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What’s the Difference Between a Scholarship & Grant?

By Damon Yee on

So, you’re going to college. You’ve done your research and decided on the right school. The next step of the process is figuring out how to pay for a higher education. The average cost of an in-state education is roughly $9,140 per year. Out-of-state educations cost more than $22,000 per year and the cost of a private college is usually more than $31,000 per year. With the soaring costs of a higher education, you may want to find a way to cut back on your out-of-pocket expenses. Scholarships and grants are a common way to help reduce your personal expenses so you are able to avoid or limit the student loans you take for your education. The key is recognizing how a scholarship and grant differ to help you find the right solutions for your tuition.

Basics of Grants

Grants are a form of gift aid available for students or researchers. In the case of student aid, it usually applies to specific situations. The most common type of grants are need-based grants. That means you receive funds due to a low household income or for other need-based situations.

Applying for a grant depends on the type of grant you request. In some cases, you may need to demonstrate why you should be given the grant. For example, you may need to fill out paperwork showcasing your family’s household income or demonstrating that you have a specific need for the money.

Grants are primarily given by the government, but may also be available through private organizations or groups. In the case of college tuition grants, it usually sets clear need-based situations to qualify for the funds. When you go into a research field or plan to work on a research project as part of your college education, you may also apply for research grants. The funds are usually given by the government to your educational institution or to your research group for the project.

Regardless of the source of the grant, the key factor that makes it a grant is your need for the funds. It is not based on your skills or merit. Instead, it is gift aid to help you get through your education when you need the extra help and qualify for the money. A Pell Grant is a common type of need-based grant that you may consider when you attend college.

Basics of a Scholarship

Scholarships are a type of gift aid based on merit. The merit that applies to a scholarship depends on the type of scholarship and the organization or group involved in giving the funds.

A common type of scholarship is based on your grades. You receive funds for academic achievements and obtaining or maintaining specific grade point averages. You may also get scholarships for your performance in a sport. A sports scholarship is often offered by the school to help athletes obtain an education by agreeing to play for the college team.

Scholarships are given to students from multiple sources. It may be from a private organization, the government or even the school. Each scholarship has different standards for students to qualify.

Similarities Between Grants and Scholarships

Scholarships and grants have several similarities, which results in confusion about the differences. A scholarship and a grant are a type of gift aid for students. You are not required to return the funds when you complete your education. The money is a gift based on your situation, your merit and your needs.

Along with being gift aid, scholarships and grants are also given to students from similar groups. You may receive a scholarship or a grant from the federal government, your state government, a private organization or your college. It may even be available through a corporation that wants to give back to future generations.

Since both forms of funding are gift-aid, they are often mixed up or used interchangeably. The key to clarifying the type of funding you will receive is learning how the aid differs. Scholarships and grants have clear differences that set them apart.

How Grants and Scholarships Differ

The primary difference between a grant and a scholarship is the way you qualify for the funds. Grants are need-based. That means you receive the funds because your family do not make enough to pay for your education or you fall into a specific category for a need-based grant. In many cases, you will receive the grant because you demonstrate that you have a need for the funds. The process of showing that you need the money depends on the type of grant and the details required to qualify for the grant.

Scholarships are not need-based. They are merit-based. A merit-based scholarship applies to anyone, regardless of their background and perceived disadvantages. It is based on your personal skills and abilities. For example, you may receive an academic scholarship for a 4.0 GPA in high school. You may also qualify for a scholarship when you play a sport or for contributing to the community. Academic competitions, like a poetry or essay writing contest, may also give scholarships to the winner of the competition.

The process of obtaining a scholarship or grant also differ. A scholarship requires merit, so you must demonstrate that you have the appropriate merit to qualify. That may mean you will write an essay, give a copy of your transcripts to the organization giving the scholarship or showcase a specific skill. Scholarships apply to a variety of situations, so you may qualify for scholarships if you play a musical instrument, play a sport or even work on community service for a specific amount of time.

Grants require paperwork, but the goal is demonstrating that you have a need for the funds. A Pell Grant requires you to fill out the FAFSA paperwork and submit it to the federal government. Since the grant is based on your family’s household income, the FAFSA paperwork shows that you need the extra funds for college. State grants may also use your FAFSA information to help individuals from low-income families. Other grants apply to the children of military service members who passed away while serving the country. The qualifications for a grant may vary based on the situation and the type of grant.

Grants and scholarships assist with your ability to pay for your education. The standards to qualify for a grant or scholarship set them apart as different types of gift aid. When you want to cut back on your student loans or the cost of your college education, you want to apply for scholarships and grants that fit your situation. By getting a combination of scholarships and grants, you can reduce the cost of your education and focus on studying.

Additional Financial Aid Resources

The Cost Of College: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Loans vs. Grants vs. Scholarships

Grants vs. Scholarships

The Basics on Grants and Scholarships

What’s the Difference Between Scholarships and Grants?

12 College Financial Aid Terms Defined

Federal Student Aid: Grants and Scholarships