Grants, Scholarships, & Financial Aid Guide

learning about grant writing for nonprofits to win grants
student with books attending school thanks to grants, scholarships, financial aid

Grants, Scholarships, and Financial Aid

If you’ve ever considered applying to college, you’ve likely looked into college financial aid. Grants, scholarships, and loans can be overwhelming to look into, as you’ll find hundreds if not thousands of options online. And, unfortunately, not all are trustworthy or as helpful as they should be. Predatory businesses target the vulnerable student population by offering high-interest student loans, providing loans higher than necessary to drive up debt, and advertising fake grant or scholarship opportunities.

Additionally, students are sometimes confused or frustrated by the rules, requirements, and prerequisites set for grant and scholarship applications. As result, they’ll skip applying for these funds and go straight to student loans.

Yet, grants and scholarships are among the most valuable types of financial aid as students don’t need to pay them back. This aid covers tuition and sometimes other needs. As long as the student uses the money as required (and not for something like a car or a shopping trip), they don’t need to worry about paying it back or being subjected to any fees.

Below we’ll go over these different types of financial aid to help you figure out how to fund your degree or certificate.

Funding Your Degree: Grants vs Scholarships vs Financial Aid

What aid you’re eligible for depends on many factors. When applying for financial aid, you must consider what school you’re enrolling in, your program, financial situation, educational history, demographic information, whether you’re attending part-time or full-time, and your family’s finances (if applicable). And that may not even be everything relevant to an application.

So, you may ask, why does any of this information matter for financial aid? How is my ethnicity or race important when looking at grants and scholarships?

Simply put, some aid providers want to support people who share their backgrounds, struggles, and/or journey. You can find aid reserved for just about every program and demographic. These funders reserve grant and scholarship money for those who come from similar backgrounds, have similar dreams, and/or ensure fairness in college enrollments.

Consider STEM programs and fields where a master’s degree is the lowest degree any given employee has earned. Those from lower-income backgrounds may see these industries as inaccessible as they simply cannot afford to get the education needed. Yet, their minds, insight, and passion would have changed the industry and even the world for the better. Grant and scholarship providers bridge the gap and make it possible for these individuals to succeed.

Without the financial aid, they would either never attend school and join the field or they would have wound up in serious debt for years to come. For students in these situations, grants and scholarships are life-changing and sometimes lifesaving.

piggy bank; financial aid info on grants and scholarships

Types of Grants

The different types of grants can be broken down into three distinct categories: federal, private, and college provided. Each of them has its own rules and qualifications. For example, federal grants often go off of each student’s expected financial contribution. Private grant considerations often include financial status in addition to program type and demographic data. Some may also be reserved for students who have done exceptional community service, earned some sort of achievement, or have developed some sort of research or advancement on their own.

College-provided grants may consider the same data as federal and private grant providers. Notably, they may reserve funds for students who are struggling financially, and they might have a separate fund for students who are struggling financially and who also have excellent grades or engage in community service. Overall, students will have to meet different criteria to receive the funds, but basically all grants revolve around financial need first.

A student with high grades and who volunteers regularly still cannot apply for the grant if they have minimal to no financial need. Instead, they can apply for scholarships and other financial aid.

It’s important to know the rules of the grants you apply for. Consider the limitations of the funds. Some are available for just tuition and supplies. Others can be applied to housing costs. If you ignore the regulations, your grant money may be taxed by the IRS as income or the funder may demand you return the funds.

Basically, there’s a lot available out there. The worst answer you can get from applying is “no,” so never hesitate to apply.

What is EFC and Why Does it Matter?

The federal student aid office uses expected financial contribution, or EFC, to determine eligibility for grants and scholarships. Students can learn their EFC by filling out the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Basically, depending on your age and dependency status, your parents’ income, benefits, and savings affect how much money you’re expected to bring to your education. For 2021-2022, the maximum EFC was $5,846. Students with a higher EFC were disqualified from receiving the Pell grant.

For students with difficult or complicated family lives, the EFC the government sees may harshly differ from reality. For example, a student’s family may earn well over the maximum amount, but their money may be tied up in medical bills or other expenses. Similarly, someone’s family may be very well off but unwilling to invest in their child’s education.

If you’re dealing with one of these scenarios, you’re not entirely out of luck. We recommend talking to your prospective or current colleges’ financial aid office to find out if they can help. You may be able to file an appeal.

Pell Grants

The Pell Grant is the most commonly known and commonly used grant out there. The federal student aid office issues these grants to students with exceptional financial need. Students can apply for this aid via the FAFSA. Notably, your eligibility may be affected by your enrollment status, program cost, and level of education. For example, even if your EFC is below the limit, you cannot receive the Pell if you have earned a bachelor’s degree already.

The amount you receive may also be impacted by your EFC and your enrollment status. A full-time student will receive a larger amount of Pell for an academic year than a part-time student.

You can learn more about the Pell Grant here.


Prospective teachers may apply for the TEACH grant, also known as the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education grant. This aid requires applicants meet the basic eligibility criteria in addition to meeting grade requirements and agreeing to the conditions of a service obligation.

The TEACH grant is unique in that if you fail to complete the service requirements, your grant will become a loan that must be repaid.

woman taking notes

Types of Scholarships

As we mentioned, students with lower financial need may apply for scholarships instead of grants. Scholarships are reserved for students who have displayed excellence in their academics, community, and/or field of study. Like grants, there are multiple funders for scholarships. You may find federally sponsored, private, and college-given scholarships. These sometimes take some work to find ones that fit your qualifications.

It’s important to note that while federal sponsors do fund some scholarships you will not receive this aid simply by filling out the FAFSA. There is usually a secondary application and approval process you must go through.

Private and college-given scholarships are merit-based and are generally applied to in the same way. Notably, scholarships provided by your college will probably be easier to apply for and receive as they will have your grades and progress more readily available. You should consider applying for both types.

When applying for scholarships, expect to fill out forms, write essays, record videos, and even meet with the funders. While these processes are time-consuming, they are well worth the effort.

Other Types of Financial Aid

Scholarships and grants are two of the most sought-after types of financial aid as they do not need to be repaid. But they are not the only types of aid. Students may seek out other funding sources based on their veteran status, employment status, and availability.

Notably, veterans and the children and spouses of veterans may qualify for federal financial aid. We recommend looking into your benefits, MYCAA, VR&E (formerly VOC Rehab), and watching for programs like VRRAP that are occasionally created and offered by the VA. These benefits and programs may cover all or part of your tuition for any number of programs and degrees.

Prospective students who have no veteran relations but who are currently employed should see if their company offers tuition repayment. Sometimes, businesses will pay all or part of an employee’s tuition or loans to improve the company’s overall level of education or to promote people internally into higher-level roles.

In addition, there are several other aid programs out there that may fit a student’s needs. You may consider applying for a program like Americorps. In these programs, like with the TEACH grant, you will be expected to work for the company after graduation for an agreed-upon number of years.

Finally, students may be able to join a work-study program at their school. Students in these financial aid programs will work on-campus or at a partnered location to earn part of their tuition through work.

question mark on pink background, figuring out financial aid, grants, and scholarships

So, What Type of Financial Aid Should You Get?

Thankfully, college students are not limited to one type of financial aid. If you receive grants, you’re not stopped from applying for scholarships. Similarly, taking out a loan doesn’t stop you from receiving other types of aid. What you should look for will depend on your circumstances or preferences.

Notably, many grants and some scholarships are set aside for students who are struggling financially. The PELL grant, as we discussed, is only available to individuals with minimal family contributions. Thus, if you or your family are particularly wealthy, you may not qualify for many available grants. But you will not be cut out of consideration for scholarships or loans. In fact, individuals with better credit and more funds qualify more readily for non-federal student loans.

Beyond your financial situation, the program you’re studying is important, too. Specialized grants and scholarships cover tuition for specific programs and majors. However, you need to be careful if you realize a major isn’t right for you. Changing your path will likely impact your financial aid. Considering most students change their major at least once, you need to make careful decisions.

Final Thoughts

Basically, regardless of your degree, program, or situation, you should thoroughly research all of the available options. While scholarship essays are annoying to write, they are beyond worth the several hundred or thousands of tuition dollars that their respective scholarships cover. So, fill out that FAFSA and look into your options. Check out reputable websites, learn how to spot scams, and take the time to fill out those applications. Any money you don’t have to pay back is well worth the effort and will save you stress and money in the future.

Lakewood University

Lakewood University is an accredited online school that offers a variety of degree and certificate programs. We have rolling enrollments and asynchronous courses. In other words, you don’t have to worry about missing a lecture or running late to class. If you plan on enrolling in college while working, Lakewood University offers the flexibility you need to earn your degree.

Don’t hesitate – reach out to our admissions department today to learn more!