By Alia Smith

There are several forms of financial aid with distinct requirements, limitations, and stipulations. Read below for the pros and cons of four of the most common options!

This is the third and final part of our scholarship series. Check out part 1 for 10 scholarships for girls in STEM, and part 2 for the advice we wish we had when applying for scholarships!

What Is a College Scholarship?

Scholarships are typically merit based and require a specific GPA. Even if there is a GPA requirement, don’t let that stop you. You may be surprised by your results, and it is good to practice your applications. Additionally, there are scholarships, like one linked in part 1 of our scholarship series, that do not have GPA requirements. Scholarships are awarded by many sources, including the state and federal governments, nonprofit organizations, and universities.


What Is a College Grant?

College grants are different from scholarships in that they are financial need based. When you fill out your Free Applications for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) you will be automatically considered for the state and federal grants for which you are eligible. College grants can also be awarded by nonprofit organizations and universities.


A woman sitting at a desk organizing piles of money. This represents the different sources from which financial aid can come.

Photo: Tima Miroshnichenko

What Is a Federal Work-Study?

The Federal work-study program offers part-time jobs to students through colleges and universities on a financial needs basis. The jobs typically promote university involvement, and positions are appointed in relation to a student’s field of study whenever possible. Research assistant, campus tour guide, and library assistant are three commonly offered positions. 


What Is a Student Loan?

Student loans are sums of money that you borrow from the U.S. Department of Education which must be paid back with interest. Student loans are not financial need or merit based and are made widely available to students. 


College Scholarships

Pros Cons
  • Do not require students to work
  • Do not need to be paid back
  • Several scholarships can be received without impacting the amount you are eligible for from others
  • Available to students with a higher family income
  • Highly competitive
  • Applications can be time-consuming, especially if essays are required
  • Usually merit based
  • Since so many are offered, requires research to determine which to apply for. Head over to part 1 of our scholarship series for 10 scholarships for girls in STEM


College Grants

Pros Cons
  • Do not need to be paid back
  • Provide an opportunity for students from low-income families or communities to go to college 
  • Because they are based on financial need, they don’t require a specific GPA
  • Offered by many sources including the state and federal governments, nonprofit organizations, and universities
  • Receiving money from other grants or scholarships can trigger the government to ask you to repay part or all of some grants, like the Pell Grant
  • Funds are often restricted to certain uses like tuition, but not books, or housing, but not food 
  • Fewer grant options compared to scholarships


Federal Work-Study

Pros Cons
  • Can be a supplement to support day-to-day expenses
  • Not held against you in the following year’s FAFSA application
    •  a non-work-study job would need to be reported and would increase your reported income, which could decrease your student aid
  • Most jobs have flexible hours and are located on campus to accommodate classes 
  • Less competition than there is for scholarships
  • Can take significant amounts of time away from studying 
  • Usually pays the federal minimum wage
  • Have strict limits on the number of hours that can be worked, usually between 4-20 hours per week
  • As a result of limited hours and pay, the maximum amount of money you can earn is very limited– can be as little as between $29 and $145 per week


Federal Student Loans

Pros Cons
  • Comparatively easier to get than other forms of financial aid 
  • Can provide larger sums of money 
  • Paying off student loans on time can help build credit 
  • Money can be used for living expenses or other things outside of tuition
  • They need to be repaid
  • They can create crippling post-college debt
  • Interest rates increase the amount of money and time it takes to pay back a loan
  • If repayment begins before graduation, you may have to take on a job to pay them
  • Not paying loans on time will damage your credit


This is an overview of the pros and cons of different financial aid options, but more research should be done. Here are some resources with more information about scholarships, grants, work studies, and loans. This overview has been somewhat non-biased, but we’d like to share some of our biases. These options all have pros and cons, but some cons can be more significant than others. Student loan debt can build up quickly because interest builds up. What will be your capacity to pay off debt after graduation? You should not underestimate the commitment associated with loans. Work-study jobs can require a significant amount of time. They require you to manage your time well so you can maintain your grades.

Series Wrap-up

Scholarships are a critical part of preparing to go to college but can be confusing and overwhelming. Parts 1 and 2 focused on scholarships to apply for and how to prepare. The third and final part addressed other types of financial aid that should be considered. Through this scholarship series, we seek to help you be as prepared as possible when applying for scholarships and other forms of financial aid.

Author Bio

Alia Smith on her graduation day, holding her diploma from Colorado State University







Alia Smith is the programming associate for Pretty Brainy. She recently graduated from Colorado State University with a master’s in Ecosystem Science and Sustainability. For her thesis, Alia studied the use of citizen/community science to study pollinator decline in National Parks. She is passionate about science communication and connecting people with science.


Cote, Joe. “What Is a Student Loan and How Does It Work?” Southern New Hampshire University, October 16, 2023. Accessed April 17, 2024.

“FAFSA.” Federal Student Aid. Accessed April 17, 2024.

“Federal Grants Are Money to Help Pay for College or Career School.” Federal Student Aid. Accessed April 17, 2024.

“Federal Student Loans.” Federal Student Aid. Accessed April 17, 2024.

“Federal Pell Grants.” Federal Student Aid. Accessed April 17, 2024.

“Federal Work-Study Jobs Help Students Earn Money to Pay for College or Career School.” Federal Student Aid. Accessed April 17, 2024.

“Find and Apply for as Many Scholarships as You Can—It’s Free Money for College or Career School!” Federal Student Aid. Accessed April 17, 2024.

“Financial Aid for Students.” Higher Education. Accessed April 17, 2024.

Gallagher, Meghan. “What Is Work-Study? Everything You Need to Know.” Forbes, March 8, 2024. Accessed April 17, 2024.

“Grants, Scholarships & Loans: What’s the Difference?” School of Education. Accessed April 17, 2024.,field%20of%20study%2C%20and%20more.

“Pros and Cons of Student Loans.” 1st Ed Credit Union, January 2, 2024. Accessed April 17, 2024.

Rogers, Morgan. “College Grant vs. Scholarship: What’s the Difference?” Azusa Pacific University, August 25, 2023. Accessed April 17, 2024.

“Student Federal Work-Study Information: How to Get Work-Study Jobs.” Handshake. Accessed April 17, 2024.