Financial Aid Overview and Scholarships

While the demand for qualified teachers is higher than ever, earning an education degree takes a lot of time and hard work. Along with a rigorous curriculum and the often stressful duties of teaching, educators must also deal with the challenges of paying for their degrees. Inside Higher Ed reports that tuition at public four-year colleges rose an average of 3.2% annually from 2007-2017. Luckily, education’s status as a vital profession means many scholarships and awards target learners pursuing teaching degrees specifically.

the federal government offers an assortment of funding options for teachers who commit to serving at low-income schools and/or teaching high-need subjects

Both aspiring and current teachers can access a wide selection of funding options, in the form of student teaching scholarships and opportunities for student loan forgiveness. For example, the federal government offers an assortment of funding options for teachers who commit to serving at low-income schools and/or teaching high-need subjects. The sheer variety of scholarships, grants, loans, and loan forgiveness options can be overwhelming, but this guide helps break down the different methods that can be used to help fund a teaching degree. In addition to explanations of different funding options, you can also peruse a varied list of scholarships for teaching, including many awards specifically intended for teachers of certain subjects.

Filling Out the FAFSA

The first step to finding teaching scholarships is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which lets you apply for an assortment of federal aid options, including grants, loans, and work-study opportunities. Some private scholarships for teaching programs may also request your FAFSA results to determine if you meet financial need requirements.

The FAFSA typically becomes available on the first of October each year, and you must fill out the form annually to indicate any changes in your financial status. While aid awards vary greatly depending on your income (and, if you’re under 24 years of age, your parents’ income), most students receive some type of aid based on their answers to this form.

What Information Do You Need for the FAFSA?

  • Social Security Number

    If you don’t have a social security number, you can still fill out the FAFSA by providing an Alien Registration number instead. However, undocumented applicants, including DACA students, cannot receive federal aid; these individuals may still qualify to receive aid from their state or college.

  • Federal Tax Information

    Independent adults must provide tax returns, such as IRS 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ forms, while dependent students must provide their parents’ tax returns. Married students also need to provide their spouse’s tax returns.

  • Records of Untaxed Income

    Untaxed income includes interest income, child support payments received, and veterans noneducation benefits. Dependent students must include these records for their parents.

  • Information on Assets

    Assets include monetary holdings such as investments, stocks and bonds, savings and checking accounts, businesses, and real estate (although not the home you currently live in).

Determining the Cost of Your Teaching Degree

Earning a higher education tends to be expensive, and determining the total cost of your degree on your own may be difficult. Luckily, most colleges offer an estimate of your cost of attendance (COA) to help you understand just how much it will cost to go to school. To determine financial aid packages, schools also calculate your expected family contribution (EFC), which considers income, assets, family size, and other factors. By subtracting the EFC from the COA, a school can determine your level of financial need and your eligibility for financial aid.

Financial aid awards fall into two general categories: need-based and non-need-based. Schools award need-based aid depending on your income level and other financial factors; this type of funding generally offers more generous repayment policies, and some awards — such as grants — need not be repaid. Need-based awards include Federal Pell Grants, federal supplemental educational opportunity grants, direct subsidized loans, federal Perkins loans, and federal work-study. Alternatively, non-need-based awards do not take income into account; these typically serve to fill gaps in funding after a school determines your need-based awards. Non-need-based awards include direct unsubsidized loans, federal PLUS loans, and Teacher Education Access for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grants.

Sources of Financial Aid for Teachers

School Aid

A college may offer its own financial aid awards independently from the federal government. This type of aid may be offered to students based an academic achievement, financial need, or other factors. A school’s financial aid office can typically help students identify any school-specific aid, and institutions may also list aid opportunities on their financial aid website. At many colleges, specific departments also offer unique scholarship opportunities based on a student’s academic interests.

Federal Aid

Federal aid is one of the most common methods used to pay for an education, and the U.S. Department of Education awards over $120 billion in student aid each year. Federal aid typically includes grants, subsidized and unsubsidized loans, and work-study programs. Along with these awards, students may qualify for tax benefits, aid for military service, awards for service with AmeriCorps, and several other opportunities.

State Financial Aid

Apart from federal aid, individual states also offer financial awards, many of which serve students who find themselves ineligible for federal assistance. These opportunities may take more research to find, but they can be useful to augment other awards. To explore state financial aid initiatives, contact your state’s higher education agency, department of education, adult education agency, and/or special education agency.

Scholarships from Private Organizations

Many private and nonprofit organizations offer teaching scholarships that need not be repaid. The requirements and award amounts of these scholarships vary greatly, but they all help offset the cost of an education. The most prestigious of these opportunities may offer full funding for tuition and even cover living expenses. Many scholarships serve students from specific backgrounds or those pursuing a particular academic or career field, such as scholarships for teaching or scholarships for education majors.

Types of Financial Aid


Although scholarships for teaching vary widely they all serve the same purpose — to provide free funding for your education. Some schools may offer automatic awards based on grades, while other scholarships offered through private organizations may require you to carry out an interview, write essays, provide letters of recommendation, and/or demonstrate active community service. Many scholarships for aspiring teachers ask recipients to commit to teaching in a certain city or at a certain type of school after graduation.


Grants function similarly to scholarships, but they typically hold fewer application requirements and typically target students who demonstrate financial need. Like scholarships, grants do not usually need to be repaid. However, withdrawing from an academic program or changing your enrollment status may mean that you have to repay a grant.

Federal Loans

Federal loans represent another common method to pay for an education; however, unlike grants and scholarships, these funds must be repaid after you graduate. Federal loans typically take your finances into account, and they generally offer far more lenient and forgiving repayment options than private loans.

Private Loans

If you still can’t fully fund your education after applying for scholarships, grants, and federal loans, private loans represent another option. These loans typically come from banks or other lending institutions; they differ from many other types of awards in that they don’t take your finances into account. Private loans typically charge higher interests rates than federal loans and offer less lenient repayment options.

Work Study

This unique form of federal aid enables you to earn money to pay for your education while also building professional experience. Available to both undergraduate and graduate students, work-study programs provide part-time employment for learners both on and off campus. Work-study jobs may also be related to your major, allowing you to gain additional skills outside of the classroom. These opportunities benefit many students, although they may be less practical for students who work full-time while attending school.

TEACH Grants

The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grant program awards student teaching scholarships to future educators who commit to serving in a high-need field after graduation. The federal government offers TEACH grants to undergraduate and graduate students who meet general eligibility requirements for federal aid and attend TEACH-approved education programs. Typically, candidates must meet certain academic standards, such as earning high scores on college admissions tests or holding a GPA above 3.25, although requirements may vary.

The basis of the TEACH grant program is the required service component. Recipients agree to spend at least four academic years teaching in a high-need field at a low-income school after earning their degree. All grant recipients must also meet certain teaching standards. High-need fields include bilingual and English language education, foreign language, math and science, reading specialists, and special education. Teachers can also select other academic areas from the annual Teacher Shortage Area Nationwide Listing, although subject needs differ between states. TEACH grant recipients must work in a high-need field in the state from which they receive their funding, and teachers must complete their service obligation within eight years of earning their degree. If recipients fail to complete their TEACH service obligation, the grant becomes a direct unsubsidized loan that must be repaid in full.

Federal vs. Private Loans: Which Is Better?

While they both serve the same purpose, federal and private loans diverge in several key ways. One distinct difference is their source: federal loans come from the U.S. government, while private loans come from banks, credit unions, and other lenders who typically try to make a profit. As a rule of thumb, federal loans provide students with more flexible and lenient repayment options; these loans may also be eligible for forgiveness under certain circumstances. You may not be able to afford your education without taking on some private loans, but they should be used as a last resort after you’ve explored all other funding options.

federal loans provide students with more flexible and lenient repayment options; these loans may also be eligible for forgiveness under certain circumstances

Another major distinction between federal and private loans is their repayment options. As a federal borrower, you can utilize income-based repayment plans that allow you to make lower payments depending on your current income level. You may also qualify for deferred payments or forbearance if you experience temporary financial hardship. Some private lenders offer these options, but repayment requirements tend to be much stricter, and some lenders may require you to make payments regardless of your financial circumstances. Federal loans often allow you to forgo payments until you graduate, while many private lenders require you to start making payments right away or after a set period of time, regardless of whether you’ve graduated.

Loan Forgiveness for Teachers

Along with student teaching scholarships, the federal government offers loan forgiveness programs for teachers who fulfill certain requirements. Like the TEACH grant program, this initiative aids teachers who serve in low-income schools or educational service agencies. Qualifying participants may be eligible for loan forgiveness of up to $17,500 if they teach for five consecutive academic school years at a qualifying institution while fulfilling certain other requirements. Direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans, as well as subsidized and unsubsidized federal Stafford loans, qualify for forgiveness through the program. However, private loans, PLUS loans, and federal Perkins loans do not qualify.

Applicants for loan forgiveness must fulfill multiple criteria to qualify, including holding a bachelor’s degree and a valid state teacher certification that has not been waived on a temporary, provisional, or emergency basis. New elementary and secondary school teachers must also demonstrate competency in their subject area by passing a rigorous state examination. Participants also need to teach at a recognized low-income school or educational service agency, which must be listed in the Department of Education’s Annual Directory of Designated Low-Income Schools for Teacher Cancellation Benefits.

To apply for loan forgiveness, teachers must complete the application found on the Department of Education’s teacher loan forgiveness page after performing their five years of service at a qualifying school. The chief administrative office of that school must also fill out a certification section on the application, which is then submitted to the loan servicer.

Teaching Scholarships

General Teaching Scholarships

Inspire Our Future Scholarship $500

Who Can Apply: Open to current and future educators, this scholarship helps teachers pay for a college education or classroom expenses. Applicants must answer a short essay question, describing how they plan to inspire students in their classroom. View Scholarship

Bright Horizons Family Solutions $1,000

Who Can Apply: Open to high school seniors, undergraduates, and graduate students, this scholarship offers support to teachers interested in early childhood education. Applicants must be enrolled in an education program focused on young learners. View Scholarship

JEA Future Teacher Scholarships $1,000

Who Can Apply: The Journalism Education Association awards this scholarship to undergraduate juniors and seniors or graduate education students who plan to pursue a career in scholastic journalism. Applicants must complete a short essay and answer a series of questions. View Scholarship

James Madison Graduate Fellowships $24,000

Who Can Apply: The James Madison Foundation awards this scholarship to graduate education students who plan to teach the American Constitution in secondary schools. The foundation selects one recipient from each U.S. state and the District of Columbia annually. View Scholarship

American Montessori Society Teacher Education Scholarships Varies

Who Can Apply: Intended for students entering or already enrolled in an American Montessori Society-affiliated teaching program, this scholarship supports candidates who plan to become Montessori teachers after graduation. View Scholarship

Robert G. Porter Scholars Program $1,000-$8,000

Who Can Apply: The American Federation of Teachers awards this scholarship to high school seniors whose parents belong to AFT. View Scholarship

Bill Kane Undergraduate Scholarship $1,000

Who Can Apply: The Society of Health and Physical Educators offers this award to undergraduate students pursuing a health education major on a full-time basis. Applicants must hold a GPA of 3.25 or higher, and recipients can spend the award however they see fit. View Scholarship

Barbara A. Cooley Master’s Scholarship $1,000

Who Can Apply: The Society of Health and Physical Educators offers this scholarship to full-time graduate students pursuing health education. Winners also receive a one-year membership to the society. View Scholarship

Jack Kinnaman Scholarship $2,500

Who Can Apply: The National Education Association (NEA) offers this scholarship to undergraduate members of NEA’s student program who plan to pursue teaching after graduation. Applicants must hold a GPA of 2.5 or higher. View Scholarship

Teaching Scholarships for Minority Students

Minority Teaching Scholarships

The Gates Millennium Scholars Program Varies

Who Can Apply: This full-ride scholarship supports low-income minority students pursuing a variety of majors, including education. Applicants must hold a GPA of at least 3.3, complete a series of essay questions, and demonstrate significant financial need. View Scholarship

Hispanic Scholarship Fund $500-$5,000

Who Can Apply: This scholarship assists Hispanic students at all academic levels, including high school seniors, undergraduates, and graduate students. The program emphasizes STEM education, but education majors can also apply. View Scholarship

McDonald’s Inspiration Celebration Scholarship $10,000

Who Can Apply: Offered through the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, this scholarship targets music education students attending one of the country’s historically black colleges and universities. Applicants must be undergraduates or graduate students with a demonstrated commitment to music education. View Scholarship

Agnes Jones Jackson Scholarship $2,000

Who Can Apply: The NAACP offers this scholarship to undergraduate and graduate students. Applicants must demonstrate financial need and be current NAACP members under the age of 25. View Scholarship

Leon Bradley Scholarship $2,500

Who Can Apply: The American Association of School Personnel Administrators awards this scholarship to minority students in their final year of college. Applicants must be seeking initial teaching certification and/or endorsement. View Scholarship

FFMT Minority Teacher Education Scholarship $4,000

Who Can Apply: Offered through the Florida Fund for Minority Teachers, this scholarship targets undergraduate juniors or seniors and graduate students of African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian American/Pacific Islander, or American Indian/Alaskan Native descent. View Scholarship

William A. Crawford Minority Teacher Scholarship Varies

Who Can Apply: The Indiana Commission for Higher Education awards this scholarship to black or Hispanic education students who plan to teach at an accredited Indiana school after graduation. View Scholarship

Minority Teachers of Illinois Scholarship Program $5,000 annually

Who Can Apply: The Illinois Student Assistance Commission offers this award to minority students enrolled in an education program that leads to Illinois state preschool, elementary, or secondary school teacher certification. View Scholarship

Scholarships for Teachers in High-Need Fields

Scholarships for ESL Teachers

Teach NYC Scholarship Program Varies

Who Can Apply: Graduate students pursuing programs in bilingual education can apply to this scholarship program. Applicants must speak at least two languages and commit to teaching for at least two years at a New York City public school after graduation. View Scholarship

Carlos Penichet Teachership Award $2,000

Who Can Apply: The California Association for Bilingual Education offers this scholarship to students pursuing TESOL or bilingual teaching in the state. Applicants must be enrolled at an accredited college and plan to enter a career in bilingual teaching after graduation. View Scholarship

KYTESOL Scholarship $1,000

Who Can Apply: Kentucky Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages created this award for non-native English speakers who plan to pursue a career in bilingual education. View Scholarship

Scholarships for STEM Teachers

AFCEA STEM Teachers Scholarships $2,500-$5,000

Who Can Apply: The Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association offers scholarships to graduate education students or students currently seeking teacher certification. Applicants must plan to teach a STEM subject in a K-12 setting after graduation. View Scholarship

Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program Varies

Who Can Apply: Intended for education students who plan to teach in STEM programs, this scholarship requires recipients to teach for two years at a high-need K-12 school after graduation. View Scholarship

Barbara Lotze Scholarships for Future Teachers $2,000

Who Can Apply: The American Association of Physics Teachers awards these scholarships to undergraduates enrolled in education programs who plan to teach physics after graduation. Students may be eligible to receive funding for up to four years. View Scholarship

Scholarships for Special Education Teachers

ASL Scholarship Program $1,750-$2,500

Who Can Apply: The American Sign Language Honor Society offers this scholarship to student members of the program majoring in deaf education. View Scholarship

AAHD Frederick J. Krause Scholarship on Health and Disability $1,000

Who Can Apply: Students with a documented disability pursuing special education or a related topic can apply for this scholarship, which is offered through the American Association on Health and Disability. Preference is given to students with a history of community service and/or volunteer activities. View Scholarship

Carl J. Megel Special Education Scholarship $1,000

Who Can Apply: Offered by the Illinois Federation for Teachers, this scholarship targets high school seniors who plan to pursue special education at a four-year college in Illinois. View Scholarship