Where to Find “Free Money”: Grants & Scholarships

Teen in tan sweater looking for scholarships on computer.


s you develop a plan for college, it is important to remember that billions of dollars in “free money” is available in the form of grants and scholarships. These funds are awarded based on financial need or merit. Grants are generally available for students with need, while scholarships are generally awarded to students with merit and/or need. Both grant and scholarship money are considered gift aid, meaning they do not have to be repaid. Most of this money comes from the state government, federal government, colleges and private organizations.

Federal Grants Available

The biggest source of grants is the federal government, although some grants are made available through the state. Students are able to use grant money towards a 4-year, 2-year, technical training or other approved form of education.

To be eligible for a federal grant, you will need to fill out the FAFSA, state or other application during your senior year in high school at the same time you are applying for college. You will need to re-apply for these grants each year you are in college. There are some basic eligibility requirements for federal student aid.

Federal Grants are mostly need-based and are based on your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) as determined by the information you submitted in the FAFSA. Below are some of the federal grants available:

Name of GrantAmountApplication RequiredEligibility
Federal Pell Grants *Up to $6,195 for the 2019–20 school yearFAFSADetermined by FAFSA and specific requirements. Must display exceptional financial need.
Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)*$100 – $4,000 a yearFAFSADetermined by FAFSA and specific requirements. Not all colleges participate in this program. Check with your college.
TEACH Grant*Up to $4,000FAFSAMust pursue a degree program to become a teacher in a high-need field. Students must sign agreement to serve as teacher following graduation. If you do not fulfill requirements of program, grant will become a loan.
Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant*Up to $6,195 for the 2019–20 school yearFAFSADetermined by FAFSA and specific requirements. Your parent or guardian was a member of the U.S. armed forces and died as a result of military service performed in Iraq or Afghanistan after the events of 9/11.
* Amount changes each year.
Data retrieved from Federal Student Aid.

According to Federal Student Aid office, to remain eligible students “have to make good enough grades, and complete enough classes (credits, hours, etc.), to keep moving toward successfully completing your degree or certificate in a time period that’s acceptable to your school.” Check with the Financial Aid Office at the college you plan to attend for more specific information.

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State Grants & Scholarships Available

There are many scholarships and grants available through your state. To learn about the “free money” available in your state, visit NASFAA.org.

For students who are residents of Texas, visit College For All Texans.

Scholarships Available Through Colleges

The largest share of scholarships come through the courtesy of colleges and universities, followed by companies, foundations, professional organizations and civic groups. Most of these scholarships are awarded based on, among other things, merit, need, a specific talent or field of interest, leadership skills, or reserved for first-generation and minority students.

Colleges use merit aid to attract the top students. However, Ivy League colleges and some highly selective colleges like Harvard, Yale, Stanford and MIT, are the exception. They attract an overabundance of valedictorians and highly qualified students and, instead, offer very generous need-based aid to families, even those earning over $200,000.

In many cases, your application for college will automatically make you eligible for scholarships available at the college to which you are applying. In other cases, you will have to submit the FAFSA in addition to your college application to become eligible for both need-based and merit-based scholarships. Private colleges may require the CSS PROFILE in addition to the FAFSA.

Scholarships Available Through Organizations

The majority of private scholarships will require an application plus other supporting documents – for e.g., essays, resume, transcript, and letters of recommendation. There are some small (dollar amount) scholarships that do not require an essay. Remember, you don’t have to wait until your senior year in high school to apply for scholarships.  Some scholarships are available to students as early as 8th grades.

Some private scholarships are a one-time award, while others are renewable throughout your college career. Remember to find out if your award is renewable or if you need to apply every year. Scholarships often require that students maintain a certain GPA in order to qualify for future awards.

When starting your scholarship search, start at the local level and then work your way up to the more competitive national scholarships. Local organizations, such as your local Rotary, foundations and companies will often have scholarships available exclusively for students from your school district, city or state.

Scholarship Search Sites

Online scholarship databases are a great way to find private scholarships. These websites list scholarships from a variety of sources so you will have little problem building a list  that will match your background, interests, achievements and GPA. Here are some of the most popular sites available for scholarship search:

Other Places to Find Scholarships

Your High School Counselor is another great resource to find scholarships. They are usually quite familiar with the scholarships other students have received and will be happy to share that information with you.

The college planning software available through your school (for e.g., Naviance) may also track the scholarships other students have received.

In summary, there are billions of dollars in scholarships and grants available through colleges and other organizations. If you commit the time and effort needed to find and apply to scholarships for which you are the most qualified, you could be rewarded with thousands of dollars for college.