Six Ways to Get Free Money for Your College Education

Grants and scholarships aren’t just for class presidents and athletic stars.  Some grants are given based on financial need, and scholarships can be awarded for many different reasons.  You may qualify for a scholarship based on artistic ability, ethnic orientation, background, or interest in a specific field of study.  If you have a job, you may also be eligible for tuition reimbursement through your employer. 

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Federal Grants

The most common Federal grants are Pell grants.  Colleges receive Pell money from the government every year, and they distribute the money based on financial need.  Each college gets a fixed amount of Pell grant money each year, so it’s usually best to apply early.  Most Pell grants range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

The Federal government also offers Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants.  These are offered only to those with serious financial need, and they usually range from $100 to $4,000.

You can’t apply to these grants directly.  To be considered for one, all you need to do is fill out a college application and send it in.  The financial services office will evaluate your application and determine whether you qualify.

State Grants

Most states offer funding for higher education.  While some state grants are offered based on financial need, many are designed to encourage students from certain backgrounds to go to college, or to promote certain fields.  There are many state funding programs for teachers to get certified, for example; many of these require graduates to teach in a high-needs area for a certain amount of time in return. 

You may need to apply to the state government for these grants.  The website for your state commission on higher education should have more information on the grants available and how to apply.

College Grants

Many traditional and online colleges offer their own grants to help students cover tuition that isn’t covered by federal and state aid.  These are often used as incentives for students who are particularly desirable to the traditional or online college. 

While good grades may be enough to get a college to offer an institutional grant for a traditional or online degree program, most of the time it isn’t.  Many schools offer these grants to attract high-performing athletes, but many others do so for minority students, those from lower economic backgrounds, or older, nontraditional students. 

If you belong to a minority ethnic, economic, or age group, the college may see you as more desirable because you will help them bring their enrollment numbers up for your group—which can help them qualify for funding or generate positive publicity.  In these situations, colleges are often able to offer generous institutional grants to students.

Corporate Scholarships

Businesses throughout the country offer scholarships for deserving students.  National companies with scholarship programs include Coca-Cola, Intel, Best Buy, Sallie Mae, Toyota, and McDonald’s.  Some of these programs, such as the McDonald’s scholarships, are offered primarily to those from underprivileged backgrounds.  Others focus on outstanding scholarship, community involvement, or interest in a certain subject, such as science or medicine.

National companies have a lot of money to offer for traditional and online education, but the competition is steep—they’re drawing from a countrywide pool of applicants.  There may be lesser-known local companies in your area that offer scholarships.  Try applying to a few of these; you may be more likely to win money for traditional or online schools through the smaller companies.

Tuition Reimbursement

If you work, you may be eligible for a tuition reimbursement program through your employer. Most tuition reimbursement programs have strings attached. Some companies may require you to sign an agreement to stay with them for a certain number of years after you graduate.

As a full-time worker, it’s often easier to convince your boss to reimburse tuition for an online degree program.  Virtual learning allows you greater flexibility to work while earning a degree.  Online education is becoming more and more accepted as a practical alternative for working adults.

Private Grants

Plenty of private charities, religious institutions, community service associations, fraternal orders, and unions offer scholarships to their members on both a local and national level.  If you belong to any professional or community groups, investigate to see if they offer a scholarship program for a traditional or online degree.

There are plenty of ways to fund a traditional or online education.  Before you apply for loans, make sure you have exhausted all your options for grants and scholarships.  The more money you earn through these programs, the fewer dollars you’ll have to pay back to lenders.


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