'Financing College: Where's the Money?': Free money

Chris Koleno
April 04, 2017

This is the third in a series of articles from Penn State offering tips and information about financing a college education.

This installment of “Financing College: Where’s the Money?” explores financing college using scholarships and grants, forms of financial aid paid for through state, federal and other programs, which do not require repayment by the college student.

The first step toward receiving “free money” is completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. The information supplied through this form is used to make award determinations for grants, loans, some scholarships and federal work-study. With so many financial aid awards at stake, completion of the FAFSA form is one of the most important steps in the financial aid process.

Families should check with each school where their student is applying to find the preferred deadline for filing the FAFSA and to receive maximum consideration for aid. 

The deadline for Pennsylvania residents submitting the FAFSA form is as early as May 1 and as late as Aug. 1. Students should check the FAFSA website for more information.


At Penn State all students who are offered admission and submit the FAFSA form — listing Penn State as a school they wish to receive their FAFSA results — are considered for scholarships awarded by the University. Some of Penn State’s colleges and campuses may require an additional application. Those scholarship requirements are available at http://studentaid.psu.edu/types-of-aid/scholarships.

During the 2015-16 academic year, 13 percent of Penn State undergraduate students received $131 million in scholarship money.

Some quick facts about Penn State scholarships from the Office of Admissions’ website:

  • Both Pennsylvania and non-Pennsylvania residents receive equal consideration for scholarships.
  • Penn State scholarships comprise 9 percent of the available funding for undergraduate students.
  • Approximately 6,700 first-year students receive a University scholarship.
  • Thirty-five percent of first-year scholarship recipients are at University Park; the remaining 65 percent at other Penn State campuses.
  • Typical Penn State scholarships are between $1,500 and $3,000 per academic year.
  • Approximately 15 percent of first-year students receive private scholarship support.

Beyond Penn State scholarships offered, there are a multitude of other scholarships available for academic and athletic achievement, ethnicity, religious affiliation, financial need, military service, career choice, and even quirky qualities like being left-handed.

The Office of Student Aid recommends the following free scholarship search engines to apply for these types of scholarships outside of the University:

To enhance their chances of securing scholarships, students should work to increase their grade-point average (GPA); perform well on standardized tests; and seek out scholarship opportunities specific to their strengths and characteristics.

Also, Pennsylvania recently began offering a Ready to Succeed Scholarship program administered through PHEAA. The scholarship, which awards between $500 and $2,000, requires a student to have earned at least 24 semester credits; have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.25; and have a family income that does not exceed $110,000. Additional details are available on the PHEAA website.


Beyond scholarships, another type of financial aid that does not require repayment is the various grants. Twenty-five percent of Penn State students received $250 million in grants during the 2015-16 academic year.

Types of grants include federal, state, out-of-state and institutional. Again, the most important step toward being awarded this type of financial aid is submission of the FAFSA form every year. Of the various types of grants, the two most familiar to Pennsylvania residents are the Pennsylvania State Grant through PHEAA and the federal Pell Grant.

Additional types of grants include the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, which is for students with a demonstrated high financial need; the TEACH grant, which awards money for students to teach in public or private schools that serve students of low-income families; the Penn State Academic Grant, based on demonstrated high financial need; and out-of-state grants. Funding for these types of grants is often very limited.

For additional information on the types of grants available at Penn State, click here.


In addition to ordinary employment, college students can qualify for federal and state work-study funding. While completion of the FAFSA form can serve as an application for federal work-study programs, to apply for the Pennsylvania work-study program students need to complete an application on the PHEAA website.

For information on more Pennsylvania college funding opportunities, including the Pennsylvania Targeted Industry Program, aid for military and Pennsylvania National Guard, loan forgiveness, and the Ready to Succeed Scholarship, go to PHEAA’s funding opportunities webpage.

The next story of this series “The Campus Connection” will examine the benefits of attending a Penn State campus, other than University Park.

To view the other stories in this series, go to:

-- “Financing College: Where’s the Money?” (introduction)

-- “Financing College: Where’s the Money? – Start Early”

  • Free money graphic

    Scholarships and grants are two college funding options that do not require students to repay the money. 

    IMAGE: Photo illustration by Annemarie Mountz

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 04, 2017