When it comes to paying for college, there are costs of tuition, books, housing, transportation, utilities, and other expenses. College can be expensive and, in addition to your college savings, you might need financial aid or scholarships for college. According to research, attending the 2018-19 academic year costs:
- $3,570 for in-district students attending public two-year institutions
- $9,716 for state residents at public colleges
- $21,629 for out-of-state students at state schools
- $35,676 at private colleges
Unfortunately, the price of a college education is continuing to increase year after year. Student loans can help you pay for school, but you will end up with thousands of dollars in debt after you graduate. The good news is that there are many opportunities available to help you tackle college expenses, such as scholarships. They can help you wholly or partially fund your college education.
In this guide, we offer useful information on scholarships for students, including how to apply for and win them, as well as the list of best sites to find college scholarships.
What is a scholarship?
A scholarship is an amount of money provided to help pay for education, and that you’ll never have to repay. Colleges, high schools, websites, private companies, governments, employers, non-profit organizations, social organizations, and other providers can award scholarships for college students. Earning scholarships is the easiest way to graduate college with less debt.
Scholarships may be awarded based on a set of standards, including academic achievement, financial need, career aspirations, talents, community involvement, employment experience, and many others. There is no limit to the number of scholarships that a student can try to obtain.
Scholarships are essential because they help students cover college attendance costs. Some of them can cover the full cost of tuition, while others are as low as $50. On the one hand, you can win as many scholarships as you want. But on the other hand, there might be some restrictions on winning more than one scholarship from the same provider during the same award year.
Nevertheless, scholarships are the best financial aid source regardless of their amount, because they are designed to help you get your degree and become a contributing member of society.
What is the Difference Between Scholarships, Grants, and Loans?
People usually use the terms scholarship and grant interchangeably, but there is a difference because each has its own eligibility requirements and guidelines. Both grants and scholarships provide students with free money for college, which means that those funds do not need to be repaid or earned, unlike student loans and work-study opportunities. Since grants and scholarships are free, experts recommend that students first exhaust all their possibilities with these two funding sources before applying for a loan.
There are several types of scholarships. The best-known ones are awarded based on a student’s merit, such as academic achievement, athletic ability, or artistic talent. However, a need-based element can also be a factor in who receives the scholarship. Apart from merits and financial need, eligibility for scholarships is based on a significant number of other factors, including gender, race, involvement in the community, unusual talents or traits, etc. Scholarships are usually awarded by schools, community foundations, individuals, private organizations, religious groups, non-profit organizations, corporations, etc.
Grants also provide students with free money. The difference is that grants are awarded based on the student’s demonstrated financial need. You must file the FAFSA to apply for a grant. The Federal government, state governments, colleges, and universities are typically the most common providers of college grants for financial help with paying tuition. The most common type of grant is the Federal Pell Grant for low-income students. There are also grants for students who have military parents, or for those who plan to become teachers (TEACH grants). A significant downside of grants is that they are a limited resource and can run out.
A loan is a sum of money awarded to a student that they must eventually pay back with interest. Student loans are much like any other installment loan. The only difference is that these loans are used for educational costs at universities and are based on financial need only. They differ in interest rates, the time allowed before repayment must begin, borrower requirements, and more.
In comparison to scholarships and grants, student loans can get a bit more complicated to understand. They do represent a good option for paying for college. However, you need to understand the loan terms so that it doesn’t become a financial burden you really can’t handle. You also need to know how much you will be paying back each month — deciding what you can afford to borrow. Affordability is essential information, so be sure to research before you apply for any student loan.
Types of Loans
There are four types of loans:
- Federal need-based loans
- Federal non-need-based loans
- State loans
- Private loans
Federal and state loans should be your first option because they offer fixed interest rates, lower interest rates, and more favorable repayment options. In addition to many advantages, such as improving your credit score after repaying it, student loans also have several disadvantages. They must be repaid within a specific period, which creates a lot of pressure.
Another downside is that the longer it takes for you to repay your loans, the more debt you accumulate, due to interest rates. And finally, even before you graduate from college, you are in debt. To avoid this, many students chose to graduate with an associate’s degree, which is a two-year college degree and thus pay for two years of tuition, rather than four. Another advantage of the associate’s degree is that it is much faster to obtain than a bachelor’s degree. The shorter completion time is especially important for the college freshman who will both take a loan and have to work while they study to pay for everything.
When Should You Start Applying for Scholarships?
It is never too late or too early to start applying for scholarships. The best time to apply often depends on the individual scholarship deadline, but plan on applying at least six months in advance. If you are an incoming freshman in September, start applying in January. If you are a high school student, you should start researching for scholarships earlier, before you graduate school, during the summer between your junior and senior years. You should even start before different deadlines. Did you know that some scholarships require applications a year before starting college? Even though this might sound extreme, it is worth planning.
Deadlines Are Key
Once you begin applying, pay attention to deadlines. If you miss your application deadline, you will not be able to get that scholarship award. Applications received after the scholarship deadline will not be considered, regardless of how qualified you are. To prevent this, you can set phone reminders. But even if you do miss a few deadlines, do not be discouraged because there are probably a few that you can still apply for now. Worst case, you missed them all – there are scholarships available for sophomores as well!
Another thing to pay attention to when applying for scholarships is scholarship scams. Students who fall victim to these scams might already have financial issues, so it is essential to recognize the warning signs. Some of them include:
- Scholarship offers that guarantee that you will win money
- Saying that you have to pay a fee to apply for scholarships services which offer to apply for you (and even write your essay)
- Forms that ask for too much personal information, including your social security number
- No real address or a phone number on scholarship materials
- Claiming that there are no eligibility requirements (everyone is eligible for the scholarship)
How Can I Apply for Scholarships?
Each scholarship has its own requirements, but most of them require the student to fill out an application form, write an essay, submit their FAFSA, CV, etc. Some highly competitive scholarships might even require interviews as part of their application process.
Before you apply for a particular scholarship, find out if you are eligible for it. Read the eligibility requirements so that you do not waste time. Eligibility requirements can be related to your parent’s level of education, GPA, major, residency, minority statuses, and other qualifications. Here are the basic requirements and documents needed for a scholarship application.
The Application Form
One of the first things to consider when completing an application form is scheduling. This process can be time-consuming, so you must prioritize those applications that require more effort to complete. Take deadlines into account, too. Concentrate on one application at a time, paying particular attention to directions.
Scholarship applications are specific in their requirements. So, if you fail to conform and do not provide to them precisely what they ask for, a scholarship committee might disqualify you. Additionally, if you find optional questions in your application form, make sure to take the time to answer them. If you do, you have a higher chance of winning a particular scholarship than those students who skip these questions. Double-check your work for grammatical errors.
Writing the Essay
Writing the essay is a big part of a scholarship application. And this is your chance to express your knowledge, personality, and ideas. First things first: before writing, you should do a little research. This process is when Google becomes your best friend. Find past winners and read their essays. In this way, you will have an idea of what the scholarship committee is looking for. Then, brainstorm ideas because the content is the essential aspect of your essay. The structure is also relevant, so use a standard essay format. While most scholarships require at least one essay as part of their guidelines, some may instead request a poem or a video.
Letters of Recommendation
Applying for scholarships almost always requires letters of recommendation. You will be asked to submit two or three letters of recommendation. Why do colleges value recommendations so much? Well, they reveal information about you and your character that your grades cannot. You can request a recommendation from senior-year teachers, counselors, teachers from junior year, an employer, a coach, or personal associates. To get the best recommendations from your teachers, ask them to talk about your class participation, specific projects, accomplishments, and future plans. They should also give examples of your work as appropriate.
Financial Aid Information
Some scholarships might require that the student fill out a FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid and that they have it on file. If you do not submit your FAFSA, the college cannot award a scholarship or any other financial aid to you. Pay special attention to deadlines. In addition to a FAFSA, some scholarships might even require you to submit your parents’ tax and income information.
Copies of Transcripts and Diplomas
A scholarship may require the transcript of records from your high school or the school you are currently attending. Your high school diploma is also a requirement for admission. You can get copies of these documents through your school website or guidance office.
Even if you do not have any work experience, you might still be required to submit an updated resume when applying for a scholarship. Include your achievements, study experiences, hobbies and interests, and social skills. Be sure also to include computer skills, volunteering, any foreign languages that you know, and the courses that you completed.
When deciding who to give the scholarship to, colleges and organizations might take your test scores into consideration, including SAT score, GPA, GRE, ACT, and others.
When preparing for an interview, do your homework and research the organization. This way, you can incorporate some of this knowledge into your responses to show that you respect their work. Also, find out who your members of the interviewing team will be. Prepare for questions by looking through various interview-prep materials. And finally, if you have a question for your interviewer, don’t hesitate to ask. Your critical opinion might draw positive attention to you.
What Types of College Scholarships are Available?
It is a common misconception that scholarships are only available to American students or those with the highest GPA or the most impressive sports achievement. There are different types of scholarships out there for all kinds of students. However, there are two primary types of scholarships:
- Need-based scholarships (based on Financial Need)
- Merit scholarships
To award a need-based scholarship, your college or university will take financial need information into account. On the other hand, merit scholarships are based entirely on your merits, and not on your need for financial aid.
Naturally, it is impossible to apply for the more than 2,200 scholarships listed on the College Board, much less Unigo’s 3.6 million listings. Therefore, you should make a list of scholarships you could realistically win. To help you get started, here are some of the most common types of awards, both merit-based and need-based.
Academic merit scholarships are awarded to students who have a high GPA and score very well on the SAT or ACT. Also, the scholarship committees take into consideration other factors, including leadership qualities and a strong extracurricular resume. These highly competitive scholarships, awarded to a small percentage of the most deserving students, are prestigious and will impress any future employer.
Academic scholarships can be funded by the college or university, or by private organizations, but they are not federally funded. Ohio State University—Columbus, for example, has the merit-based Eminence Fellows Program, which offers a scholarship that covers the full cost of attendance for four years.
Colleges and universities award athletic scholarships to top athletes. They may cover all or part of a student’s tuition and fees. Thousands of students every year attend college after landing a generous athlete scholarship for sports, including:
- High profile football
According to Kathryn Randolph, associate content editor at Fastweb, athletic scholarships are rare. Only about 1% to 2% of high school seniors win these merit scholarships every year for playing in the NCAA, NAIA, and NJCAA. Competition is fierce, so in addition to being good at playing sports, you also need to have substantial academic achievements to qualify for an athletic scholarship.
Artistic students with a high level of expertise in their chosen field, including dance, music, journalism, fashion design, and others, may qualify for creative scholarships. Some artistic scholarships are funded by art schools, such as the Memphis College of Art and Design, while private and public associations support others. The competition for this merit scholarship is intense, and scholarship applicants are required to present a portfolio of their work, along with their school transcripts and test scores.
Community Service Scholarships
These scholarships reward students for their active participation and contributions to the community. Students who volunteer and take an interest in making a difference in the world have a chance to reap the benefits of their community involvement because the scholarship providers are philanthropists themselves. Students enrolled in community service programs to benefit veterans are recipients of such scholarships, which are available for both domestic and international students.
While academic or sports scholarships are well known, there are more random opportunities out there that you are probably not familiar with. For example, students with unique hobbies or traits, such as being a natural redhead or speaking in Klingon, are eligible to apply for unique scholarships. Some people have a talent for making prom outfits out of duct tape, while others have a knack for duck calling. These scholarships are less competitive, so if you are a high school senior with a special talent or quality, search local organizations to find scholarships based on different criteria unique to your profile.
Financial need or need-based scholarships mean money is provided for low-income students with a financial need. To qualify for this scholarship, applicants need to demonstrate financial need and fill out the FAFSA. Your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) determines your need for financial aid. To calculate your EFC, they consider your parents’ income and assets, your income, and family size. Based on this information, an individual Student Aid Report (SAR) is created and sent to colleges of your choice.
Additional requirements might include living in a specific community in the U.S. The Federal government, state government, private organizations, businesses, and individual donors fund need-based scholarships. Pell Grants, for example, are the most popular need-based scholarships funded by the Federal government, and these are national scholarships.
Scholarships for Minorities
There is a significant number of minority scholarships that can help you pay for college. Some are designed to benefit one ethnic group in particular, and others are open to all minority students from various backgrounds and races. These include Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic and Latinos, Asian, Native Hawaiian, and others. Some examples of African American scholarships include the United Negro College Fund and the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
The Federal government, colleges, universities, and corporations provide funding for these scholarships. Additionally, charitable organizations, minority advocacy groups, and other private associations sponsor underrepresented student populations. You do not have to be a United States resident to qualify for a minority scholarship. Moreover, some scholarships may not even require U.S. citizenship. When applying for scholarships, check the official rules. Perhaps you are eligible for more than one type of minority scholarship.
How Do I Find Scholarships?
There are many sources to help you find college scholarships:
- The financial aid office at your college
- School counselor – the best place to start looking for scholarships is through your high school guidance counselor. Not only that they are familiar with your academic record and extracurricular achievements, but they can also help with filling out your applications and reference requests.
- Private organizations
- Federal and state governments
- Colleges (they may have stricter requirements in comparison to other sources of funding)
- Free online tools
Large corporations, such as Google, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and other large companies related to your field of interest, also award scholarships. Furthermore, they offer graduate-level scholarships to college and university graduates, allowing them to work and get even more training in the business. A graduate is hired for different departments of the company, guided through the process and trained internally. Getting enrolled in a graduate program will also give you financial support, as it comes with a salary that can often last up to 24 months.
Best Strategies to Win a Scholarship
Many deserving students apply for scholarships every year. Scholarship committees use specific criteria to choose winners. While a common belief is that the best students always win, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, presenting your application a certain way is what counts. This approach is called a scholarship strategy. We bring you advice on how to create the best scholarship strategies that will help you increase your chances of winning.
Highlighting your strengths
A fundamental strategy is perhaps applying for awards you have the best chance of winning. However, this is easier said than done because it can be challenging to understand what those scholarships are. You can start by doing a free scholarship search on some official websites that offer free funding. Once you complete a personal profile and enter all relevant data, including your accomplishments, talents, and interests, you can narrow down the initial search. Perhaps you have a unique ability, or you are an excellent writer. Whatever the reason, there is funding for things where you can shine.
Keep in mind that the sooner you start investigating your scholarship options, the better. You can even get a serious head start on other applicants by simply starting early.
Meeting the qualifications
Another critical strategy is meeting scholarship eligibility requirements. You need to fully understand if you qualify for a particular scholarship before applying for it. Do not waste your time applying for scholarships that have specific criteria you do not meet.
Applying for local scholarships is an excellent strategy because these scholarships are open to a smaller group of students, which increases your chances of winning them. Many organizations, small businesses, clubs, and other providers offer scholarships in local communities.
You can start by talking to your teachers and school counselors because they probably have all the relevant information. Next, you can check local community portals and search the websites of local television and radio stations. And finally, why don’t you ask friends or family members who are graduate students for other ideas and tips?
Applying for less competitive scholarships
Many students apply for scholarships that offer the highest rewards. As a result, these scholarships are highly competitive. On the other hand, scholarships that provide smaller rewards might have fewer applicants, which means higher chances for you. You can use smaller awards to cover costs for your books or living expenses. Who knows, you might even win a few small award scholarships!
Applying for scholarships that require more work
There are many lazy students out there who avoid applying for scholarships that require a lot of work. Consequently, there are fewer applicants, automatically increasing your chances of winning. This extra work can relate to essays, projects, and videos. An essay with over 1,000 words draws fewer applicants to compete with you, in comparison to more accessible scholarships that are more desirable. That means that you have a higher chance of winning if you’re willing to put in more work.
Reading the instructions
You should carefully read all of the instructions when applying for scholarships. You can lose your chance of winning if you include too much information or miss some details and steps.
For example, when writing your essay, if the instructions ask you to include five accomplishments and you list only three, you will probably be disqualified. Or, if the word count is 1000 and you write a 1500-word extended essay, you will likely be disqualified. After you have done with your essay, make sure you proofread it because any spelling and grammar mistakes may also get you disqualified.
Instead of applying for every scholarship you qualify for, apply for those that fit your interests. In this way, you will be able to get personal and express your passion, which will increase your chances of winning. It is an excellent strategy to write about a particular problem and ways you solved it. Or write about things you are passionate about, like vegetarianism, magic, and others.
Common Myths about Scholarships
There are many myths and misconceptions about who wins college scholarships. Those myths often discourage students from applying for scholarships because they underestimate, or sometimes even overestimate, their eligibility for scholarships. To avoid these issues, here are common myths about college scholarship you should not believe.
Myth 1: You can relax once you are awarded a scholarship
If you win a renewable scholarship, there might be certain academic standards you must continue to meet each semester to remain eligible. These might include maintaining a certain GPA, or some specified measure of continued academic progress. Such conditions mean that the award is not guaranteed. Failing to meet these conditions can cause you to lose the incoming scholarship funds for future years. We recommend that you familiarize yourself with all the terms of your scholarship, and read everything about eligibility to ensure you remain eligible for your award.
Myth 2: I cannot possibly get a scholarship because there’s too much competition
Some well-known scholarships are highly competitive, but others are not. At least, they are not nearly as competitive. The opportunities are quite diverse. You just have to know what to look for and how to emphasize your strengths. Instead, focus on local scholarships awarded in your community, or scholarships with more requirements, such as students interested in a specific major or those with certain GPAs. The applicant pool is smaller, so your chances of winning are substantially improved.
Myth 3: Only athletes and the best students get scholarships
Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t have to a top student to get most scholarships, nor do you need to be the best athlete out there. The truth is that students with higher GPAs and test scores do qualify for more scholarships, but you should not be discouraged if your grades are average.
In fact, many scholarships don’t even require you to submit your GPA or test scores to apply. You can win funding for several other reasons, depending on what the scholarship committee is looking for in an applicant. Just because you have a different way of demonstrating your intelligence does not mean you are not eligible for scholarships.
Additionally, there are many need-based scholarships available. These are only awarded to students who are in financial need of scholarship money to pay for college. Generally speaking, these scholarships are less competitive because of the smaller applicant pool.
Myth 4: If I win a scholarship, I won’t get any other financial aid money
There’s some truth to this one. Everyone knows that you cannot receive more in financial aid than it will cost to attend college. Your school estimates the costs of attendance, and they are required to adjust your financial aid package to compensate for any outside scholarship money you receive. How they do this depends on each college’s policy, but either way, you will get the same amount of financial aid in the end.
Unigo.com gives this example. Let’s say your award package includes a $5,500 Pell Grant, a $5,000 college scholarship, and another $5,000 in federal student loans. If you win a $2,000 scholarship from an outside source, they might reduce your college award by $2,000, or reduce your student loan eligibility by $2,000. The second option would be better for you because it would reduce the amount of money you have to repay later. On the other hand, your semester of college will get paid for either way.
Lastly, students and their parents often think that if they get student loans, colleges will take away any scholarship money that the student receives. To ensure that you understand the consequences of various funding choices, check your school policy. However, having fewer loans is usually in your best interest.
Myth 5: Billions of dollars in scholarships go unclaimed
Scholarship providers create programs to give money away to students, not to hide it. However, some scholarships do not get awarded and go unclaimed each year. According to FinAid, these claims are 20 years old and are based on an estimate of education benefits provided by employers for their employees, not money from private foundations and private organizations.
The main reasons why employer grants are often unclaimed include highly restrictive eligibility requirements, poor publicity, and bad timing for employees. So in reality, the number of unclaimed awards is much smaller.
Myth 6: Only minority students win scholarships
This is not true at all. In fact, according to the latest research, Caucasian students receive a disproportionate share of both institutional merit aid and outside scholarships in comparison to African American and Hispanic students. Reports say that white students receive 76% of institutional merit scholarships and are 40% more likely to win private scholarships.
What are the Best Websites for Finding a College Scholarship?
This website is one of the largest scholarship databases out there and one of the most established. They update their information every day, and almost everyone will end up finding something which applies to them. According to the site, there are more than 2.7 million scholarships and grants, worth about $19 billion. The site is user-friendly, enabling you to browse by category. You can search for scholarships based on academic major, GPA, minority status, athletics, artistic skills, ethnicity, music, and more. You have an opportunity to create a personal profile, and the site will use that information to filter through all the scholarships listed and find you the appropriate opportunities.
Fastweb is a free scholarship search tool that hosts more than 1.5 million scholarships in its database. Their total value of funding available is more than $3.4 billion. First, you need to make a personal profile. Then, the site will email you the best scholarship matches that fit your needs. Being on their email list will bring you newsletters, deadlines, and even a contest that you can enter and win some money.
The official College Board was initially founded in 1900 and is famous for being one of the oldest educational-based organizations. Today, The College Board has an extensive database, known as Big Future, that hosts more than $3 billion worth scholarships. In addition to awards, the site’s search engine also provides information on other forms of financial aid and internships from more than 2,000 programs. To get the most accurate search results, you need to create a profile and add as many of the requested details as possible.
SallieMae, formed initially as a government-sponsored enterprise, is now the largest originator of private student loans in the country. They have over $20.3 billion in outstanding loans as of December 2018. Besides loans, SallieMae operates the Upromise program, which provides families an opportunity to save for college.
On their website, there’s a College Planning page, including a scholarship search tool where you can narrow your search based on different criteria. Search criteria can include a field of study, hobbies, and other parameters. You need to register to create a personal account, and then you will receive the best-personalized matches.
Chegg is a popular online textbook store where students can borrow or buy textbooks for cheap. This website is also known for being an excellent resource for finding scholarships. There are more than 25,000 scholarships on the site, worth about $1 billion. Chegg requires that you create a profile to search for available opportunities that match your criteria. It also helps you keep track of deadlines and submission requirements. Another unique feature of this site is that it offers students online tutors to help them with their scholarship essays and increase their chances of winning scholarships.
Cappex works with over 3,000 institutions and hosts a database of more than $11 billion in scholarships. It enables students to search for opportunities that directly match their strengths and skills, but only after creating a personal profile. If you want to narrow down your search even more, you can do it by selecting an application deadline or minimum award options. Cappex also has a tool that uses your data to calculate your odds of getting into a particular college before you even apply.
Niche is a great online tool for finding colleges and scholarships. Students can discover different funding sources that match their qualifications. They offer multiple search categories, including by state, major, and even those that do not require essays or recommendations.
Unigo hosts 3.6M college scholarships, awards, and grants worth over $14B. It divides scholarships by type, including athletic scholarships, college-specific scholarships, merit-based scholarships, minority scholarships, and more. In this way, you will not waste your time browsing through categories you know are not a fit. Complete your profile to get personalized scholarship results. Unigo also offers scholarship contests.
Peterson’s hosts over $10 billion in scholarship opportunities, over 1.9 million searchable scholarships, grants, and fellowships, and over 4,000 scholarship providers. The site’s search tool quickly finds available scholarships by field of study, school type, award type, ethnicity, gender, and state of residence. In addition to scholarships, Peterson’s offers access to test preparation resources and tips on how to manage student debt, how to fund your education and more.
How are you preparing to pay for college? Have you started applying for scholarships?