There’s stiff competition for grants because they offer the best financial aid deal: money that never needs to be repaid. They’re usually given for two reasons: Students demonstrate financial need, or they promise to do something in the future (like major in a specific subject). Grants are most often awarded by the government and individual colleges, though they can also come from private organizations and religious institutions.

Government Grants
Typically given at the federal level, government grants are the most common type of grant, with Pell Grants leading the way in terms of the number of dollars available.

Grants based on financial need:
• Pell Grant. Though funded by the government, Pell Grants are distributed via individual schools, who have the leeway to decide how much to give each student. Naturally, competition is fierce for this undergraduate resource, so get your application in early.
• FSEOG. Based entirely on demonstrated, extraordinary financial need, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant is a resource for the neediest students.

Grants based on academic achievement:
• TEACH Grant. As its name implies, the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant is aimed at students who intend to become teachers in low-income school districts.
• National SMART Grant. The purpose of this grant is to encourage and retain talent in mathematics and the sciences. You’re eligible for this grant is you’re a junior or senior college student who qualifies for the Pell Grant and are majoring in engineering, physical and life sciences, computer science, math, technology, or a foreign language considered essential for national defense.
• ACG. Again, you first must qualify for a Pell Grant to be considered for the Academic Competitive Grant. This grant, which is available only to freshmen and sophomores, rewards students who took a difficult course load in high school.

Grants are also available at the state level—usually for students who are economically disadvantaged or have minority status. In addition, some state grants are given to students who agree to participate in the betterment of the state after graduation (teaching in urban areas, for example). Get more information about grants offered by visiting the website of your state’s commission on higher education.

Grants From Private Institutions
Start uncovering possible sources of private grants by looking around your community and the connections you (and your parents) have. Local charitable organizations and groups that promote community activism often give out grants to needy or academically gifted students. Children of parents who are members of these organizations may receive priority. Also, check with your house of worship about any grants or scholarships available to congregation members. 

Tuition Compensation
Some companies offer tuition reimbursement plans to their full-time employees; these plans are designed to encourage workers to learn new skills that can be applied in the workforce. A similar deal—or at least partial reimbursement—may be offered to children of full-time employees. You may have to guarantee you’ll remain with the company for a pre-determined period in order to access these funds, however. The good news is that employees usually will be reimbursed whether classes take place online or at a traditional school.