What is a college scholarship, and how do you qualify?

  • Scholarships are usually based off of merit or athletic achievement, and don't need to be repaid.
  • To keep your scholarship, you might need to fulfill certain conditions.
  • You may be able to find scholarships through your school's financial aid office or private sources.
  • You can read more about Insider's coverage of student loans here.

Many students seek financial aid to pay for their rising college costs. Scholarships are one of the best options. Scholarships are a type of financial aid that doesn't need to be repaid. You may be able to get scholarships from schools, employers, individuals, companies, community organizations, and more.

Scholarships will reduce the cost of your education, and the awards range in value. It doesn't matter if you receive just a few hundred dollars, or the entire cost of tuition. It all depends on what the scholarship terms are.

Who qualifies for scholarships?

Some scholarships are for specific groups like women, people from underrepresented backgrounds, and graduate students. They may be one-time awards or recurring money offered throughout your entire time in college.

On the websites of each provider, you can find additional information about each scholarship. This includes who is eligible and how you can apply.

While scholarships are gift aid, you might have to meet certain requirements during the time you're in school to keep them. These requirements could include meeting a minimum GPA, being on a sports team, working as an assistant teacher, or working a specified number of hours.

Where can you search for scholarships?

There are many places that offer scholarships. You should also fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid in addition to applying for scholarships. For your complete aid package to be determined, you will need the FAFSA. There are many scholarships available.

  • Through your school's financial assistance office
  • Talk to your high-school counselor
  • On the Department of Labor’s website
  • By researching community organizations, local businesses, and civic groups
  • Through the state's financial assistance portal
  • Look for professional organizations related to the field you are interested in.
  • Using private scholarship services

If you are interested in private scholarships, make sure to check with your college to determine if they will allow you to combine private scholarships and grants with the college's aid. Sometimes, colleges will deduct any aid that you receive from a third party from the amount of scholarship and grant aid it provides.

What are the most commonly awarded scholarships?

Although you may be eligible for scholarships due to volunteer experience and club involvement activities, the most common scholarships are based on academic achievement or athletic merit.

Merit-based scholarships

Merit-based scholarships are typically awarded to students who meet or exceed certain academic standards as set forth by the scholarship provider. They may be based upon your academic record, GPA and ACT scores, as well other academic achievements. Many colleges offer merit-based scholarships to attract high-achieving students.

Athletic scholarships

Most athletic scholarships are given for exceptional athletic achievement. They usually require that you play one or more specific sports to be eligible. Athletic scholarships are awarded according to school standards. Schools may have different amounts of money available to support specific sports.

What other information should you have about scholarships?

The deadlines for some scholarships can be as early as one year prior to college opening. You should apply as soon as you can for scholarships. Research scholarships during your junior and senior year, taking special note of when you need to submit your application.

Your scholarship funds might be distributed to you in the form a check or directly to your school. This money could cover tuition, room and/or fees. If you are awarded a scholarship, you should be informed by the individual or organization what to do with your money.

While the terms "scholarship" and "grant" are sometimes used interchangeably, they aren't exactly the same. Scholarships are usually given out based on achievement, while grants are based exclusively on financial need. This is not always true. Sometimes, you may be eligible for a scholarship due to financial need.

Scholarships are a great option to make use of any skills you might have and to raise money for college without having to repay. This will save you money over alternatives like loans.

Ryan Wangman

Junior Loans Reporter

Ryan Wangman is a junior reporter at Personal Finance Insider reporting on personal loans, student loans, student loan refinancing, debt consolidation, auto loans, RV loans, and boat loans. In his past experience writing about personal finance, he has written about credit scores, financial literacy, and homeownership. He graduated with a degree from Northwestern University. Find out how Personal Finance Insider selects, rates, covers, and reviews financial products.

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