Year-Round Guide to Applying for (and Getting) College Grants


This article was written (and images supplied) by Mos, inspired as a followup to the article Paying for College: 6 Options for College Students which we published in September 2018.

Throughout the fall semester, parents, teachers, counselors, and even journalists remind students to apply for financial aid. But by spring, much of this FAFSA frenzy has died down, leaving many students thinking that the opportunity to apply for financial aid has passed. But for many of you, that isn’t the case at all.

Case-in-point: As of mid-May, students can still apply for state-based financial aid in thirty states and federal financial aid in every state.

Even if you’ve already received an award letter, you can get additional aid through open campus and state-based programs. (Though you may need to appeal to have that aid included in your financial aid package, which we discuss below.)

Here, we give you an overview of federal and state grants and everything you need to apply for this year or prepare for next. For those of you who do decide to apply for additional aid for the upcoming school year, we also give a quick overview of what you’ll need to do to get new aid included in existing packages.

Federal Grants vs. State-based Grants

Federal vs State College Grants

State-based financial aid is financial aid given out by state governments. Of the $135 billion in government financial aid made available to students every year, roughly $12 billion is distributed through state-based aid programs. The other $123 billion is distributed through federal aid programs.

The federal government gives out significantly more financial aid than state governments, but more of the state-based aid is what we’d call free money. Whereas the majority of the aid given out by the federal government comes in the form of student loans (money that students have to pay back), the majority of the aid given out by state governments comes in the form of grants (which students don’t have to pay back) and work-study aid (which students earn on the job).

That’s why we always recommend that students apply to both federal and state-based programs to maximize their aid award.

Unfortunately, due to the way the application process works, students who just submit their FAFSA don’t always apply to every state-based grant for which they qualify. While those students will still get federal grants, they might miss out on state-based grants. That means they’re more likely to need federal loans to close the gap.

Applying for Grants

To apply for federal grants, students just need to submit their FAFSA. In certain states, the same goes for state-based grants.

For Texas high school seniors, for example, the FAFSA (or TAFSA for DACA recipients) serves as the student’s application for both federal financial aid as well as the Texas Public Education Grant, the Texas Educational Opportunity Grant, and other state-based aid programs.

If you’re a Texas student who meets the eligibility requirements, you can receive most state-based grants and scholarship you qualify for without doing anything beyond submitting your FAFSA. Then, the financial aid office at the college you applied to will notify the you if you’ve received the grants (and for how much).

Unfortunately, the same is not true for students in all states. In New York, for example, students who just submit the FAFSA will only be applied to federal aid programs, and therefore will only receive federal grants—even if they’re eligible for New York state grants. If a New York student wants to apply for state-based grants as well, they have to fill out additional applications.

Applying for state-based grants in states like New York is especially difficult because many programs have different application periods. That means that students not only need to remember multiple deadlines, but they also have to know when the applications open and fill it out within the allotted time.

That’s why it’s so important to do your research, know your state’s deadlines, and set reminders for the deadlines or mark them on your calendar. Because many federal and state grants are awarded on a first come, first served basis, knowing when to submit may mean the difference between getting thousands in additional aid or missing out on it completely.

To make this process easier, below we explore some of these state-based deadlines.

State-based Financial Aid Deadlines

Below, we list the deadlines in all 50 states in chronological order, month by month. Your state may appear in more than one category, because some grants in the same state may have different application deadlines or because your state has different deadlines for students applying for the first time.






West Virginia


New Jersey


District of Columbia


South Carolina



Start of term (or later)

New York

First Come, First Served

States in this category have applications that stay open until or after the school year starts. However, the earlier you apply in these states, the more likely you are to get the full amount you’re eligible for, as they give it out on a first come, first serve basis:

North Carolina
North Dakota

Per Institution

This means it’s up to the colleges whether or not they’ll accept additional aid after a certain date. Some will allow you to add new aid for as long as the federal and state applications are open, others will not accept it after a certain date. If you live in one of these states, check with the financial aid office at your college or the colleges you applied to before looking for more grants:

New Hampshire
New Mexico
Rhode Island
South Dakota

Updating your award letter

If you’re in a state that still has financial aid application open, and you plan to apply for additional grants, make sure to update your colleges on the additional aid received. Depending on the school you’re attending, contacting them with a written request to appeal or add to your financial aid may be necessary. To learn more, check out our post, Financial Aid Appeal Decoded.

About Emi Tabb

Emi Tabb runs content at Mos, the single application for every government financial aid program in the country. Founded by human rights activist Amira Yahyahoui, Mos exists to make college affordable for every student, regardless of their GPA, athletic ability, or family income. Emi joined the team to further economic, racial, and gender justice in higher education by helping students and families make sense of the financial aid process.

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