorts of different kinds of grants – a database of federal grants

College Stats

27% of undergraduates received a Pell Grant in 2007-2008.

Source: NPSAS

Alliance Grants

Career Education Grant Program

Open to eligible Alliance Members and their family members who choose to attend a trade, technical, or vocational school