The Ultimate Guide to Grants for Laid Off Workers

Finding Scholarships and Grants Can Be Challenging -- Here’s What You Need to Know About Financial Aid for Laid Off Workers

The 2020s have been off to a challenging start for workers.

We have seen the numbers rise for temporary layoffs, permanent job loss, and long-term unemployment. The unemployment rate peaked at 14.8% in April 2020 as the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic slammed the United States, the highest unemployment rate since data collection on employment status began in 1948.

Although the unemployment rate has since settled back down to a near-normal figure, millions of Americans still find themselves laid off and at a crossroads in their career.

If the economy has cost you or someone you know a job, college is one path forward to consider. A number of government agencies, charities, and colleges have programs in place to help those experiencing unemployment get back into the classroom and re-enter the job market with valuable new skills, certifications, and degrees.

Thinking about heading back to school? We are here to help. As your go-to financial aid resource, we’re here to make it easier to find grants for laid off workers and other support as you search for ways to finance your education. Today we’ll be covering:

  • Federal Pell Grants
  • Support from Community Colleges
  • Other Grants and Scholarships for Laid Off Workers

So let’s dive in!

There are many federal, state, and local grants for laid off workers continuing their education -- if you know where to look!

Federal Pell Grants for Laid Off Workers

Government Support for Students Who Demonstrate Financial Need

If you already have some college under your belt, you’ll probably recognize the name Pell Grants. Pell Grants are a subsidy that the federal government provides undergraduate students who need help paying for school.

Although this program primarily targets first-time undergraduate students -- that is, students who haven’t received a bachelor’s degree yet -- it also extends support to students in some post-baccalaureate programs at participating schools (there are approximately 5,400 participating postsecondary institutions as of this writing).

How much support does a Federal Pell grant provide laid off workers?

Like other federal financial aid programs, Federal Pell grants can be awarded in different amounts. The amount you are offered depends on a variety of factors, like:

  • Your level of financial need
  • How much it costs to attend your school
  • Enrollment status as a full-time or part-time student
  • Whether you plan to attend for a semester or full academic year

Federal Pell Grants can provide unemployed workers with up to $5775 for the cost of community colleges, 4 year colleges and universities, and technical schools.

How do I apply for a Federal Pell Grant?

It is free to apply for a Federal Pell grant, but the process does involve a few steps:

  1. Decide which educational program is right for you. Going to college for the first time or deciding to head back to school as an adult is a big decision, and you have lots of options to choose from. It can feel overwhelming, but spending some time researching programs and finding one that fits your needs, goals, and budget will ensure you have the best college experience possible.
  2. Fill out the FAFSA. For those who aren’t familiar, the FAFSA refers to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Filling it out helps the Department of Education assess students’ financial needs based on rules outlined by Congress. The FAFSA can be completed online, and there are a variety of resources out there with tips and tricks for filling out the FAFSA correctly.
  3. Get in touch with your school’s financial aid office. You don’t have to wait to be accepted into a program to start a conversation about financial aid packages -- in fact, you might be able to receive more aid from your school if you start that conversation early. If you are receiving unemployment benefits, you will also need to provide evidence to prove that you are a laid off worker.
  4. Contact a One Stop Career Center. If you are relying on unemployment benefits, it’s important to contact a Career Center to understand how the program you have chosen could potentially impact your unemployment. Make sure that you can continue receiving unemployment benefits with the college program you have chosen.

Do I have to pay a Federal Pell Grant back?

Nope! Unlike student loans, grants do not have to be paid back to the lender, which means any money you receive in Federal Pell grants is money in your pocket to help finance your education.

How are Federal Pell Grants disbursed?

After the amount of your Federal Pell Grant has been determined by the United States Department of Education, you can receive your financial aid a few different ways. The funds can be applied directly to the student’s school account, distributed to the student directly, or can be disbursed in a combination of these two methods.

Going to college can help you learn new skills and advance your career. When choosing where to go for school, consider what kind of financial aid they can provide laid off workers.

Grants for Laid Off Workers at the School Level

Some Colleges Provide Free or Reduced Tuition for Laid Off Workers

There are a few different ways that colleges, universities, and technical programs provide additional support to laid off workers looking to further their education.

Free or Reduced Tuition for Laid Off Workers

Many community colleges provide free or reduced tuition rates for laid off workers. Look for community colleges in your area -- they might have information about this type of program on their website. When in doubt, always reach out to someone in the financial aid office for details and to explore what options you have.

Free or reduced tuition might sound too good to be true, but programs are out there.

For example. The Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) in Pittsburgh, PA offers a program for dislocated workers that allows people who have been laid off from their jobs to attend college completely tuition-free. Students are only responsible for paying fees.

The requirements? Participants must be able to provide documentation that they have been laid off, are a resident of the county where the college is located, begin their program within a year of being laid off, and have completed their federal application for student aid (FAFSA). Not bad!

Scholarships and Grants for Laid Off Workers

Even if continuing your education at a local community college is not the right path for you, be sure to check with the financial aid department of the college, university, or technical program you would like to attend.

Schools have a variety of programs in place to support their students -- in addition to amenities like transportation assistance, health centers, and tutoring or study centers, schools often support their students financially by offsetting the price of tuition with grants or scholarships.

This type of financial aid is often distributed on a first come, first served basis, so be sure to follow these tips when attempting to get additional financial aid from your school.

  • Fill out your FAFSA early. Schools use the information on your FAFSA to assess your financial need and determine how much aid they want to offer you as well. The sooner you get this process started, the better.
  • You don’t have to take the first offer. You can negotiate financial aid offers the same way you would negotiate a salary offer at a job.
  • Know your deadlines. Applying early is a great habit to get into, whether you’re filling out the FAFSA, talking to schools about aid packages, or applying for additional grants and scholarships. Applying early may get you a larger amount of financial assistance overall, which of course is the goal!
  • Know your school’s policies. At some schools, receiving additional funding like unemployment or scholarships and grants from other sources may impact the amount of funding you receive from the school itself. Make sure you ask about your institution’s policies so that you can get the greatest amount of financial aid available to you.
  • Consider getting help. Applying for schools and figuring out how to fund your education can be challenging, especially if you don’t know the ins and outs of the application process yet. Hiring a financial aid consultant allows you to skip the learning curve and rest assured that you are getting the greatest amount of financial aid possible.
Finding grants and scholarships is one of the most time-consuming parts of the financial aid search. That’s why we’ve done the legwork and compiled a list of grants and scholarships for laid off workers.

Additional Grants and Scholarships for Laid Off Workers

More Opportunities to Get Money to Put Towards Your Education

College is expensive, and students trying to finance their education should explore all of the opportunities they can. At Grantford, we regularly update our blog with national scholarship opportunities, so be sure to check it out.

We’ve also gathered a list of grant and scholarship opportunities created to support dislocated workers, so definitely check these out as well.

Grantford Recycled Essay Scholarship

Deadline: Nov | Award: $1,500

Tired of writing essays for scholarship and grant applications? We know the feeling. That’s why we designed the Recycled Essay Scholarship. Send us something you’ve already written -- it can be an essay for another scholarship, an essay you wrote for college applications, an assignment you did for class, whatever you’d like.

Apply for the scholarship

National Dislocated Workers Grants

Deadline: varies | Award: varies

To provide relief during large, unexpected layoff events that cause mass job loss, the Secretary of Labor offers several types of Dislocated Worker Grants (DWGs). There are a few different types of Dislocated Worker Grants that you might be eligible to receive depending  on your situation:

  • Layoff grants
  • Trade worker grants
  • Service member grants
  • Emergency or Disaster grants

These include support for layoffs related to COVID-19, the opioid crisis, and more.

Learn more about DWGs.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)

Deadline: varies | Award: $100 - $4,000

Undergraduates with exceptional financial need may qualify for additional Pell Grant support from participating schools. The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) is directly administered by the financial aid office at schools within the program.

Learn more about FSEOG.

Program for Continuing Education

Deadline: varies | Award: up to $3,000

If you are a woman who is looking for ways to finance a college degree, this program is for you. Offered to women enrolled in programs leading to employment or job advancement, this grant is awarded by PCE chapters around the country to local students.

Learn more about PCE.

Return2College (R2C) Scholarship

Deadline: Jan | Award: up to $1,000

If you are currently unemployed and looking for opportunities to continue your education, the R2C scholarship might be a good fit for you. This scholarship awards up to $1,000 for adult students to put toward their schooling.

Apply to R2C.

Adult Students in Scholastic Transition (ASIST) Scholarship

Deadline: Mar | Award: $250 - $2,500

Not every college student is a recent high school grad. Adult Students in Scholastic Transition understands this, and their goal is to support nontraditional students as they enter college, university, trade school, or the workforce for the first time. Whether you are already enrolled in a program or not, unemployed, completing retraining, or returning to school for another reason, you may be able to get assistance with the cost of your education.

Apply to ASIST.

College JumpStart Scholarship

Deadline: Apr | Award: up to $1,000

What are your goals for going to school? If you have a compelling answer to that question, you could land the $1,000 first-place award of this merit-based competition. Open to high school students as well as non-traditional students, this scholarship can be used at any college or university in the United States.

Apply to JumpStart.

Niche “No Essay” Scholarship

Deadline: Nov | Award: $2,000

Need help covering tuition, housing, books, or other college-related expenses? Consider applying for the Niche “No Essay” scholarship. As the name implies, there is no essay component to the application, so you can submit yours quickly and easily.

Apply to Niche.

Mike Rowe’s Work Ethic Scholarship

Deadline: tbd | Award: varies

Success takes hard work, and nobody knows that better than Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs. Through his foundation, he is supporting people who recognize “the importance of work ethic, personal responsibility, delayed gratification, and a positive attitude.”

Apply to the Work Ethic Scholarship.

There are plenty of grants for laid off workers out there.

The price tag on degree programs can be intimidating, but it shouldn’t stop laid off workers from continuing their education and building skills that will help them further their careers. We hope that these grants and scholarships help you finance your education, and if you have any questions don’t hesitate to drop us a line!

We are here for you. You’ve got this.

Good luck!

Melissa Pallotti
Melissa Pallotti is a writer based in Pittsburgh, PA.
More by 
apply today

Tired of writing scholarship essays?

We don't blame you! Take a break from writing and apply for our Recycled Essay Scholarship today.

Learn More

Useful insight and advice in your inbox.

Sign up for the latest updates on applying for college financial aid -- delivered right to your inbox.
* We don't share your data. See our Privacy Policy
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Stay up to date with the latest from Grantford.