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Blog » Money Tips » Your Guide to Paying for College: The Role of Scholarships and Grants

Your Guide to Paying for College: The Role of Scholarships and Grants

Guide to Paying for College

There’s no denying that the sticker price of your college may leave you at a loss for words. Public colleges and universities in the US witnessed a staggering 28% hike in tuition fees between 2009 and 2019. With educational costs looking exorbitantly high and no signs of dipping any time soon, it’s time to explore alternative funding options.

A survey reveals that US students used grants and scholarships to fund as much as 26% of their college expenses in 2021-2022. Scholarships and grants go a long way in easing up educational financing. The best thing about these aids is that students need not repay them even after being well-settled. You can significantly navigate academic financial challenges with timely access to these aids.

Traditional savings such as 529 plans and parental income may fall short of bailing you out. Evidently, college students should be proactive enough to apply early for suitable scholarships and grants.

How easy is it to obtain scholarships or grants for college education?

Well, we don’t want to scare you, but unless you know how to apply for these financial aids, you stand thin chances of qualifying for one. Let’s study these statistics to have a closer look into the role of grants and scholarships in college education.

  • The cost of education per year is $25,707 for a four-year college degree in the US. However, the percentage of students receiving financial aid over $25,000 is only 0.2%.
  • Every year, around 1.7 million scholarships are sanctioned in the US, out of which 97% of students receive aid less than $2,500.
  • Just one out of eight college students qualify for a scholarship.
  • The scholarship funding of the U.S. Department of Education is around $46 billion per year.
  • 16% of college students qualify for State scholarships, while 13% get private scholarships.
  • As much as 58% of families in the US avail of some sort of scholarship to fund education every year.
  • Just 4% of students have an exceptional GPA, ranging between 3.5 and 4.

These figures speak tons about the availability of scholarships for college students and the ease of accessing these funds.

Understanding scholarships and grants better

Unlike education loans, scholarships and grants are free aids. Anything that comes for free would be highly sought after, and this is no exception for educational aid.

The prime difference between scholarships and grants is their source. Scholarships come from different organizations, both profit and non-profit, as well as academic institutions. Grants, on the other hand, are sanctioned by the Federal and State Governments.

Scholarships, in general, are merit-based. This implies that students with sound academic performance will likely qualify for scholarships. However, need-based scholarships are also popular in the US. Financially stressed students who are not too affluent may qualify for these aids. Scholarships are also sanctioned to college students on the basis of their field of study and extracurricular activities.

Grants, on the other hand, are primarily need-based. Therefore, scholarships differ from grants on grounds like eligibility criteria, source, and the application process.

Why is it important for college students to get scholarships?

Looking beyond direct financial benefits, scholarships, and grants streamline the path to knowledge acquisition in several ways.

Reduce debt in your early years

Financial experts habitually advise reducing debt early in your life. Unless you adopt an aggressive stance to clear student loans, these liabilities can haunt you long after you graduate. Why delay your long-term savings by entertaining student debt?

Now that you know the cost of accessing quality education, apply for scholarships rather than loans. Try not to go for loans as long as you can manage educational costs through parental income, savings, scholarships, grants, or other types of aid. Remember, loans involve substantial rates of interest that make it challenging to become financially independent.

Going for alternate funding options, such as scholarships and grants, can make a huge difference in your financial stability.

Access quality education

How about studying in the esteemed college you had always dreamt of? Finances shouldn’t be a bar as long as you maintain your academic grades. Merit-based scholarships significantly bridge the fund gap for meritorious students.

Need-based scholarships and grants are also available to financially assist college students. Unless you receive substantial support through these aids, accessing quality education will be challenging. Studying in one of the top colleges would help you land high-paying jobs. On the other hand, mediocre education may require you to struggle in the professional circuit as you climb up the hierarchy.

With a scholarship or grant, you get access to quality education. The rewards start coming in terms of higher pay, faster promotions, and better prospects.

Apply to your dream university

Thanks to scholarships and grants, college students can access international education. Have you aspired to study at a global university in a foreign country? A scholarship wouldn’t limit you geographically. Substantial financial aid brings you the privilege of choosing the desired institution. With adequate support through grants and aids, you can explore academic avenues beyond the affordability of your parents.

Create better impression

Resumes with excellent academic records and scholarships stand out when you apply for jobs. Recruiters habitually look out for candidates with sound academic records and decent theoretical knowledge. The mention of your scholarship on your resume would convey the academic strength and tenacity that earned you a coveted scholarship.

Eventually, qualifying for a scholarship would help you work with some of the top companies across the world. This explains why sincere students strive to score proficiently in their academics and win scholarships.

Study in a diverse environment

What comes next when you earn the financial privilege to study at your dream university? You get to interact with aspirants from various demographics. Mingling with learners from different cultures, religions, and ethnicities broadens young minds. You can exchange your perspectives and gain a more extensive insight into your professional world.

Studying in a cosmopolitan academic environment goes a long way in shaping soft skills in students. You learn to respect individual differences and adapt to diverse situations.  Besides, you would hone social skills such as empathy, communication, and problem-solving.

Eventually, you start taking your first steps to blend into a global work culture. No wonder studying abroad with scholarships significantly improves the opportunities of landing a better job.

Inculcates prestige and pride

After all, winning a scholarship requires more than ordinary efforts in academics. While some scholarship programs are stringent with personal statements, others involve several interview rounds or tests. You would love to celebrate your accomplishment once you qualify for the prestigious award. A scholarship is a testament to your passion, focus, diligence, and determination.

Gaining recognition requires you to stand apart from your peers. Whether you cultivate your entrepreneurial traits or tap lucrative jobs after college, you will carry this pride. It works as motivation, inspiring you to stride ahead to your professional goals.

What are the different types of college grants?

College students in the US have access to three types of grants: State grants, Federal Grants, and special grants.

State grants

Most states financially assist their students through grant money as they undertake college courses. The eligibility for state grants largely varies since each state has its own criteria. Students willing to obtain state grants should get across to the state department of education for further details.

Federal grants

The U.S. Department of Education has designed several grants addressing the educational needs of the country’s diverse student population. Prominent among these are:

Federal Pell Grant: As an undergraduate student, you may qualify for the Federal Pell Grant if you don’t hold a graduate, bachelor’s, or professional degree. Students requiring financial assistance can qualify for a maximum award of $6,495 per year under this grant.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG): If you qualify for the FSEOG, you can get annual assistance ranging between $100 and $4,000. Undergraduate students with exceptional monetary needs can apply for this aid. If your college participates in this program, you may be eligible for the assistance.

Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant (TEACH) Grant: The TEACH Grant is different from the other financial aid we have discussed so far. It requires the applicants to enroll in particular courses. Besides, candidates applying for this aid should be committed to full-time teaching after graduation for at least four years.

Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant: This grant has been designed to financially support the education of undergraduates whose guardians or parents died while serving in the Military in Afghanistan or Iraq. As an eligibility criterion, the applicant should be under 24 years of age. The maximum amount awarded through this grant is $6,495 per year – the same as the prestigious Pell Grant.

Special grants

Apart from Federal and State grants, US students can access special grants to fund their college education. These include the Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship Grant, among others.

What college scholarships are available for students?

Scholarships for college students in the US are incredibly varied. Have a look at the common types of scholarships that you can apply for.

Academic scholarships

Have you bagged high ACT/SAT scores, and your GPA lies in the 3.0 to 3.5 range? You stand a good chance of qualifying for merit-based academic scholarships.

Athletic scholarships

If you are into athletics or sports and exhibit impressive physical agility, athletic scholarships can help you fund your college education. Participation in sports like volleyball, basketball, and football can help you qualify for athletic scholarships.

Demographic scholarships

Underrepresented student populations from LGBTQ+ communities, women, or ethnic communities can qualify for demographic scholarships. The aim of these programs is to promote cultural diversity in the academic platforms and enhance educational levels among these communities.

Creative scholarships

If you have a creative instinct that makes you inclined toward fine arts, music, or poetry, you may be eligible for a creative scholarship. To qualify for this financial aid, you must demonstrate your performance or creative portfolio when applying.

Community Service scholarships

Your volunteering or community service experience can help you qualify for these scholarships. Having leadership traits along with volunteering experience would be a bonus.

Talent and Hobby scholarships

Certain scholarships are also granted on the basis of your hobbies or talents. For instance, crafts and handmade goods might be your forte. Different institutes and organizations grant these scholarships to deserving candidates.

Apply now!

Quality education at the college level would be an asset of a lifetime for you. No doubt, students strive to qualify for the best scholarship awards and grants. These scholarships can make you self-reliant and goal-oriented right from an early age.

Unleash the potential that scholarships, grants, and aids hold for you. Qualifying for these benefits isn’t as challenging as they appear. With an organized approach and decent grades, you can stride along to your dream university.

[Related: High Schoolers, Get Financially Prepared for College with this Ultimate Checklist]


What would be the ideal time for me to apply for scholarships and grants?

Scholarships and grants come from multiple sources. This explains why there’s no specific timeframe for all these aids. For State and Federal grants, file your FAFSA early enough. Every year, it becomes accessible on the 1st of October.

Check out the dates with the scholarship provider and submit your application accordingly. While some scholarships come with tight deadlines, others remain available all year round.

Can scholarships affect my financial aid?

If you receive external scholarships, it might have an impact on your eligibility for financial assistance. Students qualifying for these scholarships often receive lower amounts from their colleges. Therefore, it pays to check with your college and apply for financial grants accordingly.

Is there any limit on the scholarships and grants I can get for studying in college?

Thankfully, no. Students have no rigid limits on how many scholarships and grants they can apply or qualify for. However, if the combined amount gained through scholarships and grants exceeds the cost of attendance at the college, the amount may be reduced. So, check out the college’s policy on scholarships at the outset.

For what purposes can you use scholarships and grants?

The utility of scholarships and grants depends on their nature. Typically, you would find the scholarship or grant providers specifying how you can use these aids. For instance, some providers design assistance programs to finance tuition fees. Others provide scholarships to help college students manage transportation or living costs.

How should I answer scholarship interview questions?

Firstly, choose a discipline related to the scholarship or at least related to your passion. Specify the subjects you are keen to excel in and explain how crucial it is for you to study them. Also, align the course to your professional goals while justifying its relevance to your career. Your answers should reflect your knowledge of the domain.

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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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