Grants for college students fall across two broad categories, depending on what eligibility requirements are attached to the funds.  Need-based grants are issued to students exhibiting the greatest levels of financial hardship in paying for college. On the other hand, merit-based grants are tied to performance-like good grades and other personal achievements.

Some states use your FAFSA and your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) to determine your eligibility for state financial aid.  Other states require additional documentation, and deadlines are not always the same.  Your state’s FAFSA filing deadline might be earlier than the federal requirement, so consult with your financial aid office or guidance counselor for specifics.

Loan programs – Such programs need to be paid back but offer help with low interest rates.  The Stafford Guaranteed Loan offers up to $6,625 per year.  The Perkins Loan program offers up to $3,000 and $5,000 a year for undergraduate and graduate students respectively. These loan programs come at very low interest rates so it is highly recommended you apply for them if you need the money for your education. The updated 2015-2016 fixed interest rate on these loans for undergrads is 4.29%; and the combined borrowing totals for direct loans can be up to $12,500 per year depending on your school year and degree.
Many grant programs exist to serve the needs of minority groups who have a history of being under-represented in the American higher education system. While great strides have been made over the last few decades, more work needs to be done to expand and diversify the American collegiate student body. Grants for minorities, and for women, are sponsored by a variety of sources, including state and Federal governments, professional associations, corporations, colleges, universities, charitable foundations and advocacy groups.
The Federal Pell Grant program is the largest provider of student grants.  Pell Grants provide tuition assistance to undergraduates demonstrating financial need.  A blended federal financial aid package often includes Pell Grants-alongside Federal Direct Loans.  Eligibility is determined annually based on FAFSA disclosures, and reflects four areas of consideration.
Colleges and universities can also be prime sources for grants. Often, colleges will be given private endowments from individuals and businesses for the purpose of providing financial aid to deserving students. Again, privately endowed grants and scholarships tend to have highly specific eligibility requirements, and may target certain portions of the population such as women or minorities. They may also be dedicated to students pursuing degrees in specific fields or disciplines.
Students ineligible for federal aid but who meet state financial aid program and residency requirements should complete the Washington Application for State Financial Aid at readysetgrad.org/wasfa instead of the FAFSA form. Contact the Washington Student Achievement Council (readysetgrad.org/wasfa) or your financial aid administrator for more information.
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