Types of Grants for College

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

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

In this lesson, we explore grants for post-secondary education and explain the different requirements for different types of grants - from federal grants to college-based grants and everything in between.


College can be expensive - more expensive than you realize. For example, at one of the country's more prestigious institutions, Harvard University, estimated tuition alone for the 2015/16 school year was over $45,000! Now, most school aren't that expensive, but the vast majority still run in the thousands of dollars per year. That cost, according to the College Board and other educational companies, is rising fast.

That fact can be alarming for any student. Fortunately, there are options to help you finance your higher education. In this lesson, we'll examine arguably the best type of financial aid you can receive: grants.

Types of Grants

Grants are one of the best kind of financial aid awards you can receive when trying to gather funding to pursue a postsecondary education. Grants, by definition, are usually non-refundable, and you do not have to pay them back over time like you do student loans. Most are given with the understanding that you will pursue a certain goal or purpose in your educatio, or because you have a certain background.

Because grants are such a sweet deal for students, you often have to apply and win grants based on a range of academic and extracurricular activities and criteria. The following will list some of the basic categories of grants and what is needed to win them.

Academic Competitiveness and SMART

The Academic Competitiveness Grant was instituted by the Department of Education in 2006 in an effort to encourage math and science skills in high school and post-secondary students. Another example of a similar grant is the National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) grant.

In order to qualify, students must have taken a rigorous course load throughout their high school career including three full years each of math and science instruction and at least one year of second language instruction. Students can receive the grant for the first two years based on these qualifications, but must be majoring in a scientific or technical field to receive the grant again in the third and fourth year. Total amount of grants are considered based on student need.


Career-specific grants are exactly what they sound like - grants given to students intending to pursue a particular major or profession. These generally tend to be available to students pursuing careers where there is a shortage of qualified workers, such as in teaching and nursing. Career-specific grants vary widely - some are awarded depending on need, major, grades, or simply just a stated intention to pursue a certain career. Nearly all, though, are dependent upon the student continuing to pursue a career in that field.


College-based grants, naturally, vary widely depending on your college of choice. These grants tend to go students whose families have low incomes, or at least low enough to make the college's average tuition a hardship on the family. Check with the financial aid office of whichever school you intend to attend to see what your options are and what type of grants they offer.


Most federal grants go to students of low-income families (e.g., nearly all Pell grants go to families with incomes under $20,000 a year), but there are so many that federal aid is still worth applying for even if your family makes over that threshold. Federal grants, such as Pell or the Federal Supplementary Educational Opportunity Grant, are needs-based, so if awarded, the amount you will receive will depend on your family's income.

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