How to Apply for College Grants

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the college grants available to students in the United States and the steps one should take to discover the grant money available to them.

Free Money

There's an old adage--you've maybe heard your Grandpa or boss utter it--that nothing in life is free. While this statement has some merit, there are some things which are still free. This includes some types of money that can help pay for one of the most expensive things there is: a college education.

To be specific, we are talking about grants. Grants are given to students for all sorts of different things and with all sorts of different strings attached. In this lesson, we will discuss some of the different types of grants and the steps for applying for these grants.

Government Grants

Federal, state, and sometimes local governments are often the biggest source of grants for higher education. The U.S. Department of Education offers a range of grants, largely focused on those who come from backgrounds where there is little money for a higher education.

For example, the most popular federal grant is the Pell Grant. This is a need-based grant given to students based on their family's income and their family's ability to pay for the student's education. Currently, students can receive up to $5,815 each school year through the Pell Grant program. But there are various other types of grants, including the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) or the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant given to students who had a parent who died in military service in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

The grants offered by the federal government, and the specific criteria for each grant, can be accessed at

Your state may also offer a range of education grants. The best way to learn about the grants offered by your state is to contact your state's board of education. They will have all the information on what grants are available and what is necessary to apply for each.


But before you get too involved in the requirements of each individual grant, you should fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is an application done through the federal government, and it can be accessed through the site listed above. FAFSA gives you access to the billions of dollars in grants and loans the federal government gives out each year. However, what you are eligible for is determined by your need.

One way the government determines eligibility is based on your financial information. If you are a dependent student, your parents will need to provide their tax returns. If you are an independent student, you'll need to provide your personal tax returns. Federal aid is based on the cost of attendance at a school and your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), therefore, depending on your financial situation, you may not be eligible for aid.

The FAFSA form takes roughly 25 minutes to complete. After you fill it out, the federal government shares your form with state education boards and the schools you list on your FAFSA form, enabling these organizations to also determine if you are eligible for grants which they supply.

Other Grants

Grants can be tough to get, and depending on your qualifications, you may simply not qualify to receive any government grants. If you aren't eligible, or even if you are eligible for only a few, there are all sorts of other grant opportunities out there for you to explore.

One of the best sources will likely be the college you choose to attend. Colleges often give grants and scholarships to academically high achievers in order to encourage better students to attend the school. Individual departments of study may also have money available to give to students.

Some local organizations also give out grants for college students. The best way to learn about these grants is to talk to your school counselor. He/She should be aware of all the local area grants which can help you pay your way through college.

Forms & Other Info

Though FAFSA is a good start, it is likely not the only form you will need to fill out as part of the grant process, especially if you are pursuing various grants not given by the government. Just like when you applied for college, applying for grants will require a lot of time spent filling out forms and gathering extra information such as employment history, credit history, or letters of reference.

When applying for a new grant, it's important to check the terms of eligibility, such as family or personal financial information. Once you've determined your eligibility, check the grant deadline; if it's soon, you better get moving! Likewise, if you have plenty of time, be sure to take it to make sure all your information is correct.

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