Grants don't get as much attention as loans or scholarships, but they should. Unlike loans, grants don't need to be paid back. Unlike scholarships, grants are almost exclusively based on financial need–meaning you don't have to compete with star athletes or straight-A students to get them.
You might be wondering, "Why haven't I heard more about this free money?" Our suspicion is this: most grants come from the government and government programs confuse people. It's hard to write a cute listicle about the New York state STEM grant. Most people (including us!) would rather read about Jay-Z and his mom giving away $2000 scholarships to a bunch of students.
Unfortunately, many private scholarships operate like a lottery. To use the example above, you could meet all of the criteria for Shawn Carter Foundation scholarship, submit your application on time, and still not get it. Funds are limited and the number of applicants is unlimited, which means the foundation will have to say no to some qualified applicants.
This is not true of government grants. The amount of money available in federal and state-based grants is based on roughly the number of students who have sought out and qualified for them in past years. What this means for you: if you meet the eligibility criteria for a government grant and submit your application early and error-free, you will almost always get it.
When making your plan to pay for college, we recommend applying to government grants first. Because of the number of private scholarships available, you could spend all year finding and applying to them and still not get any. Applying to government grants on your own can be time-consuming too, but you're much more likely to end up with money for college. (Definitely apply to both if you have time–we're just recommending this order).
Federal versus state-based grants
Government grants can come from federal programs or state-based programs. The federal government gives out more money of all to college students, but more of the federal aid comes in the form of loans, rather than grants. The opposite is true of state governments. State-based programs give out less than the government, but more of what they give comes in the form of grants and work study aid, rather than loans.
How to apply for government grants
To apply for federal grants, you need to submit your FAFSA®. The FAFSA® is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Teachers and administrators usually talk to students and families about the FAFSA®, but people still have a lot of questions about it. You can learn more about FAFSA® here.
To apply for state-based grants, you'll need to research the programs available in your state. Each program has its own eligibility requirements, which you have meet in order to receive the grant. Make sure to see check that you qualify before you spend time applying.
Each state-based aid program has its own application procedures–things you have to do to apply. For some, the only application procedure is FAFSA®. Others have their own applications and verification processes. The separate applications have specific periods that they are open, so make sure to mark your calendar so you don't miss your chance to apply.
If you'd like apply for every federal and state-based grant you're eligible for (without the research), you can the do it with the Mos application. We use the information in your application to find all the grants you qualify for. Then we prepare and submit the applications, right as programs open.