College Scholarships

College gets more expensive every year, a fact that U.S. News & World Report highlighted in an article that discusses 20 years of rising tuition costs. As the number of students pursuing higher education grows, colleges must hire more faculty, which means higher tuition costs are often needed to pay these additional salaries. Moreover, schools and the federal government must provide financial aid for all eligible college students, resulting in fewer aid dollars per learner. You can reduce tuition costs by applying for scholarships. Scholarship funds can defray enrollment fees and help cover expenses like books, room, and board.

Scholarships can reduce the cost of tuition and often cover related education expenses.

What is a Scholarship for College?

College scholarships provide money to offset the cost of a college degree. While you must repay a loan, scholarships do not need to be repaid. Scholarships can reduce the cost of tuition and often cover related education expenses.

Sources that offer scholarships include civic organizations, churches, private foundations, and colleges. Each scholarship provider specifies eligibility criteria, which may or may not include academic performance. For example, many scholarships target children of military personnel, minorities, and women.

There’s no limit to the number of scholarships to which you can apply. However, your total scholarship funds for tuition cannot exceed the cost of your tuition.

How to Find College Scholarships

Location
Popular Study Areas
Sponsored by School
Renewability
Minimum GPA
Ethnicity Preference
Enrollment Level


Types of Scholarships

Scholarships are roughly categorized into three types: performance based, student specific, and unique. Performance-based scholarships are awarded based on academic, creative, or athletic performance; they can also be awarded for community service. Student-specific scholarships are awarded based on financial need; an individual’s gender, ethnicity, or sexuality; or other defining identity characteristics. Unique college scholarships are awarded for specific skills or interests, such as students who specialize in an instrument or students with an interest in protecting certain species. These awards are usually less competitive than other scholarships due to their specificity.

Need-Based

Awarded based on financial need, and in relation to family income, these scholarships require completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Many of these scholarships are short term (a semester or a year), but allow for reapplication.

Merit-Based

Awarded based on academic, athletic, or creative merit, these scholarships are usually privately sponsored and include qualifying criteria like maintaining a certain GPA or giving back to the community that the scholarship represents. For example, a student who receives a scholarship for creative writing may need to showcase a collection of poetry or lead writing workshops at a local elementary school.

Major/Field

These scholarships are awarded to individuals studying and/or working in a particular field like education, business administration, or biochemistry. Some awards are for general expenses like tuition, while others require a specific proposal.

Business/Brand

Sponsored by private businesses and corporations to promote brand recognition and foster public goodwill, these scholarships are awarded for various reasons, including academic performance, identity, financial hardship, and community involvement.

Student-Based

Student-based, or student-specific scholarships, constitute a large category with eligibility criteria that can include identity markers, professional history, and specific interests.

Geographic

Many universities award scholarships to in-state residents, providing an incentive for students to stay in the community and contribute to it through professional skills. Regional scholarships are also available, sponsored through a network of states or a consortium of universities.

School-Specific

This type of scholarship is localized within an individual college or university. They are usually funded by an alumnus and feature various application criteria. Some school-specific scholarships are awarded for specific majors, while others are given based on merit or identity.

Athletic

Awarded for athletic prowess, many of these scholarships are found through the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Recipients are required to play a sport while pursuing their degree and maintain a certain GPA.

Other

Many unique scholarships fall under this category due to their specificity. For example, Stuttgart, Arkansas awards college scholarships for champion duck callers since the city is known for its duck-hunting culture.

How to Apply For College Scholarships

Scholarship Application Checklist

According to Forbes, the average college graduate in 2016 accrued over $37,000 in student loan debt, and 44 million college loan borrowers collectively owe $1.5 trillion in repayments.
To reduce student debt, you should apply for as many scholarships as possible

Many scholarships feature similar application requirements, including transcripts, letters of recommendation, and essays. Collect your transcripts and recommendation letters in advance to ensure they are ready by the application deadline. Stay organized throughout the process by making a list of the scholarships you wish to apply for, including requirements and deadlines.

  • Financial aid information

    Example: FAFSA

  • Parent financial aid information

    (if applicable)

  • High school or college transcripts

  • Test scores and dates

  • Extracurricular activities

  • Essay/personal statement

  • Citizenship or lawful permanent residence

  • Letters of recommendation

  • Interview

  • Resume or Curriculum Vitae

  • Portfolio of Work

    Commonly required of creative scholarships

  • Scholarship Application Form


Tips on Applying for Scholarships

Scholarships are competitive. Apply the following tips to increase your chances of securing a scholarship.

DON’T WAIT! START EARLY AND APPLY AS SOON AS YOU ARE ELIGIBLE

To ensure your application (particularly your essay) is thoughtful, professional, and polished, don’t wait until the last moment to apply.

COLLECT APPLICATION DATES AND CREATE A CALENDAR FOR DEADLINES

Use a spreadsheet to organize requirements and deadlines. Google is helpful, as it allows you to link your calendar and spreadsheet tools.

STAY ORGANIZED AND BE SURE TO KNOW WHAT EACH SCHOLARSHIP’S REQUIREMENTS ARE

Many applicants disqualify themselves from scholarships by not following directions. Hundreds of people may apply for a single scholarship, and vetters are looking for basic reasons to reduce the pool, so read each application’s directions thoroughly.

APPLY TO AS MANY AS YOU CAN

Cast a net wide, but read application guidelines carefully to ensure you meet the eligibility criteria.

Search for scholarships based on factors related to your academic life

  • GPA
  • Major/Field
  • Geographic Region

These scholarships are typically very straightforward because they are based on attributes that you can easily demonstrate. Many of these scholarships are one-time awards.

THINK CREATIVELY AND SEARCH BASED ON OTHER THINGS THAT MAKE YOU UNIQUE

  • Hobbies
  • Artistic Pursuits
  • Family Situation
  • Medical History

While these scholarships are usually more difficult to find and apply for, they often feature smaller applicant pools, which increases your chances of winning.

SEARCH LOCALLY

Some students mistakenly only apply for national scholarships, which tend to be highly competitive. Local scholarships may award less funding than renowned scholarships, but your chances of receiving an award are higher.

EXPLORE SCHOLARSHIP OPPORTUNITIES AVAILABLE THROUGH LOCAL BUSINESSES AND ORGANIZATIONS

Ask your high school adviser and community members if they know of local businesses or organizations that sponsor scholarships. Your high school may also provide college funding through the generosity of students who came before you.

LEVERAGE FREE RESOURCES LIKE THE COMMON APPLICATION’S PARTNERSHIP WITH SCHOLAR SNAPP TO HAVE RELEVANT SCHOLARSHIP INFORMATION DELIVERED

Look for opportunities and programs that make it easy to apply for scholarships en masse. As part of The Common App, Scholar Snapp enables you to easily search for college scholarships and apply to multiple scholarships simultaneously.


Avoiding Scholarship Scams

The majority of college aid opportunities are facilitated online and are therefore susceptible to scams. While scholarship application fees do not necessarily mean the service is a fraud, you should carefully weigh the benefits versus the cost. Many scholarship scams are seeking your personal information rather than cash, so trust your gut.

Many scholarship scams don’t want your cash outright, but rather your personal information, so trust your gut.

Remember, that the point of free money is that you don’t need to pay for it, which includes submitting the application and receiving the results. For example, the FAFSA is a free service funded by the national government; you should never pay someone to apply for you. If a scholarship provider is asking for too much information, it may not be a legitimate service.


Paying for School Without Scholarships

Scholarships are not the only means to pay for your college education; grants, loans, and other funding are also available to ease the financial burden. Below, we cover two ways to secure additional funding: the FAFSA and employer tuition assistance.

FAFSA

Filling out the FAFSA is typically the first step in applying for need-based scholarships. The FAFSA finds appropriate funding for you and allows you to apply for multiple scholarships. It also enables you to apply for work-study programs and federal loans, which usually feature lower interest rates than private loans.

To submit the FAFSA, you must have a high school diploma or GED and be enrolled in a college program. United States citizenship is also a qualifying factor; noncitizens may be eligible for FAFSA aid depending on their immigrant status. Most students must show that they are making progress toward their degree by renewing the FAFSA every year to retain their aid. Deadlines vary by federal and state regulations, as well as university requirements. Contact your school’s admissions office and review the FAFSA website for more information.

HAVING YOUR EMPLOYER PAY FOR COLLEGE

Students in eligible programs should look into employer tuition assistance. This aid includes tuition waivers and reductions, scholarships, and/or a lump sum of up to $5,250. Check with your organization to see what stipulations are attached to awards.


Additional Resources

  • FAFSA The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is among the most important sources for students to secure financial aid and, in some cases, it is a requirement for applying to scholarships.
  • Federal Student Aid This government website contains comprehensive information about college preparation, scholarships, and repayment options. It also contains free assistance pertaining to the FAFSA.
  • Find Aid! Find Aid! Is a free web service that aggregates information on college scholarships and other forms of aid. It is particularly useful for its loan calculator and information on scholarships for military personnel.
  • Scholarships.com This site contains a large database of scholarships, grants, and loans, searchable by criteria like income, ethnicity, and deadline. Another useful feature is its matching tool. With this tool, users fill out a personal profile and Scholarships.com matches them with forms of college aid for which they are eligible.
  • Fastweb Fastweb provides useful scholarship search features and video tutorials on different aspects of financial aid, including when to apply for scholarships. The site also features tools to help students search for the school that best suits them as well as career planning advice.
  • U.S. Department of Education The official website of the U.S. Department of Education provides information about the state of education in the United States. Its database allows students to search for state-sponsored loans through local contacts.
  • Career One Stop A free service sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, Career One Stop provides a large database of scholarships for college students searchable by criteria like level of study and location. The site also features career search and planning resources, including information about local job centers and unemployment benefits agencies.