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Free Money for College: How to Score Scholarships and Win Grants

Updated on July 12th, 2023

From starry-eyed applicants to dreamers, every student tends to vouch for free money for college. Well, you might consider scoring scholarships or winning grants to be a distant possibility. However, with the right approach, accessing free money to put your education on track is much easier than you think. All you need is to research and apply at the right place.

With educational costs in the US continually rising, you need not break the bank. In this article, we have unleashed how to access those coveted funds that wait to be claimed. The best part is no one will ask you to repay these free funds, unlike education loans

Read on to know the right application strategies for the best grants and scholarships to finance your education.

An overview of rising education costs in the US

  • From 1976 to 1987, the cost of four-year college education in the US rose from $2,275 to 5,494. Currently, students need to shell out $25,707 per year on average. This amounts to $102,828 over the 4-year graduation period.
  • For out-of-state candidates, the cost of a college education per year is $44,014. In four years, this amounts to $176,056.
  • Private university students fork out a staggering $54,501 a year, taking their educational cost to $218,004 over the period.
  • As much as 59% of federal education loan borrowers in the US aren’t sure whether or not they can repay their debt.

Taking these facts into consideration, why not be proactive and hunt for the best scholarships and grants? After all, it’s free money! You may qualify for financial aid if you have decent grades or are in need.

Scholarships versus grants: What’s the difference?

The key differences between scholarships and grants lie in their source and purpose of being sanctioned. While the Federal and State governments provide grants, scholarships are awarded by non-profit organizations, community groups, schools, and colleges.

Scholarships can be merit-based or need-based. However, grants are mostly need-based. Both scholarships and grants can be awarded on the basis of religion, ethnicity, or any other background. For instance, grants are available for women, single mothers, and African-Americans. Let’s take a closer look at different types of scholarships and grants.

Merit-based scholarships

Your achievements, skills, or academic grades go a long way in securing a merit-based scholarship. Commonly, college or university applicants in the US become eligible for merit-based scholarships under the following conditions.

  • Due to their excellence in athletics, academics, or extracurricular activities like gaming or writing poetry
  • Orientation in an underrepresented group
  • Studying a program like nursing or teaching that could benefit the community
  • Majoring in engineering, technology, or a high-demand discipline

Need-based scholarships

Students encountering financial hurdles to pursue their desired academic programs may qualify for need-based scholarships. You may be eligible for these scholarships under these conditions.

  • You aren’t financially stable, or your family has a low income
  • As an independent student, you earn little or nothing


Most grants are awarded to college students on economic grounds rather than their merits. While both the State and the Federal Government provide grants, some academic institutions also have individual grant programs. The amount starts from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. However, obtaining a single grant may hardly cover the cost of education.

For instance, the Pell Grant, a popular grant that the Federal Government awards to students, can fetch you $6,495 per year.

How to apply for grants?

The first step to applying for a grant is filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form. Once you furnish your details, you can check the educational aids that you can qualify for. These include federal student loans, work-study programs, and different grants.

On furnishing your details at FAFSA, you will start receiving financial aid award letters from colleges that may grant you admission. Thus, you would know whether or not you qualify for these grants. Remember, grants are served on a first-come, first-serve basis. So, make sure to apply early for financial aid.

The authorities would evaluate your details on FAFSA to determine your EFC (Expected Family Contribution). This is one of the key determinants of your eligibility for grants. EFC refers to the amount that your family can presumably pay for your education. If your EFC is high, you may not qualify for grants. In these situations, you must settle for student loans or arrange alternative sources to fund your college fee.

How to apply for scholarships?

However, applying for a scholarship requires a different approach. You will come across different scholarship programs, both merit-based and need-based. Each of these programs requires the applicants to furnish the following details.

  • Personal information like citizenship status, gender, contact details, and age
  • Academic information like level of education, degree for which you need a scholarship, field of study, and GPA
  • Affiliations, implying whether you or your parents are members of any organization
  • Standardized test grades and high school transcripts
  • Financial information of your parents or your details in case you are an independent student
  • Your resume and recommendation letter
  • Membership proof in case you’re applying for aid awarded by a particular group

Some highly-sought scholarships also require students to submit an essay or personal statement. The authorized committees evaluate these essays and select the top candidates who qualify for financial aid.

Popular scholarships for college students to apply

Here are some of the best scholarship programs you may apply and qualify for.

American-Scandinavian Foundation (ASF) Scholarship

Each year, the ASF aids outstanding scholars, students, artists, and professionals in the US financially for educational purposes. The total scholarship value is around $300,000, while fellowships amount to $23,000 per year. This fund is meant to support long academic stays. 

Graduate-level students gain priority over others when they apply for this scholarship. So, if you plan to visit a different country for academic or research purposes, apply for the American-Scandinavian Foundation Scholarship.

For shorter research programs, you can qualify up to $5,000. Regardless of your discipline, you may be eligible for these financial aids.

American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) Scholarships

Each year, ASPRS offers financial grants amounting to $50,000. Both graduate and undergraduate student members of the Society, as well as other students, can apply for this aid. This Scholarship aims to assist students financially to advance their academics and propel them toward their professional goals. You may apply for this scholarship if you are into remote sensing, photogrammetry, or any related discipline.

The Coca-Cola Scholarship

This is one of the oldest scholarships for college and university students in the US. Over the last 25 years, over 1,450 students have benefitted from this financial aid. The scholarship amount is quite decent, given that qualifying candidates have attended some of the most privileged institutions in the country. These include universities like Yale, Princeton, and Harvard.

National Merit Scholarship

The National Merit Scholarship is one of the most popular financial aid for US students. The authorities scan nearly 1.6 million students each year. The award comes to $2,500 per candidate, which looks pretty decent.

Candidates interested in applying for the National Merit Scholarship have to take the NMSQT/ PSAT. After qualifying through several rounds, students achieving the highest scores are selected for the award. The authorities shortlist 7,500 finalists and grant them the scholarship.

Flywire Charitable Foundation Scholarship

This scholarship can fetch you up to $5,000 as an educational aid. Regardless of the discipline, students majoring in any subject may apply for this scholarship.

As a part of the application process, you need to submit a personal essay. If you are committed to areas like global health, social justice, environmental sustainability, or global citizenship, you stand a higher chance of qualifying for this scholarship.

5 ways to maximize your chances of getting financial aids

Now that you are familiar with some popular scholarships, let’s find out how to maximize your chances of qualifying for one.

Apply early for educational aid

Understandably, education aids in the US are highly sought after. So, try to be the early bird, particularly when it comes to grants. This applies to both Federal and State grants.

Don’t assume the outcome

As a student, you may assume you won’t qualify for anything. In reality, most applicants end up qualifying for something. A recent study reveals that around 33% of surveyed families did not fill out the FAFSA just because they thought that they wouldn’t qualify.

Apply for the maximum number of aids

Well, you won’t qualify for six-figure scholarships every time. However, this shouldn’t discourage you from applying for everything you can! Why overlook small scholarships worth a few hundred dollars? Qualifying for several of these financial aids can be significantly beneficial.

Remember, college cost is rising, so go for everything that comes your way. The last thing you would want is to take high-interest student loans and keep repaying late into your 30s or 40s. This can potentially mess up your long-term financial planning.

After all, there’s no upper capping on the number of scholarships college students can qualify for. Why not maximize the benefits from small financial aid and then combine them?

Try to excel in your academics

Your academic proficiency goes a long way in helping you qualify for merit-based grades. Once you fulfill your GPA requirements and stand out with a shimmering academic record, scholarships keep coming. Based on your academic performance, you can even renew some scholarships every year. So, focus on being diligent with your academics and look out for the best financial aid.

Ask for more aids

Why not try and maximize ‘free money’ coming in to aid your academics?

Many families and students aren’t aware that they can appeal to the authorities for additional funds. If you find that the aid you qualify for isn’t sufficient to manage your finances, request additional funds.

Often, colleges respond to such requests and are liberal enough to grant the same. Even if you get an additional $1,000 each year, you can benefit from $4,000 over the four-year period.


A college education is an investment for students, where they earn returns throughout their professional careers. However, the high cost of education in the US often turns out to be a financial burden. Unless you have a 529 student plan, managing your academic expenses may turn out to be a hurdle.

However, now you know how to maximize the benefits of scholarships and grants. Taking a student loan should be your last resort since you would love to start your career debt-free.


What are some popular grants for college students in the US?

Some of the best educational grants for college students in the US include:

  • AAUW Career Development Grant
  • Alexia Foundation Student Grant
  • Carole Fielding Student Grant
  • Chafee Grant for Foster Youth
  • The Federal Pell Grant

Which scholarships can I apply for in the US for higher education?

Apart from the scholarships we have covered earlier in this article, you can apply for the following:

  • Hope Scholarship
  • The Gates Scholarship
  • The Gates Millennium Scholars (GMS)
  • The McKay Scholarship
  • The Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship

Is it possible to get a full scholarship for college?

Although full scholarships are available for college students in the US, qualifying for them can be challenging. These scholarship programs are competitive, and students rarely qualify for full financial aid. Rather, it’s wise to apply for multiple smaller scholarships.

How much GPA do you need to get a scholarship?

Every scholarship program comes with its eligibility criteria. Students need a GPA of at least 3.5 to qualify for popular scholarships. To make sure that you outperform other applicants in case of merit-based selection, try to maintain a GPA of around 4.0.

Can I apply for both scholarships and grants?

Yes, you can apply for both scholarships and grants to manage your academic expenses. Most college students apply for both of these aids. If you fall short of funds even after obtaining your scholarships and grants, go for a student loan. Try to pay it off in the next few years so that you can start planning your finances for the long term.

Image Credit: Pexels; Photo by Andrew Piacquadio: Thank You!

Angela Ruth

Angela Ruth

Angela Ruth is a financial writer at Due. She has a passion for helping people get out of debt and live a better life.

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