What's the difference between scholarships and grants?

Both scholarships and grants are forms of gift aid, which is money for college that does not need to be earned or repaid.

Although people often use the terms scholarships and grants as synonyms or interchangeably, there are important differences.

  • Grants, like the Federal Pell Grant, are usually awarded based on the student’s demonstrated financial need. Such need-based grants are usually awarded by the federal government, state governments and colleges and universities.
  • Scholarships are usually awarded based on merit, such as academic, athletic or artistic talent. Some scholarships may involve a need-based component, such as the Gates Millennium Scholars program, but the predominant selection criteria are merit-based. Private scholarships are usually awarded by private foundations, community foundations, philanthropists, unions, non-profit organizations and for-profit corporations.