There’s a lot of media attention focused on student loans and the debt college students face as a result, but there’s another option that can be used to pay for an education that tends to go under the radar—grants.

The College Board reports the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2014-2015 school year was more than $31,000 for private schools and over $9,100 for students attending public in-state institutions.

For out-of-state students attending a public school the average cost was $22,958.

With those steep costs it’s important for students and their parents to leave no option unexplored to cover the expenses, and one of those options come in the form of grants.

What Are Grants?

While grants are frequently lumped in with scholarships, there are actually some significant differences between not only grants and scholarships but also grants and student loans.

A grant is an award of “free” money given to students, which means it doesn’t require repayment like a loan, but unlike a scholarship a grant is typically awarded with the primary consideration being financial need. A scholarship, while it is similar to a grant in that it doesn’t have to be repaid, is primarily awarded based on factors like academic or athletic performance.

Types of Grants

Not all grants are the same. Many grant programs are federally-based, so the government awards money to students who demonstrate great financial need. Other grant programs may be based on service, which means a student who plans to study a specific discipline and then enter a particular career field may be given a grant to complete his or her education. This type of grant-for-service program is often seen in the most in-demand industries, for example healthcare or engineering, and it’s a good way for the government and private sector to entice students to enter a field.

In the case of grants-for-service, if a student doesn’t meet the required expectations and guidelines of the program the grant often then becomes a loan, meaning repayment is required.

Along with grants awarded from the federal and state government there are also programs sponsored by private organizations and businesses, professional associations and also colleges and educational institutions.

Federal Grants

Some of the most well-known grant options fall under the umbrella of federal programs.

These include:

The Pell Grant: The federal Pell Grant is only given to students who haven’t yet completed a bachelor’s or professional-level degree and the maximum amount that can be given changes each year. For the 2015-16 school year, the maximum award amount is $5,775, and it’s based on a variety of factors including financial need, how much it will cost you to attend school and whether you’ll attend on a full or part-time basis.

The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG): This type of federal grant is considered campus-based because it’s administered directly by a school’s financial aid office and not every school participates in the program. Awards usually range from $100 up to $4,000 a year.

Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant (TEACH): This federal grant program is designed for students who plan to study education, and it’s based on the requirement that you take certain courses to be eligible. The grants can total up to $4,000 per year for students, and you’re required to not only study education but also enter a high-need field, for example teaching at a low-income school after graduation.

Applying for Grants

The first step to apply for many grants, including all federal options, is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). When completing this form you’ll supply information about your family’s income and expected contribution to your education, and you’ll then receive information about grants you may be eligible for as a result.

In addition you can also do your own research about private grants by using a database like CollegeGrant.net or CollegeScholarships.org/grants.

Applying for grants may require a little extra legwork and it can certainly take time to complete the FAFSA and also look for other private options that you may be eligible for, but if you’re willing to invest time in the process of searching and applying for grants you can significantly reduce the amount of money you’ll owe in student loans at graduation.

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