A grant is money that comes from federal funds from the government, or from private institutions and corporations. The most common type of federal grant for education is the Pell Grant. In order to qualify for the Pell Grant, you need to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application For Federal Student Aid). The Pell is awarded on a needs-based basis to undergraduate students from low-income families. The maximum Pell Grant award is $5,550 for the 2011-2012 school year. There’s also the Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (FSEOG). This is also a need based grant, and is awarded to needy undergraduates who also qualify for the Pell Grant. Amounts awarded for the FSEOG range from $100 to $4,000 based on the school you’re attending and the amount of your family’s contribution.
You could also receive grants from private institutions. These can be based on a variety of different factors, including need, study in a specific area, merit, disabilities, etc. Employers, whether the student’s or the parents', may also offer grants to their employees and/or employees' children. Check with your employer, and see if this is an option in your case. These are highly popular with students, so get your application in gear as soon as you can. Check with organizations large and small, state and citywide, etc. Depending on the grant, you may or may not need to meet certain requirements once you obtain the grant.
Scholarships are granted by institutions or organizations and given to students to allow them to pay for their studies. The money does not have to be paid back, but most scholarships have stipulations built into them. Generally speaking, in order to obtain and continue receiving scholarship money, the student must maintain a minimum GPA. They may also require you to take a minimum number of credits per semester. Scholarships tend to be much harder to get than grants due to their stringent acceptance requirements. Scholarships can be obtained for either graduate or undergraduate study. Some may be based on things like gender, or on the subject you’ll be studying in school. You can receive a scholarship from a private institution or from the school itself.
The key thing for both grants and scholarships is to apply early. The early bird truly gets the worm when it comes to free money, and you’ll want to apply to as many programs as possible in order to reduce your out of pocket college expense as well as your dependence on loans.