What is the difference between grants and scholarships?

Both grants and scholarships are considered “gift aid”, which is money for college you don’t need to pay back. The terms are often used interchangeably and function similarly, although grants are typically need-based awards, while scholarships are most often given on the basis of merit.

Common Differences Between Grants and Scholarships

Both grants and scholarships are considered “gift aid”, which means that they provide money for college that does not need to be paid back. While neither has a strict definition outlining its boundaries, these differences typically set grants and scholarships apart:

Grants are generally need-based financial aid given by the Government or a University. They are most commonly given to make education more accessible to those who otherwise would not be able to afford it.

Students usually need to demonstrate financial need in order to qualify for the most commonly offered grants.

Scholarships, on the other hand, are typically based on a student’s merit or demographics. Merit can range from academic achievement to special talent. Scholarships based on demographics are designed to encourage underrepresented groups to pursue their education.

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Students usually need to demonstrate their ability (GPA or athletic achievements, for example) for merit-based scholarships.

It’s important to note that many people use the terms interchangeably, and some organizations may offer grants based on merit, and others may offer scholarships based on merit.

How to find grants for college

The most common grants for college are awarded through the Federal Government. To apply, students must file their FAFSA® to demonstrate financial need.

Here are the four grants awarded through the FSA program:

Pell Grant – Offered to undergraduate students demonstrating financial need. The maximum award for the 2020-2021 academic year is $6,345.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant – Awarded to students who demonstrate financial needs beyond the Pell Grant. The award is given at the school’s discretion and ranges between $100-$4,000 per year.

TEACH Grant – Offered to students who commit to work as an educator in a high-need field or in a low-income school. The grant awards up to $4,000 per year.

Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant – Given to students who do not qualify for a Pell Grant, but who lost a parent to military service following the events of 9/11. The maximum award is equal to the maximum Pell Grant for a given academic year.

Many states and schools offer their own grants for students demonstrating financial need. Contact your school’s financial aid office to find out how to apply for any other available grants.

How to find college scholarships

There are millions of scholarships awarded each year, totaling billions of dollars in aid. Scholarships are offered for the following reasons:

  • Merit-Based Scholarships: These funding opportunities are awarded to students based on academics, special talent, or athletic achievements.
  • Need-Based Scholarships: These scholarships are designed for students who demonstrate an appropriate level of financial need. You’ll typically need to fill out the FAFSA® to qualify for one of these.
  • Demographics-Based Scholarships: These funding opportunities don’t depend on your grades or your level of financial need. Instead, they’re awarded to college students who fall into certain categories, such as ethnicity, religion, or gender.

Search high and low to find scholarships that pertain to your talents, interests, or background. Here are four databases to help make your search easier:

Unlike grants, most scholarships will require students to prove their candidacy, although this typically means you’ll have to write an essay on a specific topic. When applying for multiple scholarships, it’s important to stay organized and keep track of deadlines and requirements.