Did you know that the government will pay you free money to go to college? It sounds too good to be true. But the federal government, your state government and even your chosen school likely offer some form of academic grants to help students pay their way to a degree.
So where can you find free grants for college in 2021? Let’s cover the basics, first.
Grants vs. Scholarships vs. Loans
A grant, much like a scholarship, is a gift awarded to a student that does not have to be repaid. And there are countless grants out there, if you know how to look for them. Let’s examine the process of finding the right grant for you.
It’s important to understand the differences between the varying forms of financial aid. A loan is an amount of money that a student borrows to pay for their tuition, but it must be paid back later—usually with interest.
Grants and scholarships, on the other hand, don’t normally have to be repaid. (Though there are exceptions that might require you to pay back your grant money. For example, if you do not finish your course of study. And while Scholarships can be awarded based on merit or on financial need, most grants are only need-based.
Fill Out Your FAFSA
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the key place to begin your search for financial assistance. Whether you’re seeking a scholarship or a grant, you’ll need to take a half hour to fill out this form, detailing your financial circumstances, your academic plans and other key information.
One key metric that the FAFSA will require is your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This is the dollar amount that your family predicts it will be able to pay toward your education. The lower this number, the more likely you will be to qualify for need-based grants. Still, there are plenty of grants that are accessible even to students with higher EFC amounts.
Once you’ve completed the FAFSA application, you’re on the way to qualifying for grant money. Whether you’re applying for a reward from your college or from the government, granters will use the information from your FAFSA to make their determination.
Some of the most generous grants come from the federal government. And you can read more about federal grants as well as find scholarships and other financial aid opportunities at StudentAid.gov. Federal student grants include:
- Federal Pell Grants: These grants are the largest, most common source for federal grant money. They are based solely on financial aid.
- Academic Competitiveness Grant: This option is a hybrid need-based and merit-based grant that’s available for first and second-year college students who also qualify for a Pell Grant. For college juniors and seniors, a similar hybrid grant called the National Science and Mathematics Access Retain Talent (SMART) Grant is available.
- Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (FSEOG): This grant is available for undergraduate students who have “exceptional financial need,” giving priority to Pell Grant recipients.
- Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant: This is a great opportunity if you’re interested in becoming an educator. The TEACH grant is available for either undergraduate or graduate students who commit to teaching in a low-income community for four years.
- Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants: These grants are offered to students whose parents died while serving in the United State military in Iraq or Afghanistan, after September 11, 2001.
School, State and Community Grants
After you’ve completed your FAFSA and considered your federal grant options, consider grants from your school, your state and your community.
For school-specific aid, fill-out a CSS form, which you’ll need for either grants or scholarships offered by your chosen university.
Then, contact your state grant agency to learn about financial aid opportunities through your state government.
Finally, consider your community, both local physical community and any special community with which you identify. There are specialized grants for racial minorities, for women, for international students, for the disabled, and many other sub-groups. Use the Sallie Mae search engine to find the right grant and scholarship opportunities.
Remember, searching for the right financial aid can be a lengthy process. Keep your head up and your options open, and you just might find that perfect grant.