While most people are more familiar with scholarships, college grants can be just as useful at relieving the financial burden that comes along with getting a college education. Grants are similar to scholarships in that they are “free money” given by an organization or college to help students pay for school. However, there are some differences. Grants are usually provided by governmental agencies or non-profit organizations. The main advantage of grants is they are more flexible in how they can be used, although there are still some obligations. For example, most scholarships are awarded just for tuition or room and board, but grants can be applied to a variety of educational expenses, including books.

There are numerous types of grants. For example, the federal government offers grant programs, such as the Federal Pell Grant, to undergraduate students who can demonstrate a financial need. The federal government also offers grants for students who plan on teaching a high-need subject, such as mathematics, in a low-income school. There are also grants for single mothers, military veterans, and students who are studying a specific subject, such as teaching or mathematics.

A student may receive his or her grant money in three different ways: by check or direct deposit, credited to a student’s account at his or her college, or a combination of the two. All government grant money goes to the college, which then passes it on to the student.

Although grants can often be used for things not covered by scholarships, they still come with strings attached. Many grants are awarded on the stipulation that the recipient will pursue a rigorous course of study or obtain a degree in an in-demand field. In some cases, grant money is exchanged for professional service following graduation. This is especially common in the education profession. In addition, be prepared to put in some legwork for the grant, as applying for them can be a long and involved process. What each grant requires for its application can vary. Some will require essays, others require letters of recommendation from teachers or community members, and those based on need, such as Pell grants, will likely need to see statements regarding the applicant’s family income.

Grant programs can help put a dent in college tuition, no matter what you plan to study, so whether you’re pursuing a master’s degree, a community college degree, or just starting to think about college as a high school senior, take the time to explore how grants can help you make college more affordable.