Difference Between Grants and Scholarships

Learning more about different types of financial aid and how to qualify.


Grants provide money for college that does not have to be paid back. Sources for grants include the state and federal government, the college, or private sources. Grants can be awarded for a variety of reasons, generally based on FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) results like family income. An example of a federal grant would be the Pell Grant. Grants that are state-funded usually go to students pursuing a degree in that state.

While scholarships don’t have to be repaid, they are primarily awarded to students for good grades or other academic accomplishments including volunteer work. There are also need-based scholarships also determined through FAFSA that don’t have to be repaid as well. Examples include athletic scholarships or scholarships based on ancestral background or group affiliations such as honor societies. While grants are not usually categorized, other types of scholarships include:

  • Merit-based: Scholarships that are based on student’s athletic, academic, or artistic abilities. Extracurricular activities and the applicant’s community service record is also taken into account.
  • Need-based: Based on the student’s family’s financial record and requires an application through FAFSA to qualify.
  • Student specific: Scholarships that are granted to students who qualify due to race, gender, religion or medical history.
  • Career specific: Based on applicant’s intended major and is awarded by a college or university.


Students are eligible for grants and scholarships as long as they have applied with intention to enroll or already attend an accredited college or university. To receive a grant, both federal and state, applicants must be U.S. citizens. Grants can be awarded to different levels of higher education, while scholarships are mostly awarded to undergraduates.


Once a student has documented financial information and the FAFSA results demonstrate that they qualify for financial aid, they are eligible to received grants for which they are qualified. Grants are given to all students who qualify based on their family’s earnings and assets, along with the expected family contribution (EFC).

The application for scholarships is far more in-depth and competitive compared to grant applications. Aside from financial information, scholarship applications may require essays, projects, and interviews with a committee or school alumni. Scholarships may require a certain GPA, class rank, or SAT and ACT test scores. While a student may be awarded a scholarship, they may be required to maintain their GPA or take a certain amount of classes in order to continue receiving money.

There are scholarships that are awarded for specific reasons like left-handedness, minority status, or height. Some scholarships require on-site competitions for odd-ball events that have nothing to do with academic abilities.


To apply for grants and scholarships, students will most likely have to fill out financial aid forms including the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the CSS Financial Aid profile.

After a student has narrowed down their choice of colleges, it is essential that they find out what financial aid forms their college requires. Some require more than the completion of the FAFSA and CSS profile. Some colleges may have their own scholarships and grants based on merit and residential area that can be applied for through the college application.

There are plenty of resources to search and apply for outside scholarships. College Board and Cappex are just two effective search engines to organize scholarships and grants by categories including athletic ability, intended major, and school.


  1. When should I begin thinking about applying for grants and scholarships?
    The earlier, the better. While some scholarships have specific deadlines, students can begin applying for certain colleges as early as their freshman year of high school. Some scholarships require that students apply during a specific year in high school or have the option to apply throughout high school.
    Students are recommended to apply January 1st or their senior year in high school for the FAFSA. Anything earlier than senior year may not be eligible financial information. As they begin to apply to colleges, completion of FAFSA will make the process more swift and readily available to apply for grants.
  2. How do I begin researching scholarships?
    Students should broaden their searches for scholarships that are not only tailored to their career and major interests, but extracurricular activities and abilities as well. Researching volunteer and extracurricular opportunities can create more advantages for scholarships and give a competitive edge.
  3. How many scholarships and grants can I apply for?
    Filling out a FAFSA form will allow students to apply for every eligible grant available through the federal program.
    Students can apply for any and every scholarship that they are eligible for unless there are restrictions stated otherwise. For example, Coca Cola awards scholarships that are not eligible for those who are employed or relatives of employees of the Coca Cola company.
  4. Can I apply after graduation?
    There are plenty of post-graduate scholarships available to students who did not apply early on. It is suggested that students even apply before graduation to make the most of every scholarship that is available.
  5. What can I do if I’m an international student?
    International students have opportunities to apply for scholarships through specific school websites and FAFSA.