Article Highlights

  • On average, scholarships and grants cover $7,500 of tuition per student, per year.
  • 63% of all undergrads receive at least one scholarship or grant.
  • It’s worth applying for grants and scholarships, regardless of your GPA or extracurricular resume. Scholarships can reduce the amount of money you’ll have to pay out of pocket.

By the time you’re ready to apply for college, multiple people have probably advised you to look into grants and scholarships. But when you start digging, the applications can look like a lot of work. You might wonder if they’re even worth the effort. After all, how many college grants and scholarships are out there? How many would you even qualify for? And would they make a big difference? Here, we’ve answered your top questions about college grants and scholarships—so you can feel good about getting started and applying for them.

How much college grant and scholarship money is even available?

When it comes to paying for college, it can be helpful to think of tuition obligations in the form of a pie chart: Some money may come from federal loans, some may come from family contributions or from money you’ve been able to save, some may come from private loans, some may come in the form of grants and scholarships, and so on. The bigger one piece of the pie is, the smaller the others will be. That’s why it can be worth it to dig into grant and scholarship opportunities: This is money that does not have to be paid back.

What’s the difference between a grant and a scholarship? These terms may be used interchangeably, and both are a form of “gift aid” — aka, money that does not need to be paid back. In general, however, grants at the undergraduate level may be earmarked for students who have demonstrated significant financial need.

How do I find grants and scholarships for college?

The US Department of Education offers a variety of federal grants to students. Many of these, such as Pell Grants, are awarded to students who demonstrate significant financial need. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), is used to determine federal grant eligibility. It’s available beginning October 1. Because some aid is distributed on a “first come, first serve” basis, it can be a good idea to fill it out as soon as possible.

But there also may be grants and scholarships offered by your intended college or university. On average, scholarships and grants cover $7,500 of annual academic cost per student, according to Educationdata.org.

Maximizing gift aid opportunities can mean doing additional legwork. Talk with your guidance counselor, and do research online. Scholarships may be earmarked for students who fill certain categories, such as background and heritage, academic talent, or talent in the arts or athletics. Making a list of your attributes can help you clue into keywords and categories that may aid you in your scholarship search.

How do scholarships work with financial aid?

If you’re receiving financial aid, it’s your responsibility to notify your school’s financial aid office of any scholarship you receive above $300. Scholarships will affect your financial aid package. This isn’t a bad thing — this means that you will have to borrow less money. If you fail to report a scholarship, you may be responsible for paying back the “over-award.”

What are your chances of getting scholarships or grants?

Your chances are better than you might think! There’s lots of money available for scholarships. According to EducationData.org, between public and private scholarships, there’s enough available money to give every full-time enrolled student nearly $10,000. Additionally, the site reports, 63% of undergrads receive at least one grant or scholarship.

Does grant and scholarship money really go unclaimed?

If you've ever heard people say that millions of dollars in college grants and scholarships go unclaimed every year and thought it couldn’t be true, you were right. It’s actually several billion; in 2021, $3.75 billion in federal Pell Grant dollars were left on the table, finds a report from the National College Attainment Network. Why does this aid go unclaimed? By failing to fill out the FAFSA, students leave grant money on the table. Fewer students entering college in 2021 filled out this form than in years past, a trend that may have been driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the report. Filling out the FAFSA can help you cover your bases and unlock grant opportunities.

So, should you apply?

In short: Yes! There is a significant amount of free money available to students each year, so finding out how to apply for scholarships and grants is worth the effort. Get started by filling out the FAFSA and searching online for scholarships that are a good fit for you. Many schools also use the FAFSA to award institutional and state aid, so completing it is an easy first step to becoming eligible for college grants and scholarships to help pay for school. Also remember to check with your high school, college and your local community for scholarship opportunities. Any amount you win will help offset your out-of-pocket costs and the amount you may need to borrow. You might just receive more than you expect!


FAFSA® is a registered trademark of the US Department of Education and is not affiliated with Discover® Student Loans.

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