How to Use Educational Scholarships to Pay for College

Many high school graduates are overwhelmed with how expensive it is to attend college. For most students, their professional future depends on getting a college degree. Applying for college is a stressful process. It is even more stressful for students to get accepted, only to find they do not have enough financial support to cover tuition costs. In addition to tuition, classes have steep supply costs, with textbooks costing several hundred dollars.

One of the ways students can reduce college costs is by using financial aid. Financial aid comes in three forms: scholarships, grants and loans. Loans provide the most assistance but must be repaid with interest, with many students ending up in debt for years due to student loans. Grants are available in limited supply based on need. Scholarships are largely awarded based on merit. Some scholarships have secondary requirements, such as attending a specific school or earning a certain type of degree. More information on using educational scholarships is noted below.

Who Provides Educational Scholarships?

Educational scholarships are available from several sources. Most scholarships are only available in a select state, but some cross state borders. Scholarships come from public and private clubs and organizations, nonprofit groups, local businesses or foundations and even from colleges and universities directly. State agencies offer scholarships, and some generous individuals provide scholarships as well.

Unlike grants and loans, there is no universal application process for scholarships. The scholarship provider determines the application process. Most scholarships have their own application, but some look at your FAFSA form to determine eligibility. Many scholarships ask for educational transcripts and letters of recommendation in addition to the base application.

Scholarships are not universally accepted across all colleges. In certain situations, the scholarships include the list of schools in the eligibility requirements where the scholarship is accepted. Other times, you must contact the school directly to see if the scholarship is compatible.

To save time, it is strongly recommended that you speak with the financial aid department at the college you want to attend. This way, you find out right away which scholarships are accepted at the school, and which ones are most relevant for your major or degree.

Who qualifies for Educational Scholarships?

A common misconception is that educational scholarships are only awarded to students who maintain a perfect grade point average (GPA). Most scholarships set a minimum GPA requirement, but this is not always the case. In some cases, the GPA requirement is relatively low. Designated scholarships include minimal standardized testing requirements. Other scholarships do not look at your grades at all but instead your social or professional achievements. For example, students receive scholarships for community service.

Other scholarships are available to students who belong to organizations. This includes high school organization as well as other organizations throughout the state, such as the Boy or Girl Scouts of America. These scholarships typically base eligibility requirements on the number of hours you were part of the organization. They have additional requirements, such as completing a large project or making a presentation to a board of directors saying why you deserve the scholarship over other applicants.

If you know what you want to major in, check with businesses or organizations in the state matching your profession. Many companies provide a limited number of scholarships for students pursuing a degree relevant to their business. These scholarships often have strict requirements since the student is largely unknown by the business and must go above and beyond to prove why he or she deserves the scholarship. Some organizations offer internships or additional rewards once the student graduates from college.

How Much Aid Do Scholarships Provide?

For many students, their primary concern is how much the scholarship provides. The amount you receive from the scholarship depends on who is providing it. Select scholarships provide several hundred dollars, while other scholarships cover your entire semester. Other scholarships do not provide a direct amount of money but cover a percentage of your costs.

One of the ways you can gauge how much a scholarship provides is the number of slots available. If the scholarship provider offers a large number of scholarships, the scholarships themselves likely provide a limited amount of funds. If the provider only has one or two scholarship slots, it is safe to assume you are going to receive several thousand dollars. You must keep the source in mind as well. Smaller nonprofit groups only have a limited number of scholarships because they do not have an abundance of money to invest in the scholarships.

In many cases, the maximum amount available from a scholarship changes from year to year to reflect the funding of the scholarship provider. Larger scholarship providers are usually comfortable offering the same amount each year, but this is not common. School or state scholarships are static since they receive reliable funding from outside sources to cover the scholarship amount.

Not only do scholarships provide different funds, but what you are allowed to use the money on changes depending on the scholarship. Some scholarships can only be used to pay for college tuition. Other scholarships have looser requirements which allows students to purchase school supplies or pay for student housing. Some scholarships do not have any limitations at all.

Where the funding goes depends on the scholarships. Many scholarships send the money directly to the school, while others are sent directly to the student. Typically, if a scholarship only covers tuition costs, it goes to your chosen university and is automatically applied to your account.

Learn About Scholarship Compatibility

With student grants and loans, the amount a student receives changes depending on what other financial aid he or she receives. Most scholarships do not have this limitation, since they are based on educational merit. As long as you meet all the requirements, you can apply for as many scholarships as you want. Typically, the only time this does not apply is if the scholarship has a specific financial requirement.