Your Complete Guide to State Financial Aid Grants for College (2024 Update)

Explore state financial aid

Did you know that student loan debt in the United States is around $1.75 trillion? With loan debt rising so high, students look for other ways to find ways to pay for their college education. State financial aid offers more than loans for you to begin your fund.

If you’re curious about your financial aid options, we’re here to help. Read on to learn more about the types of financial aid, the difference between the types of state grants, and more.

Types of Financial Aid

To start, let’s learn more about the different types of financial aid. But why does it matter? Don’t all types of financial aid give you money?

The different types of financial aid are all handled in different ways. Loans between state and federal sources are paid back differently, for example.

Grants and scholarships are also often mixed up. The process for applying for grants isn’t always the same as applying for scholarships, for example.

Here are the three main types of financial aid you’ll want to look into for college and university.

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A grant is one of the most sought-after types of financial aid. These funds are awarded based on the financial need of a student.

For example, one of the most common grants is the Pell Grant. The Pell Grant is a federal government fund that allocates money to specific students.

The Pell Grant is offered solely to undergraduate students. Furthermore, these students must display financial need. That means that students above a certain income or tax bracket are not eligible for the Pell Grant.

Additionally, the Pell Grant isn’t offered for graduate school students, such as those chasing a Master’s or Ph.D. The grant also isn’t offered to students in a technical or vocational school.

There are hundreds of grants similar to the Pell Grant. In short, a grant is a financial aid award given based on financial need and economic struggle. A grant also isn’t typically something a student needs to pay back after college.


Similar to a grant is the scholarship. Scholarships are highly common and often begin before a student is ready for college.

For example, some scholarships begin in high school. The student’s grades can affect what scholarships they can apply for before college or university begins.

Other scholarships are based on sports or other extracurricular opportunities. Student-athletes, such as football players are often given a sports scholarship. These scholarships help a student focus on these extracurricular activities instead of seeking employment.

So what makes a scholarship different from a grant? The primary factor is that scholarships are merit-based rather than income-based.

Scholarships are given to students that show they qualify by their skills, abilities, and dedication. This also means that these scholarships can be taken away.

An example of a scholarship is the Bright Futures scholarship. In Florida, the Bright Futures scholarship is state-wide and is given to students that show promise.

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However, students must fulfill a rigorous set of requirements. These include:

  • Be enrolled in a minimum of six credit hours per semester
  • Enroll in a postsecondary program in Florida
  • Maintain a 3.5 GPA or higher
  • Perform a minimum number of hours of community service
  • Not be convicted of a felony
  • Earn a diploma from a Florida high school or equivalent

These scholarship requirements are the minimum among the many Bright Futures scholarship offerings. Many states offer a similar scholarship or program.

In short, scholarships are rewarded based on performance, while grants are rewarded based on need. Scholarships are, therefore, more competitive during application.


The final type of financial aid is the one that most students are familiar with. A student loan is a sort of financial aid that’s ubiquitously offered across most states and companies.

Some loans require students to achieve their guidelines before they’re offered. Others are given to students regardless of their qualifications or income.

A loan comes in two forms: subsidized and non-subsidized.

A subsidized loan will not accrue interest while you’re in school. So long as you stay in school at least half-time (by credit hours), your interest is null. Deferment periods also won’t accrue interest.

A non-subsidized loan begins accruing interest the moment you accept the loan. The loan will continue to have interest gather until you pay off the full capital. During deferment, these loans will often continue gathering interest, depending on the state.

Loans often have high-interest rates. These loans are also usually paid off in full by the student.

Additionally, private companies offer loans. These loans aren’t dictated by the federal or state government and are paid back to the company. These loans are often easier to obtain but have higher interest rates.

Loans are typically what someone is referring to when they say “student debt.” The average student owes about $30,000 by the time of graduation.

While these loans are necessary, many Americans recommend avoiding loans as much as you can. They can often lead to crippling debt and monthly payments that make life difficult. However, many feel that this debt is better than not attending college.

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The Best Type of Financial Aid

Now that we know more about the three types of financial aid, what’s the best type?

Benefits of Earning a Grant

Most students would say that a grant is the best type of financial aid. You don’t need to pay back a grant, making them better than a loan. Due to this, you won’t need to worry about student debt upon graduation.

Compared to a scholarship, you won’t have to worry about losing a grant. Scholarships can cause stress and concern while working to qualify for them.

A grant, meanwhile, is offered so long as you meet the requirements. If you fail to meet a grant’s requirements, you likely don’t need the grant. That’s because grants are given to you based on financial incentives.

In short, a grant is easier to earn than a scholarship and less punishing than a loan. Grants vary by state and college, with some being enough to pay for an education.

Downsides of a Grant

Grants aren’t purely upsides! What are the downsides of earning a grant?

One primary downside is that grants are often less financial compensation than others. Scholarships are sometimes high because students reached an impressive goal to earn them. Loans, meanwhile, are often high to accrue large interest rates.

Grants are awarded based on financial need, meaning they’re only trying to cover that portion. Because of this, grants often aren’t enough for an entire college education.

For example, the previously mentioned Pell Grant often pays tuition. While this is a high amount, there are other costs for a student to then cover. Food, board, transportation, school supplies, and other costs are still necessary.

Due to this, many students will take a grant and a loan. It’s also common for a student to accept a grant while also applying for scholarships.

Mixing your types of financial aid is a great way to afford your education. You should look into what financial compensation is available to you.

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State, Federal, and Private

With an understanding of grants and their companions in financial aid, what are the different types of grants? Loans, for example, are offered by state, federal, and private companies. Is the same true of grants?

Read on for more information on college grants.

State Financial Aid

State financial aid is aid that one American state may offer that others don’t. Eligibility for these aid programs is often restricted to the residents of the state. It’s also common for out-of-state students to qualify for attending an in-state college.

State grants are often college-based. It’s possible for one college in a state to not offer a grant that another college does.

Due to these factors, it’s important for students to research a college’s grants before accepting attendance. There’s nothing worse than receiving a college acceptance letter to find out you can’t afford it!

Federal Financial Aid

Federal financial grants are offered by the federal government rather than the state. Due to this, these grants are often easier to obtain.

That isn’t to say that they have easier requirements or applications. It’s only that these grants apply to all students in the United States rather than only students in one area. Because of this, students in every corner of the nation could be eligible.

The previously-mentioned Pell Grant is a federal grant, for example. Other federal grants include:

  • The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG)
  • Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant

Grant Application Process

The grant application process is different for each grant. One of your first steps is to decide what grant you want to apply for.

Look Into Your Eligibility

The Pell Grant is a must-apply for any student in the United States. If you qualify, this grant can save you thousands. It’s common for students to have this grant for their entire undergraduate career.

Past this grant, you should consider what may make you eligible. For example, are you a military veteran that served in the armed services? There are several grants that are offered solely to vets you can look into.

Others may include financial issues, physical disabilities, race or gender grants, and more. Like scholarships, some grants are offered only to students that meet specific guidelines. It’s possible for you to qualify for a grant someone in the same income bracket fails to qualify for.

Find Grants

Now that you know what you’re eligible for, find what grants are available. The United States Department of Education often keeps a list of active grants.

You can find such a list here. However, please note that this is not an exhaustive list of grants. There are many that aren’t listed here that you’ll find while researching.

The United States Financial Aid offices will also keep an updated list. Their database will also include scholarships and loans. That way, you can apply for many at once.

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Apply for Grants

Finally, take the step to apply for grants. Please note that each grant has a separate application process that you’ll want to learn. Because of this, we don’t recommend waiting until the last minute to apply for your grants.

Some grants will require you to present information that proves you’re eligible. Such information may include pay stubs, tax records, proof of citizenship, and more.

Others may require a bit more work on your end. For example, some grants will require you to write an essay on a certain topic or length. These essays are then graded similarly to a scholarship application to help decide qualifications.

You’ll need to look at each grant and see what they require of you so you know what to expect.

Furthermore, it’s good practice not to apply for only one grant. You may not receive the grant you want, so you should apply for several. In this case, you may also receive approval from multiple grants, increasing your funds!

In short, the process for applying for a grant is:

  1. Research available grants you want to apply for
  2. See if you’re eligible for your chosen grants
  3. Set time aside in advance to apply for the grants you want
  4. Ensure you confirm or deny your application before the college semester starts

Making the Most of Financial Aid

Whether you prefer state financial aid in the form of a grant or a private non-subsidized loan, financial aid is there for you. Look into state grants and federal grants to find what financial aid can best support you. Don’t forget to save time for applying for grants so you don’t see the timers run out on your semester!

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**Data collected and distributed by the National Center for Education Statistics
***Data collected and distributed by the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study