You can dramatically reduce college debt by applying for scholarships, fellowships, assistantships, and the federal work study program. They are all free and you don’t have to pay them back!

Federal Grants

A Federal Grant is a gift that you do not have to pay back. It is used to help you get through school and earn a degree. As of 2017, legislation under the Trump administration affected all Federal Grants except for the Pell Grant. Affected grants are being reduced by 6.9% of the total yearly amount.

Pell Grant

The Pell Grant was intended to help college students get a good start on their education. It is not available to graduate students. It is available to undergraduates while they work toward a bachelor’s degree. The current maximum Federal Pell Grant award is $5,920 a year. Getting the full award depends on a couple of things: Your financial need, the cost of attendance at your university, and if you are going to school part time or full time.

The FSEOG program (Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant)

The FSEOG Program offers limited, first come first serve grants through your university. The FSEOG is a grant for undergraduate students who can demonstrate exceptional financial need. The grant is issued directly from the financial aid office of each university that carries the program, but some don’t. Check with your school’s financial aid office to see if your university participates. If awarded this grant, you will receive anywhere between $100 and $4,000 a year. How much you get depends on your demonstrable financial need, how much funds the university has, and the cost of your tuition. Because of the limited funds, you must reapply every year.

The TEACH Grant (Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education)

If you like the idea of teaching after college for awhile, or you plan to become a teacher, this grant may be for you. The TEACH Grant is different from other types of grants in that it requires you to take certain education classes to become a qualified teacher. It pays up to $4,000 a year while the student is taking course work to become a teacher. If you do not uphold the agreement and teach for the required amount of time, the TEACH Grant turns into a Direct Federal Loan.

Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant

This grant is meant to help students who have had a parent or guardian die in Iraq or Afghanistan while serving our country in The United States Military. The amount you can get is equal to the Pell Grant, but has been subjected to the 6.9% budget cut as of 2017. The current available amount is $5,920 a year.

Work Study

The Federal Work-study Plan is perhaps the most helpful program to students short of the Direct Loan Program. It offers students the opportunity to work part time where they study and sometimes even in their field of interest. Some school’s do not participate in this program, but most do. It is available to both part time and full time students. Basically, you receive a grant except you don’t get it all at once.  You receive your grant by working hours at your work study position.


Scholarships are similar to grants. They don’t need to be repaid. There are thousands of them to choose from if you look. Every city has a grant library that is part of the Public Library systems. Scholarships are offered by all sorts of colleges, companies, individuals, nonprofit organizations, religious institutions, and social groups. Most scholarships are specifically created for particular groups of people, like artists, women, people of color, military service people, or people living in poverty. Most universities offer need-based scholarships. To find these scholarships, check with a counselor at your student aid office, or go to your local grant library.

What are Fellowships, and Assistantships?

Fellowships and Assistanthips are a great way to supplement a graduate student through their 3 year degree. They are merit-based awards, meaning that you usually have to have excellent grades, some letters of recommendation, and a strong portfolio or thesis. Assistantships are positions that require work while Fellowships are more like a scholarship or a grant that meet specific criteria. They can be for a substantial amount of money. Again, check with your institution of choice to see what kind of positions they offer. Check deadlines for the applications, and then apply!

So many students miss out on these incredible opportunities every year because they just don’t know about them, or they see the task as too daunting. It really is not as difficult as it seems. The pay-off makes it well worth it. Student aid officers and librarians at your local grant library are there to help these waters.

Photo by 401(K) 2012.