College Grants and Scholarships: What’s the Difference?

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Kristen Seikaly
Kristen Seikaly

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Whether you are already a college student, or are applying right now, you are probably thinking about the cost of attendance. With college tuition rates soaring in the United States, it’s reasonable to thoroughly research your potential financial aid options. You may have difficulty differentiating between the different kinds of financial aid, though. Between loans, grants, scholarships, and work-study, the opportunities are somehow both endless and limited. In this article, we’re going to investigate one factor that confuses a lot of families: what’s the difference between college grants and scholarships?

Most would agree though that grants and scholarships are the gold standard for college financial aid. But you may find yourself asking, “Why is that, and if they’re so valuable, how do I find some grants or scholarships for myself?” These questions are reasonable, and we plan to answer them for you now.

To define our terms:

Let us first define what grants and scholarships are, and what makes them similar. These are both forms of financial aid that you do not have to repay. While they both come with certain requirements in order to receive the money, the requirements are not financial. Loans, on the other hand, must not only be repaid, but often come with an interest rate that you must pay as well. As a result, grants and scholarships are much more difficult to obtain than loans.


Before we dive into how to receive a grant or scholarship though, we need to consider what makes them different. Some people use the terms “grant” and “scholarship” interchangeably, but they differ both in their source and their requirements for receiving them.


Grants come from the government. These forms of financial aid are based on your financial need; remember, you must fill out a FAFSA to receive a grant. The most common grants for college include the following:

Grants are perhaps the most difficult form of financial aid to receive. Not only do you need to be in excellent academic standing, you must prove that you have a real need for the money.


In contrast to grants, scholarships are generally awarded on some sort of merit, but are not necessarily need-based. Private entities and organizations often give out scholarships, and these scholarships are awarded to students for outstanding achievement in a field, such as academics or athletics.

Many scholarships also come with requirements for receiving the money, such as keeping your GPA above a certain threshold. These requirements are sometimes fulfilled after receiving the money, or in order to maintain the scholarship.

Where do I start?

Keeping these similarities and differences in mind, it becomes clearer where you can find grants or scholarships. Because grants are government systems, you’ll want to look up what grants open at each level of government (that is to say, the federal government, the state government, and perhaps even your local government). Scholarships, on the other hand, can come from anywhere. They can come from major corporations or local community groups, and everywhere in between.

Any advice?

Since there is a great deal of competition for both grants and scholarships, it’s worth finding and applying to as many as you qualify for. Every little bit helps when you need to pay for college. Although the competition is great for these kinds of financial aid, it is possible to receive something that will make a huge impact on your future. Just keep in mind that should you receive one of these forms of financial aid, you may need to renew it annually, or they could be a one time deal. Be sure to read the requirements thoroughly so that you can earn every penny possible. 

Questions? Let us know!