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Understanding Grants: Beyond Financial Aid for College

We often discuss grants as a resource used to help pay for college. However, the utility of grants goes far beyond this one avenue. To explore the scope of what grants can offer, let’s first discuss what exactly a grant is.


What is a grant? The simplest definition you’ll hear is “It’s like a loan you don’t have to pay back.” On a baseline, conceptual level, (particularly in reference to paying for college) this definition can be helpful. That said, given the true complexity of grants, it’s a lot like describing a pizza as a round piece of bread with other stuff on it. Technically true, but operationally lacking.

A grant is a method of supplying (or ‘granting’) funding to a person, group, or institution for a specific project the grantor deems worthy. That could be going to college, researching a particular topic, designing something, and much much more. Things are further complicated by the fact that there are several different types of grant, many of which are typically only given to other governmental bodies to be distributed as they see fit.

How Do You Apply for a Grant?

Because of the relatively minimal oversight, once a grant is awarded, the application process can be quite arduous; to make sure the government isn’t just throwing away their money. In fact, grant requests often require full-on proposals of concept, implementation, potential problems and solutions, and quite a bit more. This isn’t too surprising considering that grant awards can be as much as $150,000 or higher.

First, you have to have an idea. Saying “I’d like $150,000 to help make the world a better place,” isn’t going to cut it. If you need inspiration, you can research previous grant recipients. Obviously, you can’t just copy what they did, but it’s not a bad jumping off point.

Once you have an idea, you’ll need to explore feasibility. This should be one of your earliest steps. You don’t want to put your heart and soul into a project, only to discover late in the game that it’s unfeasible and will never get funded. Gather as much information on your project as you can so you have an answer for any potential problems that might arise.

At this point, depending on your circumstances, you may want to enlist the aid of a professional grant writer. This is not, however, a requirement. There is nothing stopping you from writing the proposal yourself. At the end of the day, a grant proposal is really just a persuasive research paper.

How to Use Grant Money

There is a common misconception that grants are “free money.” While it is true that grant money won’t cost you anything monetarily; to call it “free money” is somewhat disingenuous. If you think that once you’re grant is approved and you get your funding, you can do whatever you want with the money, you’re in for a rude awakening. How you’ll use the money is actually something that (if you’ve done it correctly) will be outlined in your proposal. That can be a double-edged sword. You get to set the terms (depending on certain requirements) but if you veer too far into misallocation, you won’t get funded. It’s best to use the money for you say you will.

The Reality of Grants

The right grant can be the perfect jumpstart for an educational career, a small business venture, a community project, a scientific breakthrough, the next big invention, or even a home. That said, applying for a grant is a difficult prospect and will almost always put you in competition with many other people looking for the same come-up. This is a fact that many entities are ripe to take advantage of. Remember, you should never have to pay or repay for a grant. While some institutions do require an application fee, this is not the norm and anything beyond that is more suspicious. If you’re asked for an application fee, research the source of the grant to make completely certain it is legitimate. Don’t get taken advantage of.

Don’t be discouraged though. If your first proposal gets denied, tweak it and try again. These resources exist for a reason. Don’t let difficulty or fear of rejection stop you from trying to obtain them. The variety of grants out there makes it difficult to recommend a quick one-stop-shop for everyone. We can recommend a great jumping off point at We hope you find what you are looking for!