The Difference Between Grants and Scholarships

College funding 101

The Difference Between Grants and Scholarships

When it comes to paying for higher education, there are many questions that rise when discussing the differences between scholarships and grants. Although they both offer free money to an applicant, there are a few notable differences that are explained below.

The Difference

Scholarships are awards of funding to pay academic costs that do not have to be repaid by the grantee. Grants are also awards of funding for education, research stipends or other educational expenses that do not have to be repaid by the student. Grants are typically tax payer dollars that have been allotted to government research and non profit agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), The Department of Defense, The Department of Energy, NASA and so on. Scholarships are private funding pools that are awarded by private sector businesses and causes. The funding for scholarships are often raised by private donations from supporters of various causes. Most of these are non-profit organizations and foundations.


Grant funding is the most often awarded for specifically approved research projects. For example, the NIH has stringent guidelines for funding awards that many principle investigators (research professors) will apply for with research papers and evidence of their research, itemized budgets and timeline for the research project. Most grants are the life blood of academia, where professors generate their salaries, the salaries of their graduate students, and laboratory expenses. The DOD, NIH, and DOE offer government funded, taxpayer dollar supplied research grants. Those types of grants are politically influenced as the funding is generated by bills that pass through Congress. The application process is intricate and ultra specific and only available to accredited Universities and Academic Organizations. While there are few individual student grants (e.g. the Pell Grant) the lion’s share are research stipends which are often attached to a larger research grant that is awarded to a principal investigator doing research on Cystic Fibrosis, Gene Therapy, Analytical Chemistry to name a few examples.


Scholarships are much less stringent in requirements and have no government red tape that must be negotiated to win an award. Applying for scholarships with a written or electronically submitted application is the method with requirements such as minimum GPA, writing submission, art submission or exceptional athletic performance.

Scholarships have less limitations than grants. Some scholarships cover all costs for student education and are called a ‘full ride.’ Athletic scholarships are awarded to valuable athletes that will join a football, basketball, gymnastic, hockey, soccer, or baseball team, for example. All of their educational expenses will be covered from room and board, books, tuition and meals. There are partial academic scholarships that pay tuition and the rest of the educational expenses must be covered by other means. There are many varieties of grants and scholarships but the bottom line is, to read all the instructions and requirements before applying. If qualified to apply, do a complete, accurate and neat job of applying. Supply all the required documents and wait for the good news to arrive.


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