College Scholarships, Grants and Fellowships

Scholarships are among the most desirable ways to finance a college education. Every year, over $46 billion of scholarship money is given away by the Department of Education, and many millions more are given by private organizations and foundations. Unlike federal loans, this is money that never needs to be paid back. Scholarships range in amount, but even the most humble of scholarships can be a great help towards paying for college.

Landing a scholarship is a process. The number of available scholarships has increased, but so has the demand for these scholarships. As such, things have gotten quite competitive. So how can you put yourself in the best position to receive this helpful form of financial aid? How can you make your scholarship search a success? One of the most important things you can do is familiarize yourself with the different kinds of scholarships that are available. By doing this, you'll have a much clearer idea of which scholarship you're most qualified for.

An Introduction to Scholarships

Hundreds of thousands of scholarships are awarded each year, for varying reasons. The most common kinds of scholarships are:

  • Student-Specific: These scholarships are designed to encourage diversity and promote access to higher education. They're widely varied, and awarded based on specific characteristics of the student. For example, there are student-specific scholarships for single mothers, for students with disabilities, or (most commonly) for members of certain races, religions, and ethnic groups. These scholarships often reflect the values and interests of the awarding organization or foundation.
  • Need-Based: These scholarships are awarded to students who can't pay for college on their own, or whose parents can't pay for their education for them. Students who hope to receive need-based scholarships must fill out a FAFSA form each year, detailing their current financial status. This form is then processed and forwarded to the school, which assesses the student's eligibility for need-based aid.
  • Merit-Based: Also known as performance-based scholarships, these are given to students who exhibit exceptional achievement in academics, athletics, or extracurricular activities. Students who have performed a good deal of community service or volunteer work are at an advantage when competing for merit-based scholarships.
  • Career-Specific: These are scholarships awarded to students enrolled in (or planning to enroll in) a program in preparation for a specific career after graduation. Career-specific scholarships are most commonly given to students preparing for professions which are in high demand, such as nursing, teaching, or medicine.

In some cases, students who are awarded scholarships need to agree to certain terms--for example, to spend a certain amount of time working for a company or organization after graduation. These terms are known as "bond" requirements. Medical students, for instance, who accept scholarships with such terms are often required to practice medicine in a rural area for a period after graduation. If these bond requirements are not fulfilled, the student may be liable to repay the scholarship money.

Full and Partial Scholarships

Full scholarships (commonly called "full ride scholarships") pay for a student's entire education: tuition, room and board, books, and sometimes more. These full scholarships are typically awarded to students who demonstrate outstanding academic or athletic achievement. The most competitive college and university athletic teams become competitive by offering excellent full scholarships to the most talented athletes, thereby attracting the best team of players. These scholarships--athletic, academic, or otherwise--may even include a semesterly stipend in addition to college expenses.

Partial scholarships are far more common. They can be awarded in varying amounts for a wide range of reasons. Scholarships may reward superior academic achievement, or outstanding performance in a specific discipline. These scholarships may come directly from the school, or from one of thousands of private organizations, foundations, or special interest groups. A partial scholarship may be enough to cover room and board, books, or part of tuition.

Scholarship Articles and Resources

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