For many people, the biggest challenge to attending college is being able to afford it. You don’t have to be stressed out about it; each year, millions of students receive some sort of financial aid, including grants and scholarships, to help them pay for college. We will show you how to do the same.

But can’t I just get a student loan?

While student loans are a way to pay for college, they should not be your first choice. After graduating, the majority of students that have taken on loans struggle to dig themselves out of their debt. Although students loans are a legitimate source for funding your tuition, it should be among your last resort options.

Instead, “gift aid,” may be available to you from several different sources such as grants and scholarships. These funds never have to be paid back and can make your life a whole lot easier. It is free money and one of the first college finance options you should explore.

Government College Grants

Your first step in funding college should always begin with the government. Some grants, such as the Pell Grant, are given by the federal government whiles others are administered by your state. Regardless of the scholarships and grants you will apply for, filling out your FAFSA should be your first step. This is the most common and easiest way to receive financial aid. This year alone, over 6 million students will get some sort of government financial aid to use towards their costs of tuition. The odds of being one of these recipients are very high.

The Pell grant is the largest federal college grant program in the United States. This grant is awarded based on financial need as determined by your FAFSA, however, note that the Pell Grant is not just awarded to low income families but to middle class families as well.

Applicants must meet the following conditions in order to qualify for a Pell grant.

  • The applicant must be a United States citizen or an eligible non citizen.
  • The applicant must complete and submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and demonstrate financial need.
  • You should have a social Security number.
  • You must have taken and passed GED, High School Diploma or an approved test.
  • You must meet and maintain satisfactory academic progress.
  • And you must be currently enrolled at an approved educational institution.

As mentioned before, applying for government funding should be the very first step. Learn more about applying for the Pell Grant.

Once you’ve applied for federal aid, you should check with your state’s educational board to find more sources of state funding or by consulting our state guide section and looking up your state to learn more.

Types of Grants and Scholarships

Aside from the government, which we covered already, scholarships and grants are given out by different organizations like nonprofit organizations, charities, professional associations, community foundations, as well as corporations such as fortune 500 companies.

Most scholarships and grants are tailored to specific students. Each student is unique and by looking at yourself you will be able to determine which opportunities out there are a best match for you. For example, there are grants and scholarships for belonging to a minority ethnic groups if you are African American or Hispanic, or for having special talents such as athletic talents, for special fields of studies such as nursing grants, for personal or family’s level of income, or for your military service and more. There are even scholarships for women. By looking at your background, your strengths, your desired career, and other characteristics that make you unique, you will then be able to find the best matches for yourself.

Here are the basic categories to consider. Review this list and see where you think you may stand out.

  • Merit-Based: These scholarships are awarded based on your academic, athletic, or artistic performance or your involvement in community service and volunteering.
  • Need-Based: Many scholarships are granted depending on you or your family‚Äôs financial situation.
  • Student-Specific: These scholarships are awarded based on factors such as your race/ethnicity, medical history, family history, and other student specific criteria.
  • Career-Specific: Some scholarships are specifically for students that would like to take a certain career path. Popular careers that have an abundance of scholarships are nursing and teaching.
  • College-Specific: Individual colleges will often have their own scholarship programs. Usually these are based on academic merit, some giving a preference to applicants with financial need as well.

Some Examples to Get You Thinking

If you have ever served in the United States military, you may qualify to receive certain grants and scholarships. There might also be a grant available for you if your parents are veterans. Two of such grants include the Illinois Veteran Grant and the Military Order of the Purple Heart grants.

College Grants and Scholarships

Belonging to a church or other religious body may also qualify you for scholarships awarded by such institutions. A lot of religious bodies such as Catholics, Lutheran and Anglican churches will have some sort of scholarship for their members. Ask your religious body if they have some student financial assistance for their members.

There are also scholarships awarded based on an individuals special talents, such as athletics, such as basketball. This award is presided over by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). But there are also other lesser know scholarships for sports abilities. If you excel at any sports, there are probably opportunities for you.

If you are an artist, there are several arts based scholarships available to you. Check with the various arts associations and foundations for availabilities. For example, the University Film and Video Association gives scholarships to videographers. The Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation also gives scholarships to writers. There are hundreds of organizations and bodies out there that provide college grants based on arts talents. You should talk to your college and your local arts centers to find out about available grants.

The fact is there are grants for special talents in several fields of studies. If you are a talented mathematician, a really good musician, a great photography talent, a computer whiz kid or really talented in any way, chances are that there are scholarships you can apply for.

Then there are grants given out mostly to graduate students to study in a specific subject area. They are usually supported by individual benefactors, foundations and organizations. They may be given out to students carrying out research work in a specific field of study. A few of the bodies that award such specialty grants include the National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration and the Ruth and Simms Hamilton Research Fellowship.

Many industries and sectors offer grants for students to study in their subject fields. This is to ensure a supply of qualified people to work in their industries. It is even possible to take up internship jobs with companies in these industries. There is the Future Farmers of America which provides over two million dollars worth of financial assistant to students studying agriculture. If you are in horticulture, you may find assistance from the American Floral Endowment Fund. There are grants available to theatrical costume students, medical students, accounting students, hotel studies, and computer studies students. The fact is, no matter what subject you are studying, there will be scholarships available for that field.

There are several scholarships specifically for women who want to go to college. Many of these grants are intended to get women to study programs that are traditionally dominated by men, such as the science and engineering based programs. There are also grant programs tailored to women over the age of 35 who are looking to get back into college. One such program is the Jeanette Rankin Foundation. We have guide tailored to scholarships for women.

Tips for Getting Awarded

If you are one of the millions of students in need of financial assistance for college, you need start your application process on time. A lot of these grants and scholarships will fill their quotas early and you might miss out on them if you wait too long.

Also, starting early gives you the chance to put together a very well researched and strong application versus someone who rushes to put together their application at the last minute. Remember: for most scholarships, you are essentially competing against the other applicants, so put the effort into submitting applications that stand out.

Tips To Become A Successful Scholarship Applicant:

  • Apply for several different scholarships. Some students only apply through their colleges financial aid office. You should search for and apply to as many scholarships as you can. This way you may be able to cover all of your financial needs. By applying for several scholarships, you increase your chances of winning some funding, and if you win more than one they can usually be combined.
  • Write a good application. A lot of people do not succeed with their application because of laziness. When writing your application, avoid spelling mistakes, grammatical mistakes and write a clearly, making sure you sell yourself well.
  • Sell yourself. If you are submitting an application for a scholarship based on your field of study, be very clear about why you want to study in that field and what your future plans are once you graduate. Be sure to list any special qualities you may have. These can include extra curricular activities and community work.
  • Pay attention to detail. Before you submit your application, make sure you let someone else read it to you. You will be amazed by how easy it is for you to miss errors in your application until someone reads it back to you.

Although there are several ways to pay for college, grants and scholarships should always be your first choice for funding. Once you’ve exhausted all forms of gift aid, only then consider a student loan. Take the time and effort to research and apply for the best suited scholarships and grants. By doing so, when you graduate, you will be glad you are leaving college without the burden of debt weighing you down.

Use our site’s navigation menu to find grants and scholarships that are a match for you.