Scholarships: A Brief Overview
Applying for financial aid may be one of the most important steps you take as you prepare for college. If you or your parents are unable to pay for your education, it's unlikely you'll be able attend the college of your choice without some form of financial assistance. It's important to explore your financial aid options – including scholarships.
Scholarships are financial aid awards designed to provide financial assistance to students pursuing higher education. Scholarships are granted to students for various reasons and often mirror the morals and goals of organizations and individuals who sponsor them. Scholarships are among the most desirable options for financing a college education. Every year, over $46 billion of scholarship money is given away by the Department of Education, and many millions more is awarded by private organizations and foundations. Unlike federal loans, scholarship money never needs to be repaid. 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 that requires time and dedication. Over the years, the availability of scholarships has increased, but so has the demand for scholarships. Competition for some of the more popular scholarships can be fierce. So how can you position yourself to receive this helpful form of financial aid? How can you make your scholarship search a success? One of the first and most important things you can do is familiarize yourself with the different kinds of scholarships that are available. By educating yourself, you'll have a much clearer idea of which scholarship are available and which you're most qualified to receive.
Types of ScholarshipsHundreds of thousands of scholarships are awarded each year, for varying reasons. The most common types of scholarships include:
- Merit-Based: Also known as performance-based scholarships, merit-based scholarships are granted to students who exhibit superior achievement in academics, athletics, or extracurricular activities. Students who have completed extensive community service or volunteer work are at an advantage when competing for merit-based scholarships.
- Need-Based: These scholarships are awarded to students who cannot afford to pay for college on their own, or whose parents can't financial assist with their child's college education. 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.
- Career-Specific: These are scholarships awarded to students enrolled in (or planning to enroll in) a program that will prepare them for a specific career after graduation. Career-specific scholarships are most commonly awarded to students preparing for professions which are in high demand, such as nursing, teaching, or medicine.
In some cases, students who are awarded career-specific scholarships must 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 several years after graduation. If these bond requirements are not fulfilled, the student may be liable to repay the scholarship money they were awarded.
- Student-Specific: These scholarships are designed to encourage diversity and promote access to higher education. Student-specific scholarships vary widely and are awarded based on specific characteristics and criteria. For example, student-specific scholarships are awarded for single mothers, for students with disabilities, or (most commonly) for members of certain races, religions, ethnic groups and minorities. These scholarships often reflect the values and interests of the awarding organization or foundation.
Full vs. Partial ScholarshipsFull scholarships (also called "full ride scholarships") pay for a student's entire education: tuition, room and board, books, and sometimes more. Full scholarships are typically awarded to students who demonstrate outstanding academic or athletic achievement. Many college and university athletic teams attract top talent by offering full scholarships to their players. Full scholarships--athletic, academic, or otherwise--may also include a semesterly stipend in addition to college expenses.
Partial scholarships are far more common than full scholarships. They can be awarded in varying amounts for a wide range of reasons. Partial 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.
Can I get a scholarship?There are hundreds of thousands of scholarships awarded each year. There are also just as many students who apply for these scholarships. Unfortunately, many students never apply for scholarships because they believe theapplication process is too competitive and they won't qualify. There are many types of scholarships available, and there's no reason to believe that you will not qualify for any of them. We're not saying that earning a scholarship is easy, only that it is possible if you will put in the effort.
There are several steps you can take to improve your chances of receiving a scholarship. Since scholarship requirements vary for each type of scholarship, most students can benefit by receiving assistance from professors, academic counselors or other professionals. If you have a high GPA and admission exam scores, you should look into academic scholarships, but be advised that other factors, such as community service and extracurricular activity, are also considered. There are literally thousands and thousands of scholarships out there, so do your research. We're confident you'll find several that are within reach.
After identifying the scholarships you qualify for, read all the application instructions, note deadlines, and read the fine print. If you come across a scholarship requiring an application fee, it's possible that it could be a scam. Paying close attention to detail during the application process will ensure you avoid any mistakes that could raise red flags. As you pursue scholarship opportunities, keep in mind that there are all types of scholarships, not just academic. Review the articles about scholarships on this site to learn useful application tips that can make you stand out from the competition.
You can get a scholarship, if you put in the effort.
When Should I Apply?Most scholarship application forms are due between February and April, so you should start applying for scholarships during the summer and fall. Never submit a scholarship after a deadline. Many schools and organizations refuse to review scholarship applications that are submitted late. Filling out scholarship application forms can be time consuming, but after completing a few, the process will become easier. In many cases, you'll be able to adapt the essays you develop for previous applications to be used on application forms for other scholarships.