A higher education grant is a sum of money that students use directly toward paying for their education. Grants and scholarships are alike in this, but grants are usually awarded more for financial need, whereas scholarships are awarded more for merit (accomplishing an achievement as defined by the scholarship sponsors). Grants can be large or small, but every dollar helps, so you should apply for every grant opportunity you qualify for.

A grant is essentially a gift of money, so it usually comes with the understanding that it will be used only for the higher education program the grant sponsor reviewed, and with the expectation that you will fulfill your education program and use what you’ve learned to create a better future for yourself (and perhaps for others).

Organizations that offer grants for higher education include the federal government, your state and city governments, community organizations, private companies, unions, nonprofit organizations, colleges and universities, maybe even your own employer.

Because they are usually awarded to recipients demonstrating financial need, grants are often narrowly tailored for specific audiences such as minority students, disabled students, students from very low-income families, students of a certain age, students enrolling in certain programs (such as healthcare or technology or photography), students at a specific degree level in school, and more.

Grants offered by the U.S. government include the well-known Pell Grant and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), and new Academic Competitiveness Grant. There are also federal grants for students planning to become teachers and students pursuing a bachelor’s degree in science, math, engineering, or specific foreign languages related to homeland security.

If you or your family is associated with a particular trade or cultural society, you may find that it offers small grants for which you are uniquely qualified. The John Edgar Thomson Foundation, for example, provides higher education grants for daughters of deceased railroad employees.