Whether you’re starting college as an undergraduate or pursuing further education, earning at least one scholarship can take a big weight off your shoulders. Scholarships can reduce or even eliminate tuition costs, which can also reduce any student loan debt you may owe. With hundreds of thousands of scholarships available, it can be challenging to find the right ones for you. Luckily, there are plenty of resources to guide you through the process.
Scholarship vs. Grant
Scholarships and grants are both forms of financial aid that do not need to be repaid. Grants are usually awarded based on the student’s financial need and are provided by sources like the federal government, state agencies and universities. To qualify for a grant, students may need to provide documents such as tax returns or bank statements to determine financial need.
Scholarships, on the other hand, are typically awarded based on merit in certain areas such as academic excellence, special talents or athletic ability. Each scholarship has its own set of requirements. Some of them may ask you to answer questions or submit an essay to get a better understanding of your background and abilities.
Despite what you may have heard multiple times, GPA and class rank do not always determine eligibility. In fact, some scholarship applications won’t even ask for them. Some scholarships randomly select winners with no GPA or essay requirements; however, these tend to have a larger applicant pool.
Types of scholarships
Merit-based scholarships are typically based on a student’s academic achievements such as their GPA or class rank, but many also take extracurricular activities into consideration. A student’s involvement in sports, community service or other clubs can set them apart from other candidates, especially if they have demonstrated strong leadership skills.
Identity-based scholarships are typically awarded to minorities and underrepresented groups in the community. Many of these unique scholarships are merit-based with the goal of providing financial aid to students with specific social identities such as gender, religion or ethnic background.
These scholarships generally provide financial aid based on the student’s ability to cover tuition costs. In some cases, applicants must meet certain income requirements or other criteria to qualify.
National Debt Relief’s scholarship program is designed to help students with debt overcome their financial burden. Learn more about it here.
These lesser-known scholarships are often overlooked, but with less competition comes a higher chance of success. Consider stopping by your school’s financial aid office to speak with an adviser or visit the school’s website to find opportunities in your area.
How to find the right scholarships
Once you’ve completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you can begin strategizing a financial plan. Start by looking at scholarships within the education level you’re pursuing (undergraduate, graduate, doctorate, etc.), and narrow the list down to the ones you believe would be the best fit.
If you have a strong academic background, for example, you can prioritize merit-based scholarships that focus on academic achievements. You can also look for scholarships relating to your hobbies or other unique characteristics you may have.
Consider your sources. Keep in mind scholarships are available through a variety of local and national organizations, colleges and universities and even the government. In addition, there are scholarship search engines that compile lists of scholarships from different sources.
Scholarships.com – When you sign up for scholarships.com, you gain free access to their scholarship database. After answering a few questions, they automatically match you with scholarships you qualify for. All you have to do next is apply! You can also use the “favorites” feature to organize and filter your scholarship list.
Niche.com – The site allows you to create a free account and browse hundreds of scholarships from different organizations along with some of their own. Winners are randomly selected once a month and must use the scholarship within a year of receiving it.
Bold.org – Bold.org aims to fight student debt by providing access to financial aid opportunities for students from all kinds of different backgrounds. Students can create a free account and apply for scholarships sponsored by Bold.org and other funders.
Scholarships360 – With Scholarships360, it’s easy to narrow down your search based on your major, state, demographics and more. Besides providing access to scholarships, they also offer expert advice and calculation tools.
ScholarshipOwl – ScholarshipOwl conducts a random draw each month in which they award the winner up to $7,000. Students are automatically entered in the draw when they create a free account, and it is open to anyone looking for scholarship opportunities toward their college education. They also match you with scholarships that best suit you based on the information you provide.
Be sure to read the eligibility requirements for each scholarship carefully before submitting each application. Keep in mind that most scholarship opportunities in the United States require U.S. citizenship or permanent residency; therefore, they may be inaccessible to international students. If you are an international student, you can still access other opportunities for international applicants.
Tips for avoiding scams
Unfortunately, some scholarship seekers become targets for scams asking for application fees or claiming to offer money. You might receive what looks to be a personalized invitation saying you qualify for a specific scholarship or another form of financial aid. Legitimate scholarship opportunities do not require application fees, and they don’t make promises about qualifying. To protect yourself from fraudulent scholarships, consider the following:
- Carefully research scholarship providers to ensure legitimacy. See if their website provides a list of past winners, and make sure they were real applicants who received the financial reward they were promised.
- Avoid submitting personal information like your Social Security number or bank information when applying. Remember, you shouldn’t have to pay fees.
- Don’t accept any offers claiming you’ve won any form of financial aid you didn’t apply for, especially if the provider is reluctant to answer questions or provide further details about their service.
- Report any unwanted calls, texts or emails you receive to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) through their website.
Your scholarship search doesn’t have to be as difficult as you think. In fact, you might be surprised at the multitude of options you can find through the right resources. You should always aim for the highest financial reward if possible, but make sure not to overlook smaller opportunities that can also benefit you in the long run.